When I approached this car in our parking garage, I wasn't sure if I was in front of the all-new 2012 Honda Civic test car or an old Civic that happened to be parked in our garage. Only after clicking "unlock" on the key fob did I confirm that, yes indeed, this was the new Civic. The exterior styling just hasn't come that far from the last generation. I knew this from having seen the Civic at the auto shows, but somehow I thought it would look newer once I saw it on the street.
The Civic interior is also quite similar to that of the last car. From a functional and ergonomic standpoint, it works, but the highly digital-centric displays and the two-tiered instrument panel read a bit too much like it's 2005. That said, the graphics for the fuel economy display are big and bright and easy to read, and if you're driving a Honda Civic Hybrid, you're going to want that information close at hand.
There is plenty of evidence of traditional Honda small-car virtues, including the excellent forward visibility that's afforded by a large windshield, relatively slender A-pillars, and large corner windowpanes within the side windows. Rear visibility is fine, and the elongated side greenhouse makes for good side visibility. This all makes the Civic a good car for piloting through city streets thick with vehicle and pedestrian traffic, where the slightest misstep due to poor visibility can result in disaster.
I find the new Civic Hybrid difficult to drive smoothly unless I drive it hard. Driving it for economy, you get hung up on the nonlinear braking and the interplay between the gasoline engine and the electric drive. I find that if you just mash the throttle the powertrain responds quite well, even if it's not so great for fuel efficiency.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor