Honda's track record for styling over the past decade has had its blots. From the Crosstour to the Ridgeline, its least attractive shapes were worthy of a wince; even the best efforts couldn't match some of the evocative lines from America and South Korea.
That's changing quickly, as Honda seems to have grasped how great styling is the most effective wrapper for great engineering. The latest Accord is the same, but detailed to accentuate its good proportions; the new Pilot SUV looks effortlessly handsome, the polar opposite of its boxy predecessor.
Now with the Civic, Honda's chucked what had been a design deeply compromised by a high driving position and a strange two-tier dashboard. A new body structure has yielded a pretty, elegant new shape that wouldn't look out of place in an Acura showroom.
The Civic is now one of the best-drawn, sleekest, most appealing shapes on the road. At the nose, there's a strong band of chrome that brackets the grille and headlamps and knits them together. It's not alone, though. There are slits, intakes, creases, not to mention a bevy of textures and colors—black, metallic, and body-color trim. It's more formal, more busy in appearance than the simpler deep-set grille on, say, the new HR-V hatchback. Down the side, the Civic's big wheel wells intersect with steeply surfaced sills; at the rear, the lovely roofline tapers into another set of bracketed lamps that really masks the fact that the Civic is a sedan, not a hatchback.
It's as if every bad panel from the Crosstour had been calibrated on the proper scale with its worst fun-house angles resolved. If there's a fair criticism to be lobbed, it's that the Civic can look too busy, and could lose an angle or cutline or two, and still look balanced and attractive.
The exterior styling is exciting, maybe to a fault, but the cockpit is more tame, but just as effective in correcting past miscues. It adopts a broad, horizontal theme, not unlike recent BMWs in the bow and swell of the major trim pieces. Thick at the driver side, it tapers as it moves toward the passenger door, paneled with embossed metallic trim. The old two-tier dash has been banished to some third-world automaker's future design notebook; in the Civic, the clutter of screens is now focused on one area, where a five-inch base color screen grows into a seven-inch touchscreen on the nicer trim levels.
Facing the driver in base models is a clean, crisp set of real dials; on pricey Touring models, the dials are swapped out for an LCD screen with a 270-degree tachometer arc framing a digital speedometer. It's not a little ironic that the Civic's digital display displays real digits, while other automakers are using super-wide TFT panels to mimic the dials they virtually ripped out.