By this point, the Honda Civic compact is an American institution.
The newest generation, all new for 2012, builds on the car's traditional strengths--sporty roadholding, good gas mileage--but faces increasingly stringent competition from new entries like the 2011 Hyundai Elantra.
The 2012 Honda Civic line comprises a four-door sedan with a 1.8-liter gasoline engine, the Civic Si two-door coupe (the hot rod of the line), and three high-gas-mileage models: the Civic Hybrid, the Civic HF model, and the Civic Natural Gas.
In styling, the 2012 Civic is evolutionary rather than radically redesigned. Its front and side profile are instantly recognizable as Honda Civic, though the rear end is new enough that it doesn't instantly read "Civic" unless you see the rest of the car.
The 2012 Civic's footprint is similar to the previous model, though the new model was adjusted halfway through its design cycle to take a few more inches off its length.
As always, the Civic's strength is its handling. It's still probably the most enjoyable of all compact entries to drive, though other entries are starting to catch up.
The gasoline model's acceleration--we drove a 2012 Civic EX four-door sedan--is lively, but the flat, confident roadholding always positions the car where the driver wants it.
Handling is even tighter and flatter in the Civic Si performance model, but at the cost of significant interior noise under virtually all circumstances.
The Si's new 2.4-liter engine produces its maximum torque roughly at engine speeds roughly 1,000 rpm lower than its predecessor, but as always, you still have to spin the engine toward its 7000-rpm redline to get the power. Novice Si drivers may find themselves one gear too high for useful acceleration under many different circumstances.
The sedan, which is offered with a five-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic, is projected to return 39 mpg on the EPA highway cycle. That's close to the 40-mpg Holy Grail for highway mileage, and a 3-mpg improvement on the old Civic.
For maximum gas mileage, though, there's the Civic Hybrid model, now in its third generation. Its EPA ratings are projected to be 44 mpg on both city and highway cycles, and for 2012, it provides more boost from a larger 15-kilowatt (20-hp) electric motor.
It's worth noting that the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid uses Honda's first-ever lithium-ion battery pack, which takes up relatively little room in the trunk and weighs far less than the older nickel-metal-hydride battery in its predecessor.
The pre-production hybrid model we drove could still have used a little work to iron out a few rough spots in the integration of regenerative and friction braking. We experienced some stumbles and irregular brake feel switching from acceleration to braking and back.
It does, however, offer the ability to run in electric-only mode under limited circumstances. We saw electric running at speeds as high as 36 mph, but only for very short periods. That's still an improvement on the old Civic Hybrid model, however.