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2012 Honda Civic: An Honest and Unbiased Review

Honda just can’t seem to catch a break these days.  With the fallout from the tsunami, a profit sucking Japanese currency issue, the floods in Thailand, and the media in an uproar over the new Civic, well, Honda’s public relations team is working overtime.  So, is the Civic really the worst car out of Honda in years or has the segment just gotten that good?

It’s no secret that Ford, Chevrolet, and Hyundai have dumped boat loads of cash into this segment.  Their cars are all selling fairly well and the investments look to be well worth it now.  While the Civic has always been a leader in innovation and engineering, it is starting to feel a bit stale.  Yes, I am talking about the new one for the 2012 model year.  It’s not that the Civic is a bad car, because people still buy A LOT of them but it really didn’t change much over the last model.  The problem lies in the fact that the Civic has stood still while everyone else took three or four steps forward.  Talk to anyone who doesn’t know cars and they’ll be hard pressed to tell you which Civic is the 2012 and which is the 2011 model.  Even the interiors are hard to spot the differences.  Check out this picture.

I wanted to like the Civic, and I do to some extent.  It has some nice features that set it apart from everyone else so I’ll run through those.  The display next to the speedometer with the audio info is well done.  The graphics and fonts are clear and concise.  The resolution looks great when viewing MP3 album art.  The USB jack is nicely positioned in the center console and not in the glove box.  Music is very quickly indexed.  The cabin doesn’t have a high belt line that gives passengers that claustrophobic feeling.  The cabin is open and airy leading you to believe the interior volume is bigger than it is.  Very nice!  The steering wheel feels terrific with perfect thickness, leather, and touch points.  The steering wheel switches have a ‘just right’ tactile feel to them.  The rear seat is very roomy (Ford Focus is not) and can comfortably fit a few adults back there.

Fuel economy was very impressive.  Let’s consider that the Civic lacks direct injection and still has a five-speed transmission.  I was able to achieve 41.6 miles per gallon at 70 MPH with the cruise control and eco button on during a 107 mile jaunt.  That is nothing to scoff at.  I struggled to get over 34 MPGs in the 40 MPG rated Hyundai Elantra.  The Civic EX-L Navi that I was driving was rated 28 MPG city and 39 MPG highway.  So the old school powertrain really can hang with the modern kids.  Yeah, it’s a bit louder than the Cruze but does more with less.  No turbo or direct injection helps to keep the cost down.

OK, so the car has four wheels and gets you from A to B.  No muss, no fuss.  What could Honda do to move the needle and blow past the competition?  Well, a fair bit.  Add some lights to the vanity mirrors for starters.  This Civic stickered at $24,225 and didn’t have any lights to help me when my contact lens fell out.  Not cool.  The cabin lets far too much road noise in, making conversation difficult.  In order to combat road noise I turned up the radio but the speakers started to clip out and sound muffled.  Some of the pieces of plastic used for the interior have no graining to them.  They remind me of preproduction parts that automakers use before they finalize how they want it to look for the consumer.  There is also no backup camera available.  An Elantra that costs thousands less has one of those.  I mentioned how I liked the display for the radio that is next to the speedometer but there is a problem with the plastic that is used over that display.  It has a lot of glare and makes viewing it difficult in certain angles of sunlight.  I don’t care for the navigation radio head unit, which looks like it came off the clearance rack at Best Buy.  The Civic doesn’t handle as well as the Focus but I think it handles well enough for most people.  It’s certainly better than the Jetta but doesn’t exactly give you a warm fuzzy feeling if you had to make an emergency maneuver at 70 MPH to avoid a couch on the freeway.

Hey, maybe I’m splitting hairs but when a car costs as much as a very nicely equipped Sonata, I expect a few things to be well done.  The Ford Focus has terrific materials inside but the rear seat is awful.  The Cruze is impressive in many ways but the styling is more vanilla than spicy.  The Elantra gets you a lot of bang for the buck but fuel economy isn’t what it cracked up to be.  Mazda’s new SKYACTIV has yet to prove itself in the real world.  The Jetta…well, not much going on there except for a diesel.  And the Corolla just can’t compete anymore with the big boys.

So, is the Civic THE WORST HONDA EVER like the media is portraying it to be?  No, it isn’t.  Does it have room for improvement?  Of course!  Every car at this price point has room for improvement.  Will Honda sell a ton of these?  You bet.  Honda has taken this criticism to heart and aims to have many of the shortcomings fixed for the 2014 model year.

Just like the Jetta has the diesel engine, the Civic is the only one with a natural gas option right now.  That unique feature could help set the Civic apart because it supposedly drives like a regular Civic but qualifies or car pool lane access in California.  No need for a pricey electric car for that HOV access.  Honda has the engineering know-how to make great vehicles, so when a giant falls, expect them to get back up and be stronger than they were before.  The segment is the strongest it has ever been with more features and better quality.  All of this is good news for consumers who continue to demand better cars and we’re seeing the strongest evidence of that right now.

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