Honda Civic — A good car made better

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Honda wasted no time in refreshing its best-selling Civic compact sedan and coupe, significantly upgrading the car for the 2013 model year just 18 months after it introduced a complete redesign for 2012.

The unusually quick remake is now in Honda showrooms following a year of considerable criticism from the automotive press led by the vaunted consumer magazine Consumer Reports, which dropped the Civic from its "recommended" list after giving it high marks for decades. Honda was lambasted for de-contenting the 2012 Civic with cheaper interior materials, removal of sound-deadening insulation, and leaving most of the previous-generation styling intact.

While we generally liked the 2012 Civic, we were very happy to see the changes for 2013. We found four key areas of improvement in the new EX-L: hard plastic on the dashboard has been replaced with more pleasing soft-touch materials; standard features have been added including a rearview camera; noise reduction efforts have created an exceptionally quiet cabin; and nip-and-tuck styling tweaks have given the exterior a sportier pulled-together look.

When we reviewed the 2012 model last year, we were more disturbed by the on-going use of an outdated five-speed automatic transmission and the continued use of the same 4-cylinder engine than we were about the other issues. Unfortunately, an upgraded transmission and a new engine were not part of the 2013 remake. We think performance and fuel economy could have been improved through the use of a modern six-speed automatic.

That said, Civic remains easy and fun to drive with great visibility, a comfortable and very quiet passenger compartment, with attractive and easy-to-read gauges. One of the Civic’s hallmarks is reliability and we have no reason to believe that Honda’s bullet proof Civic won’t remain so.

Thanks to suspension and steering refinements for 2013, handling remains a strong point. The new Civic displayed excellent balance, and smile-inducing cornering attributes on the stretches of winding roads we use as our personal test track. At the same time, the Civic offers one of the most comfortable and composed rides in its class.

We were particularly impressed with results of Honda's new infusion of sound-deadening materials. We now rate the Civic as having the quietest interior in the compact family segment.

Quality materials are now abundant inside, seats are comfortable and reaching an optimum driving position proved easy with the manual seat controls and the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. The dashboard layout remains basically the same as all Civics since 2006 with its two-tier look. It’s one of our favorites with a large digital speedometer at the top of the dash that can be read with eyes on the road.

One noteworthy upgrade in the 2012 edition that continues in the 2013 is the addition of the Honda i-MID (Intelligent Multi-Information Display), with a five-inch screen that displays scads of information such as the song playing on the radio and current mpg.

The standard 1.8-liter 140-horsepower four-cylinder engine performs all the tasks of driving in an acceptable manner. And Honda has dialed in more low-end torque for better performance off the line than the previous edition. The Civic can finish off a
0-to-60 run in around 9 seconds. If you want more power the Civic Si churns out 201 high-revving horses from its 2.4-liter four-banger. It’s a hoot to drive.

Gas mileage is improved over the previous generation car and is on the mark now being set by competitors. It’s rated at 28 mpg city and 39 mpg on the highway with a combined 32. A special HF model with unique aerodynamic add-ons is capable of 29 city and 41 highway. If you want more gas mileage, the Civic has the answer with its highly rated hybrid sedan. It is in our estimation Honda’s top achievement in bringing the Civic into its new generation. The new hybrid has an astounding gas mileage rating of 44 city and 44 highway derived from a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine and a more powerful electric motor rated at 110 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque.

The standard Civic comes in three basic trim levels — LX, EX and EX-L — starting at $18,995. Standard features include full power accessories, air conditioning, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, five-inch central display screen with review camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, four-speaker sound system with CD player, stability control, antilock brakes, and a full range of airbags.

Our top-of-the line EX-L test car with navigation, leather upholstery and heated front seats came in at $24,555.

Base price: $18,995; as driven, $24,555
Engine: 1.8-liter inline four
Horsepower: 140 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 128 foot-pounds @ 4,300 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 179.4 inches
Curb weight: 2,877 pounds
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 39 highway, 28 city
0-60: 9.2 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus

The Good
• Wide variety of powertrains including hybrid
• Spacious, airy interior
• Crisp handling
• Refined, quiet interior
• Backup camera standard equipment

The Bad
• One-piece fold down rear seatback

The Ugly
• Continued use of five-speed automatic