What a difference a year makes. The long list of changes given to the 2013 Honda Civic cabin--all seemingly minor--add up to major gains in cabin comfort and refinement compared to last year's model; and the Civic now stands as one of the most refined picks in this class.
Overall, accommodations are adequate in the four-door, but definitely tight in the coupes. The seats tend to be somewhat short and flat, but they're actually at the better end of what you get in this price-pinched class. In either model, with the Civic's steeply angled windshield, there's a sense that the dash extends considerably into the cabin (with funky contours that you're either going to love or hate). In back, while there's more legroom than you might expect, and getting in and out is pretty easy, the seating position feels oddly contoured for adults and lacks headroom (we'd rather be in the back seat of the smaller Fit, paradoxically).
Civic buyers by now may be used to the two-level dashboard design, although it's still also an oddity to those moving from other models. Honda has placed the tachometer close, just inside the steering wheel, while the speedometer and other displays are up above, and ahead. Once you're used to it, your eyes don't have to stray as far away from the road ahead. Just to the right of those displays up top is an info screen that shows trip-computer functions, audio displays, and shows the now-standard rearview camera view when you back up. A multi-directional button on the steering wheel lets the Civic driver navigate through a menus while keeping hands firmly on the wheel.
As for the layout, skip the still-fussy navigation upgrade; it's at its best with the base audio setup, which has large buttons, an intuitive layout that you can be comfortable with almost right away. Although we would have liked to have seen the main audio controls pushed above the seldom-used (in many cases) CD slot.
More importantly for 2013, the hard, thin-feeling plastic surfaces that topped the dash and lined the upper door trim in last year's model are gone--replaced by a new padded surface that, in combination with darker themes and some new complementary trims, brings an entirely different look and feel to the cabin, even if the design itself remains largely the same.
If there's at all a sign that this is a quickie refresh, it's that some of these upgrades only affect the front-seat area, while the rear-seat area has been left be; for instance, the upper door area next to the driver and front passenger has the new padded material, while the upper rear door areas get a material that roughly matches it visually but is hard plastic on closer inspection.
Trunk space in the 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.What's really changed for 2013 is cabin noise. When you pull up to a stoplight, it's no longer apparent that the engine is even idling until you look down at the front-and-center tachometer.
Road noise is much-reduced, too, and even the conversation quality is much improved in the cabin thanks to the padded dash surface, which apparently soaks up some of the harsh soundwaves in the cabin. And with rear-seat heater ducts and a fold-down armrest, even if the cabin space isn’t ideally shaped, it’s equipped better than others.