2012 Honda Civic EX-L with Navi Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Honda Civic EX-L

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

SEE ALSO: Honda Buyers Guide


2012 Honda Civic Sedan EX-L with Navi

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Honda Civic EX-L

When the 2012 Honda Civic debuted partway through 2011, somewhat surprisingly it did not get rave reviews. And not just from the enthusiast press, but from consumer-oriented publications as well. Complaints seemed to center around the newest, ninth-generation, Civic being, well, boring. Not as sporty as it once was…

My interest was piqued. But, the logistics and politics of press car scheduling being what they are, I didn't have a chance to drive the new Civic for any length of time until last week, which I spent with a top-of-the-line EX-L with Navi sedan.


Watch the Honda Civic sedan on-road driving video


Verdict after that week? Regarding the "lost its sporty character" criticisms, did someone have a bad day? Want "sporty" in a Civic? Think "Si", not the others. Perhaps the criticism was aimed at the steering? Among many other changes, Honda has gone to electric assist for the power steering, to save weight, fuel, hydraulic fluid, and maintenance. Electric power steering (EPS) inherently has less feedback and feel than does hydraulic-assist, and yes, the new Civic's steering is a bit numb. But it's not as numb as some EPS implementations I've driven, which feel more like video game controllers than car steering.

Economy, not performance is the idea behind the new Civic. On the left rear side window is a leaf-shaped sticker with the word "Econ", and there is a button so marked (green, of course) on the dash to the left of the steering wheel. Pressing that remaps the engine and transmission control computers for more fuel-efficient operation, with a colored display next to the speedometer providing feedback to the driver. The car seemed to me to work better in Econ mode than otherwise, too.

What else is new with the 2012 Civic? Everything… It's a definite development of the previous generation in style, with new unibody structure underneath. Suspension is, unlike many competitors, fully independent. Wheelbase is 1.2 inches shorter but all external dimensions are the same. Interior space has increased by 3.7 cubic feet. Weight is down by 20 to 60 pounds, depending on model. The engine and transmission are basically the same, with revisions for improved fuel efficiency.

Which means that the 2012 Honda Civic is just like the 2011 model, but more so. And there is a Civic for every compact sedan (or coupe) need, with sedans offered in economy DX, mid-level LX, premium EX and EX-L, performance Si, frugality HF, Hybrid, and Natural Gas-powered form. Want performance? Si. Want maximum fuel economy with gasoline? Hybrid, or HF. Alternative fuel? Natural Gas. Bare-bones basic? DX. Mid-level comforts? LX. Near-luxury trimmings? EX or EX-L (as in Leather).

My EX-L with Navi(gation system) test car was a pleasant, comfortable, and roomy small car with features that would have been only in the domain of the luxury class not long ago. Sporty? Not really, but maneuverable and pleasant to drive, with good steering and brakes. And good fuel economy, high 20s around town, high 30s on the open highway, and 32 mpg overall. With no lack of power for necessary acceleration, merging, and hill-climbing duties. The Honda Civic has been a class benchmark since it first appeared, and it's still the car all competitors aim for.


Honda Civic's Chief Designer explains the new Civic design


APPEARANCE: Honda Civic, The Next Generation… the "futuristic and distinctive compact" concept embodying a "one-motion" monoform shape debuted on the previous Civic and has been further developed here. Surfaces have more angular highlights, with the hood and grille showing a resemblance to the Insight hybrid and the sides defined by prominent wheel arches and character lines. Both the windshield and rear window are more raked than before, giving a more coupe-like profile, and, with careful under-body air management, less aerodynamic drag. A re-sculpted rear panel features wraparound taillights.

COMFORT: Inside as out, the new Civic builds on the old in design. The double-layer instrument panel gives a spaceship-modern ambiance, but it's as functional as it is stylish as it presents necessary information is a clear manner with minimal driver eye movement and adjustment required. At the top, directly in front of the driver, is the digital speedometer, flanked here by a colored bar graph that is part of the ECON system. It's good being green… To the left of that is the fuel gauge, to the right, an instant-mpg readout. All brightly backlit. Further left is the information system display. Below are less-vital instruments like the tach, and warning lights. The EX-L Navi's namesake navigation screen is at the top center of the IP, canted toward the driver but accessible by the passenger. It has a combination touch-screen/external hard button interface and is also used for audio system control. Audio meaning here AM/FM/Sirius-XM radio, CD, and external devices by either a jack at the front of the console or a USB port in the console box -- both with adjacent power points. Prominently at the extreme left of the dash is that ECON button.

The EX-L has very comfortable leather-upholstered front seats with two-level cushion heating, manually-adjustable, and manual tilt and telescope adjustment for its leather-wrapped steering wheel. Which has controls for the information, audio, and cruise control systems and a Bluetooth-enabled phone. The rear contoured bench is also leather, and offers plenty of space for two medium-sized adults (5-9 or less), with a cozier center position. The back folds 60/40 to handle awkward items, but the trunk capacity is large enough that that shouldn't be a common occurrence. Yes, dash and door materials are textured hard plastics. So? Does anyone remember the (lack of) longevity of some soft-touch materials of the past?

SAFETY: Safety features found in the new Honda Civic sedan include dual-stage front, seat-mounted front side, and side airbags, a strong "Advance Compatibility Engineering™" structure around the passenger cabin augmented by front and rear crumple zones, four-wheel antilock brakes (disc in the EX and above) with brake assist, the Vehicle Stability Assist™ (VSA®) electronic stability system , and the new Motion Adaptive Electric Power Steering System.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Extensive use of lightweight high-strength steel means weight reduction for the new Civic, which means improvements in handling, performance, and fuel economy. The suspension is the same fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear design as before, with detail improvements to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness. A 1.2-inch decrease in wheelbase may quicken response to driver inputs some, but the major change is adoption of electric power steering. It's integrated into the VSA system to help the driver steer out of trouble in hard cornering or slippery conditions.

PERFORMANCE: The engine in the DX, LX, EX, and HF models has the same 1.8-liter capacity, 140 horsepower (at 6500 rpm), and 128 lb-ft of torque (at 4300 rpm) as that found in 2011 equivalents. It has the same basic single overhead camshaft design and aluminum alloy construction, but there are numerous small changes that add up to improved efficiency through reduced friction. Its version of the i-VTEC valve control system is designed for low emissions, maximum efficiency, and optimized torque output between 2000 and 4000 rpm, where the engine most commonly operates. A variable-length intake manifold makes further contributions. The engine does indeed run best at those speeds, and the five-speed automatic transmission keeps it there. ECON mode takes advantage of electronic throttle control to change response to driver input for more gradual throttle control, for better fuel efficiency. Press harder for more acceleration when necessary, as usual. I kept it on except when on steep highway grades, where I also resorted to shifting out of "D" into "D3" to keep the engine spinning high enough for adequate power for quick acceleration in traffic if necessary.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2012 Honda Civic EX-L combines comfort, refinement, and fuel efficiency.


Honda's Assistant Vice President of Product Planning talks about the new Civic


SPECIFICATIONS

2012 Honda Civic Sedan EX-L Navi

Base Price $ 23,455

Price As Tested $ 24,225

Engine Type 16-valve SOHC aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with i-VTEC® variable valve control

Engine Size 1.8 liters / 110 cu. in.

Horsepower 140 @ 6500 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 128 @ 4300 rpm

Transmission 5-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 105.1 in. / 177.3 in.

Curb Weight 2795 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 20

Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P205/55R16 89H Conti ProContact

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, VSA standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multi-link

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon

city / highway / observed 28 / 39 / 32

0 to 60 mph 9.0 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Destination and handling $ 770


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