The 1980′s girl band The Bangles had a song titled “Hero Takes a Fall”. That sort of summarizes what happened when Honda took the wraps off the redesigned 2012 Civic. At the Honda booth at the New York City Auto Show, media reaction to the new Civic was, to put it nicely, chilly. Then Consumer Reports reviewed the Civic, and the unthinkable happened: they removed their Recommended rating. Always the darling of Consumer Reports, Honda was quickly schooled that just because you are Honda, being Recommended is not guaranteed. In an unprecedented move, Honda went back to work quickly, and what we have is the revised 2013 Honda Civic.
So, what happened? How did the Civic fall out of favor with the media? One problem with the new Civic was that it looked almost exactly like the old Civic, a car that has been around since 2006. What was futuristic then is quite familiar now. Also, the Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus happened, two competitors that offered style that made the Civic look like bland and uninteresting in comparison-a huge turn-off for younger buyers. In sum, the new Civic looked tired compared to what else was out there. In the span of a year, Honda has made minor changes to the Civic that go a long way. In front, there is a new hood, grille, headlights and fascia. Out back, a new trunk and taillights complete the changes. On paper, these sound minor, but all conspire for the most sophisticated looking Civic ever. Natty looking alloy wheels replace the forgettable wheels of the ’12 model. Given limited time, Honda has done much to modernize the Civic, with the upscale touch buyers now expect in this class of car.
Another area where critics really had a problem was the interior. Cheap feeling plastics, materials, and, like the exterior, a nearly identical interior look did no favors. Although well-built, the 2012 Honda Civic just screamed commuter car from inside. You could easily imagine one of the cast from the movie “Office Space” driving this car. It wasn’t horrible, it was just…blah. After looking at the 2012 Civic and riding in it, my wife declared it one the most boring cars I had ever tested. Interior architecture remains the same, but materials are improved with softer plastics and higher quality fabrics. Even small features like silver painted surrounds for the air vents and faux stitching on the dash and door panels help to add a more upscale feel. But for a company with a reputation for an obsession to detail, it’s frustrating the press had to call them out for a lack of it.
In the engine room, Honda did not touch a thing. The Civic returns with a 1.8L four rated at 140hp. A five-speed manual is available on the base LX only. Optional on the LX, and standard on all other Civics is a five-speed automatic. The EPA gives fuel economy ratings 28/39 MPG city/highway, which is competitive in this class, but numbers I never saw in the real world. The four cylinder is, as before, smooth and refined, and should be sufficient to shuffle its owners in town and on the interstate. However, some critics carped the Civic suffered from sloppy handling, and had lost some of the sportiness that was a part of the Civic’s DNA. In response, Honda added thicker anti-roll bars, a quicker steering ratio and re-tuned bushings. The Civic is no sports sedan, but even the ’12 model felt decent as I recall.
For 2013, Honda has dropped the bargain-basement DX model. Most buyers will gravitate to the regular Civic tested here, available in LX, EX and and EX-L trims. Honda does offer an HF (for improved fuel efficiency), a Hybrid, and Natural Gas models. Our test car was the mid-level EX. Critics panned last year’s Civic for being behind in current in-car technology. For 2013, all Civics come standard with Bluetooth, a rear view camera, iPod interface, Pandora Radio functionality and a system that will allow you to hear and respond to text messages without taking your hands off the wheel. Our EX test car added 16″ alloy wheels, six-speaker stereo, a power sunroof and auto climate control. Including delivery, our Civic EX has an MSRP of $21,605USD. As before, if you want satellite radio, you must order the navigation package.
The funny thing is with this quick rehash of the Civic is that for all the beating it took in the press, sales remained strong. Your average car buyer out there simply trusts that the Civic will be a reliable car that will offer years of dependable service. Honda has so much brand equity they could have just coasted and take the beating from the media. But they didn’t, and I have to respect them for that. Honda chose instead to show that they do listen to the media. And their dealers as well. Rumor has it Honda told their dealers to dump the 2012 Civics since no one would want them when the the 2013′s started to show up. With such fierce competition out there, Honda has finally given the Civic what it needed to be a player.