Now in its Ninth Generation, the Honda Civic Continues to Fly High
In 2010, Honda sold 260,218 eighth-generation Civics, or more units than BMW sold, well, all told (220,113). In fact, Civic sales were nearly as much as that of the complete BMW group (266,069), which includes Mini and Rolls-Royce. Suffice it to say, many an automaker would love to enjoy entire portfolio sales comparable to that of Honda’s Civic.
So you can imagine the challenges Honda faced when it came time to replace the extraordinarily successful Gen 8, which just happed to win Motor Trend’s 2006 Car of the Year award. The ninth generation would have to take the nameplate to the next level, offering improvements in dynamic performance, fuel economy, interior volume, design, and safety. You name it — it had to be better. Yet, if Gen 9 were too much of a radical design departure, it risked turning off the quarter-million-plus prospective annual buyers, sending them packing to one of many hot, new compacts from Ford, Chevy, Hyundai, et al.
Honda opted for the safe route, which could prove unsafe if the Civic doesn’t meet expectations. Gen 9’s exterior design, which is meant to be distinctive, clean, and energetic, per Honda, looks decidedly similar to that of Gen 8, retaining the so-called “mono-form body.” Why? Honda wanted the new model to be instantly recognizable as a Civic. Inside, Gen 8’s twin-tier dash was kept, albeit significantly revised, to carry on the well-liked and well-established design theme. A large analog tachometer remains the focal point of the lower tier, while a digital speedometer flanked by fuel and engine-temp displays sits up top. New for 2012 is a 5-inch intelligent media info display, or i-MID, that resides in the right corner of the upper tier. Controlled via a steering wheel-mounted keypad, i-MID shows information for audio, Bluetooth phone/audio, fuel economy, clock, and upcoming navigation turns.
Much of the 2012’s resemblance to its predecessor stems from the exterior dimensions, which have changed not a tenth of an inch. Length (177.3 inches), width (69.0), and height (56.5) for the sedan are all the same as before; only the wheelbase, at 105.1, has shrunk 1.2 inches. The 2012 coupe’s dimensions – LxWxH of 175.5 x 69.0 x 55.0 and wheelbase of 103.2 – are nearly identical to ’11’s, which differ only in width (-0.1) and wheelbase (-1.1).
You might think interior size has remained status quo, too. You’d be wrong. Sedan passenger volume is up 3.7 cubic feet, from 90.9 to 94.6, with big jumps in rear legroom (+1.6 inches) and shoulder room (+2.9 front, +0.9 rear). Even cargo volume, at 12.5 cubic feet, is up 0.5. Apparently, Honda’s approach of “man maximum, machine minimum” paid dividends. And the coupe? It actually shrunk a bit in passenger volume, from 83.7 to 83.2, but cargo volume swells from 11.5 to 11.7 and front shoulder room and rear legroom both see small increases.
By using 5 percent more high-strength steel, Honda claims the Civic’s body is 7 percent lighter, 10 percent stiffer in static rigidity, and 11 percent stronger in dynamic rigidity. Further, a new electric power steering (EPS) system, a redesigned front subframe, and a thin-walled fuel tank all combine to shave more lbs. With standard safety equipment including six airbags, Honda’s ACE body structure, stability control, and “motion adaptive” EPS, which applies steering assist to prevent loss of control, the 2012 is billed as the safest Civic ever.
As before, the new Civic retains a front strut/rear multilink setup to which Honda has increased suspension stroke and reduced damper friction. According to Honda, the results are a smoother ride and improved stability. Honda also claims the Civic offers best-in-class aerodynamics, although it won’t release an actual Cd value. Regardless, the EPA has released the numbers that really matter: fuel economy.
At its worst, the Civic returns 25 mpg combined (Si); at its best, 44 mpg combined (Hybrid). To make achieving the EPA’s numbers as easy as possible, every Civic, sans the Si, comes equipped with Honda’s Eco Assist system, which, at the touch of a green button, alters the dash meter color to help the driver maintain economical driving habits.
For a more in-depth look at the various 2012 Civics, including drive impressions of some trims, please read on.
Honda’s 1.8-liter 16-valve I-4 with i-VTEC, producing 140 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 128 pound-feet at 4300, remains Civic’s volume-selling engine, motivating DX, LX, and EX coupes and sedans as well as the new HF sedan. Although peak horsepower is realized 200 rpm later, a fatter midrange torque curve now exists between 2000 and 4000 rpm, providing more usable oomph for daily driving. To increase fuel efficiency, the 1.8 boasts increased intake airflow, enhanced valve timing, and better exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) flow. A five-speed automatic, standard on EX and HF sedans and available on all other 1.8-liter coupes and sedans, carries over, but now sports an increased capacity torque converter and reduced clutch friction. For shift-it-yourselfers, a five-speed manual is standard on DX and LX coupes and sedans, and the EX coupe. In conjunction with reduced brake drag, low rolling-resistance tires, and slicker aerodynamics, the 1.8-liter Civic’s powertrain improvements net fuel-economy numbers of 28 mpg city/36 mpg highway with the manual, 28/39 with the auto, and 29/41 for the HF.
Speaking of the HF, it’s Honda’s new high fuel-economy gas Civic. To crest the magic 4-0 on the highway, the HF utilizes a small trunk spoiler, lightweight aero wheels with even lower rolling-resistance rubber, and an added tank cover and extra rear undercover to reduce drag 4.4 percent. With Chevy’s manual-tranny Cruze Eco delivering 42 mpg highway, Honda is quick to point out the HF is the most fuel-efficient automatic gas-only compact on the market. Cost? The HF starts at $20,205 and comes with stability control, ABS, power windows, A/C, tire-pressure monitoring system, USB audio, keyless entry, and cruise control.
At $16,355 (coupe) and $16,555 (sedan), the DX soldiers on as Civic’s cost leader, but don’t let the price fool you – standard equipment includes stability control, ABS, power windows, auto-off headlamps, integrated rear-window antenna, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and 15-inch wheels. Perhaps more impressive, the prices have stayed at 2011 levels.
The LX, at $18,405 (coupe) and $18,605 (sedan), is Civic’s volume player, replete with AM/FM/CD/Aux audio, A/C, keyless entry, cruise control, auto up/down driver window, and map lights. Compared to 2011 prices, ’12 LX tags are up $100.
For $20,455 (coupe) and $21,255 (sedan), the premium EX steps up with Bluetooth phone/audio, power moonroof, 16-inch alloys, six-speaker audio (seven speakers for coupe), 60/40-split fold-down rear seat, rear disc brakes, variable intermittent wipers, and a five-speed auto (sedan). To get an auto in the coupe, add $800. Auto-equipped EXs can also be had with navigation with voice recognition, satellite radio, and traffic updates ($1500).
The $22,705 cream-of-the-crop EX-L coupe and sedan, available only with an automatic, add heated leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and heated mirrors; navigation can be added for the same $1500. Versus 2011 costs, ’12 EX prices vary considerably — up $100 (EX coupe, sedan), status quo (EX-L coupe, sedan), down $400 (EX Navi coupe, sedan), and down $500 (EX-L Navi coupe, sedan).
So how do the 1.8s drive? In short, like baby Accords. Whereas the Gen 8 Civic delivered a somewhat busy ride, relatively high NVH, and quick-feeling reflexes, the Gen 9 is smoother, quieter, more refined, and more deliberate. Turn-in is less abrupt and dynamic transitions are better subdued, so when driven aggressively, the Civic comes across as less nervous and more composed. The ride is softer and cabin noise seems calmer than before.
Of course, under WOT, the 1.8 is still buzzy, a reminder that the Civic’s power plan is designed for fuel economy, not high performance. While some of Gen 8’s small-car charm — the immediacy of the steering, the detailed sense of the road — has been lost with Gen 9, the end product is nonetheless superior, offering higher dynamic limits, better fuel economy, and improved comfort and on-road manners.
The big news for the Civic Hybrid are a lighter, smaller, more powerful battery — now a 48-pound, 16-liter, 27-horsepower lithium-ion versus a 68-pound, 25-liter, 20-horse nickel-metal hydride — a 1.5-pound-lighter electric motor providing 2 pound-feet of additional torque, and a bigger 1.5-liter 8-valve I-4 replacing last year’s 1.3 liter. Combined power is now at 110 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 127 pound-feet at 1000, improvements over last year’s 110 horses at 6000 (500 rpm later) and 123 pound-feet at 1000. A CVT continues as the sole transmission, but now features a 3.94 axle ratio (versus 4.94 for 2011) as well as oil temperature and pressure sensors. Similar to the fuel-miser HF, the Hybrid wears myriad aero enhancements, notably a smaller front grille opening, a miniscule 0.02-inch lower ride height, lightweight five-spoke alloy wheels, a trunk spoiler, and enlarged underbody covers.
Opening at $24,800, the Civic Hybrid comes well-equipped, offering standard LED taillamps, Bluetooth phone/audio, stability control, ABS, power windows and locks, USB audio, and automatic climate control. A leather-equipped Hybrid, adding heated leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and heated mirrors, ups the ante by $1200. And navigation runs an extra $1500, with or without leather. Again, there’s a range of price differences between the 2011 Hybrids and the 2012’s — plus $100 for the Hybrid and Hybrid Leather; minus $400 for the Hybrid Navi and Hybrid Leather Navi.
On a brief 40-mile drive, the Hybrid, like its gas-only sibling, proved a quiet, composed, and refined cruiser. It’ll never be mistaken as speedy — expect 0 to 60 in around 10.5 seconds — but it offers adequate power for everyday commuting and errand-running, and the battery assist helps when a burst of torque is needed. Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system is more seamless than ever. The gas engine’s auto on/off feature is less perceptible; the regenerative braking system is more natural; and maximum EV speed is not only easier to experience, but works up to 43 mph. In light of the previous gen, which returned EPA numbers of 40/41, the new Hybrid sips regular unleaded at a rate of 44/44. When it comes to hybrids, those are the numbers that matter most.
The bad news? The new 2012 Si no longer blessed with a spine-tingling 8000-rpm redline. The good news? Everything else. Yes, the high-rpm screamer that was the 2.0-liter 197-horse 2011 Si is gone. But in its place appears the midrange-monster 2.4-liter 201-horse 2012 with — gasp! — a 7000-rpm redline. Not only are the new Si’s four extra peak ponies realized 800 rpm sooner than before, but its 31 additional pound-feet (now up to 170) come on board 1700 rpm earlier.
The welcome consequences are usable power and pound-feet, whether zipping through cities, canyons, or carousels. In fact, there’s now enough torque that the helical limited-slip differential creates modest torque steer when enthusiastically exiting a tight turn. Whereas the previous Si required a downshift (or two) to net passing power, the new car just asks for more gas. Further, the 2.4-liter, essentially the same I-4 used in the Acura TSX, hasn’t lost the Si’s signature racy roar; it’s simply matured – now more Robert Plant than Kurt Cobain.
The standard six-speed manual (no automatic is offered), also shared in basic form with the TSX, is as slick and sweet as they come. It’s so excellent that it could probably even convert a dual-clutch diehard. Better yet, the brawnier powertrain delivers improved fuel economy over last year’s 2.0-liter/6M duo — 22/31 versus 21/29.
On the outside, the Si’s unique front grille, foglamps, rear bumper and diffuser, chrome exhaust finisher, 17-inch alloys, and rear spoiler with integrated LED CHMSL alert passersby that this is the sportiest of Civics. Inside, metal pedals, a metal/leather shift knob, a red meter color, 360-watt audio, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and cloth-covered sport seats (both with red stitching) remind the driver that the throttle should be firmly depressed — often. The Si’s i-MID gets an exclusive “Power Monitor” setting — a bar display numbered from 0 to 100 percent that indicates engine output — that is far more gimmicky than useful.
Conversely, the new i-VTEC rev indicator, located to the left of the digital speedo, is very handy. A horizontal string of six lighted dots (four orange, two red), the indicator’s first orange dot comes on at 5200 rpm, the second at 5600, and the third at 6000. The final orange dot lights at 6350, with the fifth and sixth dots (both red) turning on at 6700 and 7000, respectively. When aggressively hustling the Si, the rev indicator serves as a quick, reliable way of knowing when to perform a flick-of-the-wrist upshift.
The Si’s revised EPS is also noticeably better than its predecessor’s setup, providing superior off-center weighting and a more organic feel. Moreover, the sport-tuned suspension — front struts/rear multilink — delivers a taut ride with higher limits, yet feels more compliant than the 2011 Si’s. If there was a Honda that could carry the Prelude torch, this new Si seems to fit the bill perfectly.
Price? For the coupe, $22,955, and for the sedan, $23,155, both of which represent a $0 increase compared to the 2011s. Nav adds $1500 ($500 less than for 2011) and high-performance summer tires remain a $200 option.