Honda Civic — Top of the ninth

By Al Vinikour

It’s one thing for a family to boast a third-generation of something (like military officers, doctors, lawyers, etc.). But it’s rather rare for a family to produce a ninth generation — particularly when it concerns one of the world’s most popular and recognized products.

By now you’ve no doubt guessed I’m referring to the all-new 2012 Honda Civic. Since its launch as a 1976 model and through the 2010 model year, Civic has amassed a cumulative sales figure of 8.8 million in the United States alone.

For 2012, Honda has loaded up the Civic family of compacts with seven separate offerings. In no particular order they are: Civic Natural Gas, Civic Hybrid, Civic HF, Civic Sedan, Civic Coupe, Civic Si Coupe and Civic Si. Short of a Civic truck, which only those subsisting on a diet heavily-laden with Sake would want, Civic has something for everybody.

The neighborhood that Civic lives in is not for the faint of heart. Among its competitors are the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai Elantra. Since they’re all great cars it’s tough to compete in that market but from what I experienced during my hours of driving the new Civic, Honda not only competes but has managed to lift the bar in the segment.

I’ve always felt there’s no better way to test a car than during inclement weather and on our test drive in Washington DC we had cooperative weather in buckets – rain, that is. We experienced an all-day drenching of about three inches or more so between slick roads, poor visibility and high winds it allowed us to put the 2012 Civic through a battery of tests usually found only in a wind-tunnel.

Fortunately our first glimpse and walk-around happened in a dry location so we were able to appreciate the aerodynamic styling of the vehicle. (It should be said that this review refers only to the Civic sedan because that’s the vehicle I spent the most time with.) It sports what Honda refers to as a “one-motion” mono-form shape and a high-energy appearance. A sleekly-angled windshield, wide stance and pronounced character lines showcase the body.

All this design adds to fuel economy improvement. EPA mileage estimates are 28 mpg city/36 mpg highway/31 mpg combined for the manual and 28/39/32 for the automatic. Even better news is that the vehicle only requires regular unleaded fuel. 

The 2012 Civic Sedan comes in three trim levels: DX, LX and EX/EX-L. Civic is front-wheel-drive and all three of the trim levels are powered by a 1.8L inline 16-valve iVTEC 4-cylinder engine that produces 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. Depending on the trim level it’s mated to a 5-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic transmission.

The powertrain provides plenty of power for any driving condition and its stiff, road-hugging suspension not only keeps it glued to the road but provides lots of driving fun and sportiness while providing a good, solid ride. Wind noise is also at a minimum. DX and LX trim levels sit on 15” steel wheels with full covers; EX/EX-L comes with 16” alloys. All come with a compact spare tire.

The 2012 Civic has more interior room than the previous generation. Honda lists seating capacity for Civic at five, but heed my advice; arrive early and nail down one of the four outside spots – in the front seat, if possible. Cargo volume is 12.5 cubic feet and legroom is 42.0” front/36.2” rear.

The instrumentation is a gadget-lover’s dream. I somewhat-facetiously say that my criterion for software is, if it’s pretty I’ll use it. The same could apply to vehicle instrumentation. Civic’s is two-tier for shorter eye-movement between the most commonly-referenced gauges. Instrument panel illumination is blue with white backlighting.

Progressive illumination welcomes the driver into the vehicle and brightens to 100% when the key is inserted in the ignition switch. I don’t think it’s possible to be more user-friendly nor more intuitive.

Audiophiles will enjoy Civic’s offerings. Standard on the LX is a 160-watt AM/FM/CD Audio System with 4 speakers, USB Audio Interface, MP3/Auxiliary Input Jack, MP3/Windows Media Audio Playback Capability, Radio Data System and Speed-Sensitive Volume Control. Same standard system for EX/EX-L but the system has 6 speakers and when equipped with a navigation system it comes with an XM Satellite Radio.

Driving along at higher speeds – even in less-than-stellar conditions – is confidence-inducing in no small measure do to the wealth of built-in safety features, like ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution, a plethora of air bags, Vehicle Stability Assist, et al. Honda has certainly priced the 2012 Civic properly. MSRP ranges from $15,000-$27,000.

Here’s a little quiz I’ve prepared for myself to grade the 2012 Civic:

Q.)    Has Honda done right by the previous high-standards for this model?
A.)    Yes

Q.)    Is it fairly priced with loads of standard equipment that makes it plug and play?
A.)    Yes

Q.)    If I were in the market for a vehicle in this segment would I seriously consider it?
A.)    Yes

Q.)    All things being fairly equal would I select Civic over its competitors?
A.)    Most likely

Results: If I answer “Yes” to at least 75% of the questions in my cheap little survey then Civic would be the one. Now I’ll undo my blindfold and see the findings…What, Ho!!! Civic wins.

Just to let you know, we were lucky to get the Civic at all considering the launch of the redesigned 2012 was disrupted so severely by the Japan earthquake and tsunami in March. Honda likely will have to resort to a marketing re-launch in the fall.

Dealers held blowout sales of the outgoing Civic in March and April in anticipation of the 2012, but allocations of the new models have been slow in coming. And while some dealers are reporting defections to competing brands' products it seems many Civic buyers have put their purchases on hold creating a pent-up demand that Honda hopes to alleviate sooner than later.

To the Civic buyers who are on hold I say hang in there, it’s worth the wait.