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The Honda Civic used to be not only the sportiest-driving compact but also arguably the most stylish and desirable. But that car you remember might not bear much semblance to what you'll find after some cross-shopping. In the years since then the Civic has grown, and Honda has vied for more of the mass-market, but in the process has lost a lot of the appeal that used to charm miserly enthusiasts, as well as affluent households who could afford more, to add a Civic to the garage. That said, the Civic remains a comfortable, spacious, and economical small-car choice.
While the Civic has been fully refreshed for 2012, not much about the lineup itself has changed. The Civic still comes in standard Coupe and Sedan models, a Civic Si two-door coupe, a Civic Hybrid sedan, an eco-minded Civic HF, and a Civic Natural Gas. 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 Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, and Chevrolet Cruze.
With this latest redo the Civic has become undeniably a little more conservative. While the new Civic retains much of the futuristic, previous-generation model—including its rakish roofline—it tones down the look with more conservative rear styling. Likewise, inside Honda has kept the dual-tier instrument panel but recontoured it to cant slightly (and disconcertingly, to some) toward the driver.
While the new Civic performs just as well as the previous one, driving enthusiasts who remember what this model once was will find it irksome that Honda's also taken a step toward the conservative side here. The 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter engine, paired with either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic, feels strong and responsive, and it isn't at all boomy when revved as some other models. The Si performance model gets a larger, 201-hp, 2.4-liter four that promises—but doesn't quite deliver—a stronger kick. Meanwhile, our favorite of the lineup is probably the improved 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, which gets an improved version of Honda's mild-hybrid system and impressive 44-mpg city and highway ratings.
Honda hasn't changed the size of the Civic, but with improved seats and a little rejiggering of available space, everyone's going to be pretty comfortable, considering this is a small car. Front seats are a little short and flat, but backseat accommodations are among the better ones for this size. Trunk space is vast, too. Road and wind noise aren't quite the issues they were in the previous-generation Civic, and the ride is a bit softer. But while interiors have been rapidly moving upscale in this class, the Civic's interior feels like a sore point, with hard plastics, thin-feeling panels, and a relatively cut-rate feel.
With a starting price of just $15,605, the Civic remains very affordable. But that base DX model doesn't come with all that much—windows are hand-winding, and there's no Bluetooth, air conditioning, or cruise control. Other models add features—like an improved navigation system, USB inputs, and a new secondary display screen in the line of sight—but also have much a much higher price tag, and it's disappointing that Bluetooth and satellite radio are only offered on the top-of-the-line EX and EX-L models.
Safety-conscious shoppers should make note that the 2012 Honda Civic has already been named an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
- Smooth, absorbent ride
- Roomy trunk
- 44-mpg Hybrid
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- Bland styling
- Hard plastic dash materials
- Hybrid's low-speed drivability
- Flat, uncomfortable front seats
- Road and wind noise