It's funny how negative the reaction to this generation of Honda Civic has been. You'd think Honda was building a terrible Civic based on some of the press out there. The Civic is still a commendable compact car; it just isn't as impressive as the other recently redesigned cars in this class.
Honda's decision to play it safe with the Civic may draw criticism from the press, but consumers keep buying the cars. In the first quarter of 2012, the Honda Civic handily outsold everything else in the compact class. How can the Civic succeed? It has an intuitive interior, for starters. Other compacts may offer more connectivity options, but the Civic sticks with tried-and-true buttons and knobs that are easy to use and look more modern than the equally simple controls in the Mazda 3.
The design of the Civic is also familiar. Other compacts have upped the design game to the point of compromising visibility or usability while Honda stuck with a basic sedan shape and more timeless lines. With legendary reliability and a reasonable $21,275 sticker price, the 2012 Honda Civic EX doesn't need to offer a lot of gimmicks to attract buyers.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
The new Civic is a very nice car. It rides and handles well, its powertrain is quiet and economical, and it has a roomy, comfortable cabin. Unfortunately, I can't help but compare it to the kind of car the Civic used to be -- an affordable, entertaining car with tons of personality -- and feel disappointed by its gradual decline into banality. With more and more people downsizing to small cars to reduce their fuel costs, I understand Honda's motives behind wanting to make the Civic feel more mature and to appeal to a larger audience. It's just too bad that in doing so it has lost some of the character and soul that made it so popular in the first place.
Fortunately, the Civic still has some good qualities. The interior's style is questionable, but the steering wheel -- arguably an automobile's most touched feature -- is excellent. It's been quite good for some time because of its extremely small diameter and fairly thick rim, but it now has wider spokes at 9 and 3 making it more comfortable to grip as well as better looking. The controls on the wheel have also been revised. The fussy toggles for cruise and stereo have been replaced with round, four-direction controls surrounding a central button that are right at the driver's thumbs. And they are flush with the wheel, which makes hitting them by accident -- something that was very easy to do with the previous up/down toggles -- nearly impossible.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
I've driven two Honda Civics since the model's 2011 redesign, and I have to say my experiences couldn't have been more different. The first Civic, an EX coupe, was a bust by the time I left the parking garage -- the stiff rear suspension and low roof meant I bumped my head every time I went over a speed bump.
Having healed from that ordeal, my mood mellowed when I drove the Civic sedan. And then it brightened the more I drove it.
The rear suspension is still quite stiff, yes, and the steering is still rather vague just off center, but I can't get enough of the car's powertrain. On specs alone, it's outmatched by direct-injected, six-speed competitors like the Mazda3 and the Hyundai Elantra, but the mix of VTEC four-cylinder and five-speed automatic is predictable, brawny, and reasonably efficient.
While merging onto the highway, accelerating from 40 to 70 mph, I gave the throttle a quick kick to downshift once; seeing I needed a bit more speed, I gave it another quick push, and the transmission complied again. This doesn't sound like much -- this is how automatic transmissions are supposed to work -- but it's so much more predictable than, say, the Skyactiv-Drive box in the Mazda3. It's simple, elegant, and effective.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
Sometimes I think that Hondas are becoming more like Toyotas with each new model. They're really good a value; seem very well built; have strong, efficient powertrains; and welcoming ergonomics, but they're just not as interesting to drive or to look at as they once were. I tried hustling the Civic through corners on a couple occasions, and it wasn't happy; instead, I found that the best idea was to open the sunroof and enjoy an unseasonably warm March evening.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
When the current Civic arrived about a year ago, we were disappointed that the changes were so incremental. The styling is new but only subtly different; the engine and transmission carry over; and the interior materials are much the same as before, although passenger volume was increased. Still, the Civic sedan was a competent small car before the redesign, and it remains a competent small car today. The 140-hp four-cylinder mated to a five-speed automatic does the job but is pretty uninspiring, and the same can be said for the interior materials and layout.
One feature that's new is the Econ button, which when engaged alters throttle response and shift timing to increase fuel economy (a very high priority in the small-car market). The Civic was in Econ mode when I got into it, and it was fine for driving in city traffic. Not so much when merging onto the freeway, as you really have to mash the accelerator to get to cruising speed. You can see how economically you're driving by looking at the bars that flank the digital readout: green bars mean you're doing a good job; blue ones mean you could improve. Obviously, aggressive use of the throttle gives you negative feedback - I decided to just ignore the whole thing after awhile and disabled the Econ mode altogether.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
For all the moaning and groaning about the new Civic, there's nothing wrong with it that a quick interior redo can't fix. Most consumers, for instance, could care less that the Civic has fewer transmission speeds and a simpler fuel injection system than its newest competitors. And why should they? In fact, I'd argue the Civic is better than many of its competitors in that it doesn't hunt around constantly for the right gear. Its normally aspirated, relatively free-breathing engine likewise provides a welcome contrast to the ever more common direct-injected, turbocharged engines that lug about like diesels. That's not the Civic's only advantage. It also betters most or all of its competition in terms of ride comfort and interior space. The latter is especially true for backseat passengers, as Honda seems to be one of the only players in this segment that considers rear legroom and rear-seat ingress and egress.
But boy, does it need that interior materials upgrade. The plastics, the graining, and the cut lines aren't just uncompetitive - they're unprofessional. What's really aggravating is that if you look at the best Civics (the ones from the late 1990s that still seem to be everywhere), you'll find much more attractive, higher-dollar stuff.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Americans continue to feast at the Honda trough despite the critics' consensus that the new Civic doesn't drive as well as the competition. In February, for instance, the Civic was the fifth best-selling vehicle in the United States.
Honda has taken a whipping in the press, but I wouldn't be surprised if executives in Tokyo are dressing their wounds with $100 bills. Think of all the capital required to bring a new Focus, Elantra, or Cruze to market. Now realize that Honda probably spent far less than that billion or so dollars to launch the new Civic. And with minimal investment Honda still manages to outsell its competitors.
What's going on? Are American car buyers just a bunch of sheep? Well, kind of. But more than that is the fact that Honda continues to get the most basic details right -- a concept that sometimes escapes the motoring press. Forget steering feel and the engine's aural attributes, the Civic feels like the roomiest, airiest car in the compact class. From the driver's seat, you'd think you're in a mid-size car. The climate and audio controls are dead simple to use. Fuel economy, while not class-leading, is competitive with the rest of the segment. Stack those merits on top of a sterling reputation for quality, and it's no surprise that customers have not shied away from the known quantity that is a Honda car.
That reputation won't last, though, if Honda doesn't continue to earn it by putting its engineers -- the sharpest in Japan -- to work developing fresh, innovative, endearing cars. Honda has lapsed where it once crushed American automakers: Civic's interior plastics remind me of park benches made from recycled milk cartons.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I found it sad yet somehow amusing to watch media outlets - many of which praised the previous-generation Honda Civic months beforehand - savagely trashed the 2012 Civic when it launched last year.
The irony is that many - if not all - of the traits that won the previous-generation vehicle kudos are still found in the new model. The cabin is pleasantly airy, and offers plenty of head- and shoulder room for both front- and rear-seat occupants. The 1.8-liter I-4 won't delight enthusiasts when paired to this five-speed automatic, but offers decent acceleration along with respectable fuel economy figures.
The Civic's Achilles' heel lies where Honda sought to save cost. The interior's plastics are quite hard, and though they look attractive enough, they feel downright cheap. Honda has pledged an interior upgrade is under way, and like David Zenlea, I think it could go a long way toward curbing the Civic's loudest critics.
Neither of those traits truly ruin a car - in fact, once upon a time, they were par for the course in a C-segment automobile. That said, the Civic now exists in an era where the compact car segment is evolving at an incredibly fast pace. Competitors are narrowing the decades-long gap between their small cars and the Civic; subsequently, any hiccup Honda makes can quickly look like a handicap. I don't necessarily fault Honda for playing it safe with the 2012 Civic, but complacency isn't a sustainable policy in a cutthroat market - at some point, the company is going to truly need to innovate and leapfrog the competition once more.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor