The new Civic doesn't seem to come to life in quite the same way on a curvy road. It rides slightly better than the previous version—definitely better than some in this class—but in the process Honda has dialed down some of the feel in the steering, and the crisp turn-in we've noted in prior Civics is feeling a little more...Elantra-like, with some roll and lean and no urge to relish the corners. Positively, the Civic feels confident and comfortable in highway cruising—better than most in this class, and better than we remember from the previous Civic.
Yet thankfully, Honda hasn't showed so much restraint with shopping factors like fuel economy and safety. The new Civic comes in new Civic HF and much-improved, 44-mpg Civic Hybrid flavors, and the 2012 Civic sedans have already been given IIHS Top Safety Pick status.
Impressive gas mileage
And even the mainstream Civic EX does well in that respect. Over the course of a week and about 100 miles of driving, we managed 28 mpg in mostly short-trip city stop-and-go, with some suburban freeway driving mixed in.
The interior of the Civic feels somewhat softened, but still a little eccentric. We still aren't completely used to the tall, daunting fortress of an instrument panel, which is the antithesis of the much-loved, airy low-beltline IPs of Honda's past. Some might think that the dash is a little drab, but we really appreciated how Honda hasn't gone overboard with plastichrome and brightwork. We also loved the criss-cross corduroy look (and feel) of the cloth seats (we'd prefer them to the glossy leather that's been typically offered in the EX-L), and the good, solid feel of the switchgear. Yet with all these surfaces, the interior can feel busy; near the ECON button, where the door panel meets the edge of the dash, four different-grained surfaces all meet within an inch or two of each other.
Interior space in the Civic wasn't bad before, and it's become a bit better. This 6'-6” editor tried sitting in the back seat—with success—although getting in requires a tuck around the doorsill. Front seats have been recontoured this year and while GreenCarReports editor John Voelcker liked them in a longer trip with the Honda Civic Hybrid I found them to have the same issue as before—rather short, flat lower cushions that put the pressure all on one area.
Our EX came with a $22,775 price tag, and felt like a good deal all considered. Air conditioning, Bluetooth, a USB audio input, cruise control, a six-speaker sound system, and a navigation system with no-subscription FM-based traffic info were all included in that price.
Infotainment lags rival models
While we liked the new i-MID secondary screen up high, next to the speedometer—displaying trip computer and audio functions through an intuitive toggle on the steering wheel—the operation of the Bluetooth system and touch-screen nav system (which you need to access deeper audio controls) was still unintuitive, and not much better than that in a 2010 Civic EX. We couldn't figure out how to display more than a few characters for XM or MP3 song tags, channel and song lists kept defaulting to channel zero, or the very beginning of the library, and Bluetooth calling with an iPhone was oddly sluggish.
The 2012 Honda Civic family earns just a 6.6 out of 10 on The Car Connection's scale, and while the Civic feels marginally improved in some areas, it's simply no longer the benchmark for this segment. Trouble (for Honda) is, most other automakers have caught up and aren't giving compacts short-shrift, as they had been. The new Chevrolet Cruze, for instance, feels more comfortable and spacious, as well as better-appointed, while the Ford Focus simply goes down the road with a more refined, tight feel and has excellent handling.
This new Civic, on the other hand, wreaks of caution and restraint, and feels as if Honda is catering to aging Honda Civic owners seeking a slightly more conservative replacement. While it's a good car throughout, it's a personality change that's evident from a walkaround, to browsing the interior, to driving around town or enthusiastically.
What we'd like to see is a little more Civic engagement.