The 2012 model is the ninth iteration of the Honda Civic, which made its fortuitous debut just ahead of the 1973 gas crisis. Of the Civic's many redesigns since then, some have been major rethinks while others have been stay-the-course refinements. This latest redo definitely falls into the latter camp.
What, me worry?
You can perhaps understand why Honda isn't anxious to make big changes here, because what they have is very successful formula. Although Toyota claimed the bestselling small-car mantle last year, with combined sales of its Corolla and Matrix edging out the Civic by 6000 units, Honda asserts that in retail sales, the Civic is number one. It's also number one -- of all cars -- among coveted, Gen-Y buyers.
So while it may not be surprising that Civic hasn't undergone a wholesale rethink, the list of what has not changed is long. In a small-car environment that has become a lot more competitive, Honda has not seen fit to add direct injection or turbocharging to its powerplants. It has stayed with five-speed transmissions, except for the Si. The exterior design retains its single-arc, mono-pod profile. And the interior again uses a two-tiered instrument panel.
That's not to say that nothing has changed, of course. The Si has a new engine, as does the hybrid. There is a new HF model. There is (a bit) more standard equipment. But the overall impression is that, with this new Civic, Honda sought to polish what it already has.
One secret to the Civic's success is a model lineup that's the most extensive of any in its class. For 2012, that lineup returns intact, with one additional variant thrown in. In order from greenest to meanest, they are:
• Civic Natural Gas. Formerly known as the Civic GX, the natural-gas-powered version will now be sold in all fifty states. The Civic Natural Gas is the latest arriving of the new 2012 models, as it doesn't go on sale until this fall.
• Civic Hybrid. The Civic Hybrid switches from a nickel-metal-hydride to a more compact and more powerful lithium-ion battery pack (a first in a Honda hybrid). It also upgrades from a 1.3-liter to a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, although engine output remains the same. Nonetheless, fuel economy increases from 40/43 mpg to 44/44 mpg. The hybrid again is available only as a four-door that's about equivalent to the EX trim level, and it's the most expensive Civic model. With the Civic Hybrid now easily exceeding the fuel economy of the Insight, cost is really the only reason one would choose the much less satisfying junior Honda hybrid.