2012 Honda Civic

WASHINGTON, D.C. — My daughter peered over my shoulder looking at the large picture of a red 2012 Honda Civic coupe on my computer screen. "Hey, that's my car," she said. She owns a 2007 Civic coupe. Her mistake points up a good thing for Honda.

The Japanese company created a revolutionary new design for its best-selling compact in 2006 that has resonated with the car-buying public, and decided to tweak it around the edges, streamline the look without changing the overall shape for the next-generation 2012 model.

Honda customers looking to upgrade their Civic will find an instant familiarity with the new car that has changed just enough to make it look, well, new. Playing it safe with the styling, we think, was the right thing to do.

Honda decided on little change in others areas as well and that may not be such a good thing. For instance, they stuck with a five-speed automatic transmission and changed very little under the hood retaining a 140-horsepower 1.8-liter engine in the standard models. No direct injection or turbocharging for Honda.

While this is not necessarily a bad thing — the 1.8-liter performs rather well — the competition is fierce and new innovations in performance and fuel economy abound among the competition.

Honda did make some rather dramatic powertrain upgrades in two of its vast arsenal of Civic models — there are six distinct flavors — the hybrid and the performance-oriented Si.

Most impressive to us is the hybrid, which now features a modern lithium-ion battery pack and a gas engine upgrade from a 1.3-liter to a 1.5-liter four-cylinder. Gas mileage increases from 40 city/43 highway to an impressive 44/44. Aside from the all-important gas mileage, our drive through the country side that
surrounds our nation’s capitol gave proof that performance had not been forgotten making the hybrid much more competitive in its segment.

The sporty Si, which continues to come in both two-door and four-door configurations, gets an upgrade from a 2.0-liter four to the 2.4-liter found in the Acura TSX. In the Civic it's rated at 201 horsepower with 170 pound-feet of torque. Although horsepower is up only four from the 2011 model, torque has been increased by 30 pound-feet. We were impressed with its performance and handling. Please note that for those who aren't comfortable shifting for themselves, it comes only with a six-speed manual.

Gas mileage in the standard Civics (DX, LX, EX and EX-L models) has improved to 28/39, three mpg better than the 2011 models. A high-mileage version called the HF, making the same 140 horsepower, is rated at 29/41. We didn't get a chance to drive that model.

Honda has held the price on most of its lineup starting at $15,605, the same as last year.

2012 Civics are now arriving at dealerships.

— Jim Meachen