Driving Northwest: 2012 Honda Civic

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on August 4, 2011 at 5:17 PM

For years Honda Civic has kept the competition awake at night.  Its closest competitor in volume has always been Corolla but really, the two have stood apart.  Toyota built reliable transportation, Honda added that elusive element called soul.  Civic’s combination of practicality, reliability and a touch of sport has drawn everyone from college students to families to the tuner crowd.  

Now comes the 2012 model.  In case you missed it Consumer Reports has broken its long-standing love affair with the Civic stating the LX model scores too low to be recommended.  Ouch.  This is like Popeye shunning spinach.  Consumer Reports says, “Stopping distances are long. The steering is lightly weighted and comes up short on feedback. Body lean appears early in the corners. The ride is marred by frequent short pitches. And road noise still remains an annoying companion.”
 
Honda responds, “In a broad sense, we disagree with Consumer Reports' findings. Without question, the small sedan segment is more competitive than ever. In virtually every way, the completely redesigned 2012 Civic is a step forward. The new Civic excels in areas that matter to small-car customers, including fuel efficiency, safety, and reliability.”
 
How Convenient
 
Honda had dropped off a Civic EX with Navi press car a few days before the Consumer Reports announcement.  I generally don’t read other reviews until after I’ve photographed and written my own.  That remains the case with this one.  I purposely didn’t look at Consumer Reports comments until my opinion was solidified.     
 
Consumer Reports bought a lower end LX model that retails for $19,425 with destination, which is built to a price point with rear drum brakes.  My tester is one level shy of top-shelf at $22,775.  Only the EX-L with Navi is higher.
 
Enough of the Consumer Reports ordeal.  I’ll concentrate on Civic like any other review until the end of this piece.  
 
Decisions, decisions…
 
It’s tough to decide on a Civic these days with five different models.  There’s the standard model I’m driving with three trim levels, a fuel efficient version called HF and another that runs on compressed natural gas that will be available in most states this fall.  There’s also a hybrid, and the performance Si.  You’ll also need to choose between coupe or sedan variants.
 
Generation nine looks similar to the outgoing car, retaining the rakish silhouette which was very daring for its day.  For 2012 the details within the overall shape have become more conservative.  Window trim is no longer completely flush, there are pieces on the B and C pillar that jut out just a bit, surprising in this nit-picky age of keeping things as aerodynamic as possible. 
 
Moving inside, the cabin keeps the polarizing two-tiered instrument panel design, adding a nice color display to the upper level.  It shows warnings, radio station info and phone activity to name a few functions and visually broadens the upper hood piece.  The dash is made of hard plastic with a texture that looks like rice paper.  The instrument panel is less amorphic now, I prefer the new shape though the cabin appears somewhat more spartan looking.
 
Tech Talk  
 
EX with Navigation gets iPod and phone integration (including Bluetooth audio streaming) a decent sound system with XM tuner and (duh) a voice activated navigation system that gets traffic updates.  There’s also a sunroof. 
 
The woven floor material and headliner have a budget look about them.  Do you stare at the floor and the ceiling much?  Putting less expensive materials where they aren’t as noticed is part of the black art of keeping a car affordable.  Those with kids would be advised to go with darker fabric than the “stone” colored seats in my tester.
 
As expected in a modern car there are all sorts of electronic stability and traction controls on board.  Honda makes it easy to max out fuel economy.  Drive hard and bars that flank the digital speedometer turn from green to blue, signaling you could drive more efficiently Mr. Speed Racer.
    
Unlike Focus and Elantra, keyless ignition is not offered on Civic.  You’ll also have to migrate to other brands if you want a car with auto climate control, remote start or heated back seats.
 
Speaking of, the rear passenger space is comfortable for two full-sized adults or three skinny ones. There’s a good amount of foot and leg room, storage in the doors, and a folding center armrest.  No power port in the rear and just one seatback pocket.  
 
We Make It Simple
 
That’s not just an old Honda ad slogan.  Civic EX only comes with one powertrain.  The transmission is a five-speed automatic with no manual shift mode.   For those keeping score, Cruze, Elantra and Focus get six gears.  It’s hooked up to a very clean and smooth 1.8-liter 140 horse four-cylinder. EPA rates this setup at 28 city, 39 highway.  The HF model adds 1 to 2 MPG largely by way of aerodynamic tweaks and low rolling-resistance tires.  
 
An “econ” button on the dash helps drivers to eek out a few extra miles per tank.  It softens throttle response, remaps the transmission shift points, affects AC operation, and allows the cruise control to be less draconian about holding speed when climbing hills before it downshifts.  This mode makes Civic noticeably more sluggish, glad it can be turned off.
 
Acceleration is about par for the course in this class.  0-60 runs happen in the low nine-second range.  Honda, historically known for allowing more road noise through says there’s less of it now, though Civic doesn’t seem as quiet as Chevy Cruise.
 
New Driving Dynamic  
 
For 2012, Civic’s ride quality gets tuned for the masses with suspension dialed toward comfort.  That’s great when cruising but the revered touch of athleticism is now gone from this car.  There’s more body roll in corners and the steering is light.  Want more of a sporty dynamic?  Go directly to the 201 horsepower Si model. 
 
Anti-lock brakes are discs all around on EX.  Pedal modulation is good, stopping distances are a bit longer than some of the others in class.  Edmunds Inside Line says they are prone to fade with repeated hard stops.  
 
For average sized owners, Civic’s visibility is terrific.  Short drivers, pay attention on your test drive.  When positioned close to the wheel the windshield pillar could possibly block your left side view.  It’s thinner than the outgoing car’s and you have to be pretty petite for that to happen.  Civic is not alone here, it’s something that’s more common as cars become more aerodynamic.
 
In the unfortunate event of an accident the ACE body structure has proven itself in IIHS and NHTSA crash tests.  Civic comes with the expected six airbags.
 
My How You Have Grown
 
Civic isn’t much bigger this time around but in case you haven’t noticed it’s no longer the tiny car it once was. It’s about the same size as an Accord from a number of generations back.  That helps cargo capacity.
 
Some mid-sized sedans hold only six packs of Kirkland brand bath tissue, Civic gobbles up seven and can carry more with the split folding rear seats. 
 
So, the 2012 Civic is roomy, fuel efficient, safe and most likely reliable.  For a new model though it’s no more compelling than the outgoing one.  Because Cruze, Focus and Elantra are substantially improved from their predecessors they give Civic real competition, something it has never really had.  
 
Back To Consumer Reports 
 
No doubt, use them in your decision making but I’m loath to give any one resource too much weight.  Opinions vary, Cars.com for one does recommend Civic. It’s a crazy business these days folks.  Many of the charges leveled at Civic apply to the newest Volkswagen Jetta, another car that didn’t move the needle much with its redesign.  The result?  VW has never sold more of them.  For Honda, that can’t be determined until their supply chain gets back to normal.  Let’s check back in a year, shall we?
 
I’ll close with my three favorite tips: Test drive, test drive, test drive.  You’re spending over $20,000, take a day or two to experience all the vehicles in the segment you’re buying, even the ones you might dismiss at first.  A car is a personal choice, the smallest details can make a difference to an individual.  Make sure the one that ends up in your driveway is best for you.
 

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