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2012 Honda Civic: First Drive Impressions

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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.

2012 Honda Civic launch, New York Auto Show, April 2011

2012 Honda Civic launch, New York Auto Show, April 2011

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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.

2012 Honda Civic launch, New York Auto Show, April 2011

2012 Honda Civic launch, New York Auto Show, April 2011

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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.

2012 Honda Civic launch, New York Auto Show, April 2011

2012 Honda Civic launch, New York Auto Show, April 2011

Enlarge Photo

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.

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Comments (14)
  1. The new Civic's dashboard is blocky, bargain-esque, & asymmetrical - all too reminiscent of a 1985 Nissan Stanza's.
    Also, the new Civic is still too low to provide easy ingress\egress for those who are not vertically-challenged. Honda missed the opportunity to add a few inches of roof height to accommodate grown adults seeking an economical sedan.
    Regardless, enough shoppers will be pleased with the fuel-economy improvements and Honda's longstanding bullet-proof reliability.

  2. I loved my Honda Civic (1986). It was stylish, affordable, reliable, fuel efficient — just like now! Thanks for the update, John!

  3. Cheap, basic and dull looking. I've always liked Civics but not this one. SNORE. Those taillights are straight off of the Camry from 2 generations ago!

  4. I actually thought the rear end looked a bit like an old Mitsu. Mirage... :(

  5. I just checked Honda's website, to see which Civic models will have a manual transmission. You can no longer get an EX with a 5-speed manual. That means Honda thinks that just because you want to shift your own gears, you don't want a sunroof, alloy wheels, upgraded audio, or navigation. What a shame.

  6. A cheap Japanese car as an American institution - no wonder the country's in such a hell of a mess!

  7. In just one year, Honda and Hyundai have switched places? Honda the cheaper, more laughable. Hyundai, the leader? Am I mistaken?

  8. Does it have an option to get it without out all these spiders that have been plaguing these cars :-)

  9. I have to agree. The Koreans have taken the design high ground while Honda has taken a turn to blandsville.

  10. It may not look thrilling to you gentleman but it just simply drives so much better than the competition with an agility and fluidity they lack. The Elantra has a great interior, interesting style but drive them back to back and you will notice a difference. One that could get really, really old after a few years.

  11. it looks OK, ive owned two accords and one civic all great vehicles. However, the tail lights look like the ones on my old 95 accord, like they had a bunch left over and decided to use them on the new civic, lol

  12. Honda making ugly cars these days... I've ALWAYS been a Honda fan, but someone needs to smack the engineers up side the head

  13. I have driven the new Elantra and the Civic and really there is not that much difference in the way both cars drive (I suspect the Civic will handle a tad better if driven hard). For your average consumer, I doubt if they would notice any signifigant difference in the way these two cars drive. The Elantra looks much better than the Civic sedan, gets 40 mpg (vs. 39 for theCivic). Has a back up camera option and a six speed auto (all of which is not available on the Civic). And contrary to the uninformed, Honda's are not as reliable as before (for example, I have replaced the transmission 2x already on my 2001 Odyssey and my Accord has experience pre mature brake wear (Honda's have always had poor performaing brakes in general).

  14. Upon hearing that the new Civic Si offered a 2.4L, 170 lb-ft engine (rather than last year's 2.0L, 139 lb-ft engine) my first reaction was that the new Si would be a real screamer compared to the outgoing model!
    But then I compared the hp/torque curves of the two engines: From idle to 6000 rpm, the 2.4L is clearly the winner with gobs more torque and hp. But from 6000 to 7000 rpm, the 2.4L's torque & hp drop so sharply that the performance of both engines looks almost identical. Then from 7000 to 8000 rpm, the old 2.0L's hp continues to peak while the 2.4L is already in the next gear. ...Now I'm not so sure which will be the faster car!

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