2012 Honda Civic Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 16, 2012

The 2012 Honda Civic is a little more spacious, comfortable, and economical, but it's now one of the blandest of the bunch.

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.

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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.

6

2012 Honda Civic

Styling

Honda has refreshed the 2012 Civic throughout, yet the design feels surprisingly anonymous and conservative.

The 2012 Civic has been refreshed and redesigned in most respects, yet its styling is clearly evolutionary rather than radically new.

The front and side profile are instantly recognizable as Honda Civic, though the rear end of the 2012 model is new enough that it doesn't instantly read "Civic" unless you see the rest of the car. We see the taillights as vaguely echoing those of the mid-size Honda Accord, while the front end has a bit more of a chiseled look. Otherwise, while the Civic's flanks have been a little more sculpted—including a raked-upward character line—the roofline looks remarkably familiar, and its footprint is about the same as the outgoing model.

As before, Civic Si models get a host of trim and appearance upgrades—including new wheels, a blacked-out eggcrate grille, chrome-tipped exhausts, and a noticeable rear spoiler—that are bound to draw a little more attention. Inside, too, Si models get a sportier theme, with darker trim, sport seats, and details like a leather-wrapped steering wheel. On the other hand, the Civic Hybrid blends in even more so with the rest of the line; it gets different wheels and front fascia, plus a small spoiler on the trunk lid, but you'd have to read the badges to know that it's the Hybrid—making it the antithesis of the Toyota Prius identity.

Inside, Honda has redesigned the instrument panel and rejiggered the interior for improved interior space—also through resculpted door panels and new seats. While some might find the curvature of the instrument panel, and its dual-level instrument readouts, a bit odd, the design fits right in with Honda's emphasis on practicality over style this time.

7

2012 Honda Civic

Performance

The 2012 Honda Civic still feels a little more nimble and responsive than most other compacts, but the new Si no longer wows.

The 2012 Honda Civic remains offered in several different models—including standard gasoline versions, a Hybrid, the sporty Si, and a Natural Gas version—and they each drive a little bit differently.

 

The standard Civic gasoline models accelerate responsively and have lively acceleration, along with confident handling and roadholding. Steering remains quite good, even though all the models in the lineup now come with an electric power system that doesn't feel quite as good, but it's easy to position the car exactly where you want it within the lane.

 

The sporty Si, once a benchmark, doesn't feel quite as sharp as its predecessor, and shoppers should be aware that the cost of its crisper responses comes in the form of increased road noise. It gets a larger-displacement 2.4-liter engine that 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, yet the larger displacement makes it thirstier than former Si models.

 

The base engine in the Civic remains a 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine that's essentially carryover. That's perfectly fine, as it's one of the best engines in this class, smooth and responsive throughout the rev range, without becoming boomy when you rev it like some other models. Overall, we like the manual gearbox that comes on Civics best; the five-speed automatic tends to balk a little bit with downshifts and doesn't allow manual control.

 

You might not expect the Civic Hybrid to be as enjoyable to drive, but it's fun to chuck around corners and easy to place on corners. Like all of Honda's hybrids since 1999, the 2012 Civic Hybrid is a "mild hybrid," meaning it can't move the car on electric power alone. 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. Boost has been increased for the Honda Civic Hybrid; the hardware consists of a very thin 15-kilowatt (22-horsepower) electric motor, inserted between the 1.5-liter engine and Honda's continuously variable transmission (CVT).

 

The Civic Hybrid can't accelerate in electric-only mode at low speeds, like that of the Prius, but it does offer the ability to run in electric-only mode when cruising at speeds as high as 36 mph, but only for very short periods. In most Civic models there's an Econ mode that allows a gentler throttle calibration, along with more conservative transmission and accessory settings, but in the Hybrid you might need to turn it off to better keep up with traffic on hilly stretches. Because the Civic Hybrid has to restart its engine to move away from a dead stop, it's not as smooth to drive as a Prius-style full hybrid, either, with a tendency to switch the engine off momentarily in stop-and-go traffic, then hesitate for a moment when getting back on the throttle.

 

The 2012 Honda Civic remains offered in several different models—including standard gasoline versions, a Hybrid, the sporty Si, and a Natural Gas version—and they each drive a little bit differently.

 

The standard Civic gasoline models accelerate responsively and have lively acceleration, along with confident handling and roadholding. Steering remains quite good, even though all the models in the lineup now come with an electric power system that doesn't feel quite as good, but it's easy to position the car exactly where you want it within the lane.

 

The sporty Si, once a benchmark, doesn't feel quite as sharp as its predecessor, and shoppers should be aware that the cost of its crisper responses comes in the form of increased road noise. It gets a larger-displacement 2.4-liter engine that 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, yet the larger displacement makes it thirstier than former Si models.

 

The base engine in the Civic remains a 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine that's essentially carryover. That's perfectly fine, as it's one of the best engines in this class, smooth and responsive throughout the rev range, without becoming boomy when you rev it like some other models. Overall, we like the manual gearbox that comes on Civics best; the five-speed automatic tends to balk a little bit with downshifts and doesn't allow manual control.

 

You might not expect the Civic Hybrid to be as enjoyable to drive, but it's fun to chuck around corners and easy to place on corners. Like all of Honda's hybrids since 1999, the 2012 Civic Hybrid is a "mild hybrid," meaning it can't move the car on electric power alone. 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. Boost has been increased for the Honda Civic Hybrid; the hardware consists of a very thin 15-kilowatt (22-horsepower) electric motor, inserted between the 1.5-liter engine and Honda's continuously variable transmission (CVT).

 

The Civic Hybrid can't accelerate in electric-only mode at low speeds, like that of the Prius, but it does offer the ability to run in electric-only mode when cruising at speeds as high as 36 mph, but only for very short periods. In most Civic models there's an Econ mode that allows a gentler throttle calibration, along with more conservative transmission and accessory settings, but in the Hybrid you might need to turn it off to better keep up with traffic on hilly stretches. Because the Civic Hybrid has to restart its engine to move away from a dead stop, it's not as smooth to drive as a Prius-style full hybrid, either, with a tendency to switch the engine off momentarily in stop-and-go traffic, then hesitate for a moment when getting back on the throttle.

7

2012 Honda Civic

Comfort & Quality

A comfortable ride and roomy back seat cover the basics, but the Civic's hard surfaces and noisy interior fail to make an upscale impression.

With the Civic's redesign for 2012, Honda has freed up a little more space, especially inside the Civic sedans, without making these vehicles any larger on the outside. Overall, accommodations are adequate in the four-door, but definitely tight in the coupes. The seats in the 2012 Civic have been redesigned, and while better, they're still flat and too short for taller drivers to be comfortable over long distances. In either model, with the Civic's steeply angled windshield, there's a sense that the dash extends considerably into the cabin, and even in front the Civic can feel a little tight for headroom and legroom compared to other vehicles in this class.

Civic buyers by now will be used to the two-level dashboard design, into which Honda has integrated vastly improved infotainment displays. A multi-directional button on the steering wheel lets the Civic driver navigate through a menus while keeping hands firmly on the wheel, while there's a smaller screen more directly in front of the driver, for trip computer and audio functions.

The downside of the 2012 Civic, however, is the rest of the dashboard. While the curvature of the dash is more an issue of personal taste, many more will find issue with the hard, thin-feeling plastic surfaces that top the dash. The central area of the dash on 2012 Civics without navigation fitted is a large swatch of flat gray plastic, with no texture or accent lines—and you tend to notice it as it's low and under such a long windshield.

In either Coupe or Sedan models, trunk space is more than adequate, with a level, surprisingly wide floor and a relatively easy liftover height. And trunk space in the 2012 Civic Hybrid is no longer significantly compromised. It's the first Honda hybrid fitted with a more compact lithium-ion battery pack, which takes only about 6 or 8 inches out of the trunk depth. Although Hybrid and Natural Gas models do still forgo the folding rear seatbacks.

Less pleasant on the road is the relatively high level of wind noise we've noted in several new Civic models. This is an area where compact cars have made great strides lately, none more so than the remarkably hushed Chevy Cruze, which may be best-in-class for interior quiet. The Civic Hybrid may be a step worse in this are because of its low-rolling-resistance tires.

Audio and climate-control settings feel remarkably straightforward, bordering on drab. And the entire climate-control setup looked a bit like part of an older audio-system faceplate.

But the interior was missing some of the amenities found in other compacts: bottle-holders in front and rear door pockets, a rubber mat to prevent mobile phones from sliding on the flat tray ahead of the shift lever, and a rear-seat power outlet. Also puzzling, from a design/convenience standpoint, is why the aux-in port is just in front of the tray ahead of the shift knob, yet the USB input is inside the center console.

9

2012 Honda Civic

Safety

The 2012 Honda Civic sedan is looking like a very sensible choice for the safety-minded.

The 2012 Honda Civic in sedan form, is a great pick, earning both five-star safety ratings from the federal government and top 'good' results in all categories from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

It should be noted that those results don't extend to the Coupe which, in its last generation, was given a lower 'acceptable' score.

While some of the previous Civic's so-called ACE body structure carries over to the new model, Honda has optimized it to absorb crash impact through “pathways” that distribute forces away from occupants.

Electronic stability control is standard on the Civic, as are anti-lock brakes, side-curtain airbags for front and rear occupants, and front-seat side bags, plus a whiplash-mitigating seat design.

6

2012 Honda Civic

Features

The entry-level 2012 Honda Civic DX is a deal if you're a no-frills shopper; otherwise you have to go to the priciest models for popular features like Bluetooth and satellite radio.

Starting at just $15,605 for the 2012 Honda Civic DX Coupe and running all the way up to $26,750, the 2012 Civic plays several very different roles, depending on which model you choose.

The DX remains largely a no-frills value-leader for the lineup, forgoing many conveniences like audio, cruise control, power accessories, even map lights. Those items are all included in the next-up LX, which gets a USB input, along with power windows and an auto-up driver's side window (which we some of us consider a safety feature). EX models add Bluetooth and an upgraded six-speaker sound system, while top-of-the-line EX-L models come with leather heated seats. But, in the same way that Honda typically packages its vehicles, you can't get Bluetooth on the lower trims, and XM Satellite Radio can only be had with the navigation system.

The navigation system now also includes FM-based traffic information that doesn't require a subscription. LX and EX models, along with Hybrids, get an additional, smaller screen more directly in the driver's view, which accesses trip-computer and audio information (and has a customizable display).

The high-end audio system produces crisp, clean sound on both the high and low ends of the range. But over several drives, we've found a number of disappointments in the navigation-system and audio interfaces. While iPod integration on the 2012 Civic was intuitive and easy to use, the USB port wouldn't charge unknown devices like the Blackberry we connected, or read iPhone media via USB. And we found the Bluetooth interface itself to be quick with some handsets, oddly sluggish with another (an iPhone). Other issues included a very limited number of characters for artists and songs on satellite radio, and channel lists and songlists that always defaulted back to the first channel or first file in the library.

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2012 Honda Civic

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient sedan on the market, and with the exception of the Si the other Civics are also very green choices.

The Honda Civic has always been one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in its class, and the latest 2012 Civic is no exception. With EPA city ratings of 28 or 29 in the city and up to 41 on the highway, the Civic actually gets better mileage than the smaller Honda Fit.

Actually, there is one exception in the lineup: The Civic Si, with its larger 2.4-liter engine and lower gear ratios, doesn't do much better on gas than a mid-size V-6 sedan. If gas mileage is a priority, you might want to reconsider.

For maximum gas mileage, though, there's the Civic Hybrid model, now in its third generation and reworked to be even more fuel-efficient than before. Its EPA ratings are 44 mpg on both city and highway cycles, and for 2012, it provides more boost from a larger 15-kilowatt (20-hp) electric motor.

Nearly all Civics come with an 'Econ' button on the left side of the instrument panel; the mode, when engaged, provides a gentler throttle setting, along with more conservative transmission behavior and accessory operation. It even softens cruise-control responsiveness to save fuel.

In real-world driving, from our observations, the Civic Hybrid is very impressive. Over nearly 400 miles of driving—leaving the car mostly in 'Econ' mode—we averaged more than 45 mpg. As for the other models, we managed to about match the EPA city number in mostly city driving.

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March 6, 2016
2012 Honda Civic 4-Door Manual LX

Outstanding

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I had another car that I run up to 285,000 and it ran its course. In looking for a replacement I found a 2012 Honda with under 30,0000 miles on it runs like new and a very comfortable ride this car just came... + More »
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August 17, 2015
2012 Honda Civic 4-Door Manual LX

Reliable but lacking the upscale interior qualities expected of a Honda

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I bought my 2012 basically on the fact that I had owned a 2006 and loved the reliability, fun to drive factor and the quality of the interior. I expected the same of the 2012 and, while the reliability is... + More »
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April 28, 2015
For 2012 Honda Civic

Great with one glaring exception

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Good performance, great mileage, very roomy, and I like the flat floor in the middle back seat. The trunk is spacious and the car rides good enough for a compact. One thing bugs the heck out of me (and I... + More »
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