2012 Honda Civic EX Sedan HD Video Review

For years Honda Civic has kept the competition awake at night.  Its closest competitor in volume has always been Corolla but really, the two have stood apart.  Toyota built reliable transportation, Honda added that elusive element called soul.

2012 Honda Civic EX-L Sedan

Civic’s combination of practicality, reliability and a touch of sport has drawn everyone from college students to families to the tuner crowd.  All that and the name is a palindrome.

Now comes the 2012 model.  In case you missed it Consumer Reports has broken its long-standing love affair with the Civic stating the LX model scores too low to be recommended.  Ouch.  This is like Popeye shunning spinach.  Says CR “Stopping distances are long. The steering is lightly weighted and comes up short on feedback. Body lean appears early in the corners. The ride is marred by frequent short pitches. And road noise still remains an annoying companion.”

Honda responds “In a broad sense, we disagree with Consumer Reports’ findings. Without question, the small sedan segment is more competitive than ever. In virtually every way, the completely redesigned 2012 Civic is a step forward. The new Civic excels in areas that matter to small-car customers, including fuel efficiency, safety, and reliability.”

2012 Honda Civic EX-L Sedan

How Convenient

Honda had dropped off a Civic EX with Navigation press car a few days before the CR announcement.  I generally don’t read other reviews until after I’ve photographed and written my own.  That’s remains the case with this one.  I purposely didn’t look at Consumer Reports comments until my opinion was solidified.

CR bought a lower end LX model that retails for $19,425 with destination which is built to a price point with rear drum brakes.  My tester is one level shy of top-shelf at $22,775.  Only the EX-L with Navi is higher.

Enough of CR.  Time to concentrate on Civic like any other review.

Decisions, decisions…

It’s tough to choose a Civic these days with five different models to select.  There’s the standard version I’m driving with three trim levels, a fuel efficient model called HF and another that runs on compressed natural gas that will be available in most states this fall.  There’s also a hybrid, and the performance Si.  You’ll also need to choose between coupe or sedan variants.

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Let me just say the launch ads that stressed the choice of models with a zombie, lumberjack and “wild thing” were at best bizarre.  Kids, it’s why you shouldn’t do drugs.

Generation nine looks similar to the outgoing car, retaining the rakish silhouette which was very daring for its day.  For 2012 the details within the overall shape have become more conservative.  Window trim is no longer completely flush, there are pieces on the B and C pillar that jut out just a bit, surprising in this nit-picky age of keeping things as aerodynamic as possible.

Ultimately Civic remains the best looking Honda to my eye.  I’m encouraged by the “concept” CR-V photo that was recently posted.

2012 Honda Civic EX-L Sedan

Moving inside, the cabin keeps the polarizing two-tiered instrument panel design, adding a nice color display to the upper level.  It shows warnings, radio station info and phone activity to name a few functions and visually broadens the upper hood piece.  The dash is made of hard plastic with a texture that looks like rice paper.  The instrument panel is less amorphic now, I prefer the new shape though the cabin appears somewhat more spartan looking overall.

Tech Talk

EX with Navigation gets iPod and phone integration (including Bluetooth audio streaming) a decent sound system with XM tuner and (duh) a voice activated navigation system that gets traffic updates.  There’s also a sunroof.

2012 Honda Civic EX-L Sedan

The woven floor material and headliner have a budget look about them.  Do you stare at the floor and the ceiling much?  I do, that’s my job.  Putting less expensive materials where they aren’t as noticed is part of the black art of keeping a car affordable.  Those with kids would be advised to go with darker fabric than the “stone” colored seats in my tester.

As expected in a modern car there’s electronic stability and traction control on board (required by Uncle Sam now).  Honda makes it easy to max out fuel economy.  Drive hard and bars that flank the digital speedometer turn from green to blue, signaling you could drive more efficiently Mr. Speed Racer.

Unlike Focus and Elantra, keyless ignition is not offered on Civic.  You’ll also have to migrate to other brands if you want a car with auto climate control, remote start or heated back seats.

2012 Honda Civic EX-L Sedan

Speaking of, the rear passenger space is comfortable for two full-sized adults or three skinny ones. There’s a good amount of foot and leg room, storage in the doors, and a folding center armrest.  No power port in the rear and just one seatback pocket.

We Make It Simple

More than just an old Honda ad slogan, Civic EX only comes with one powertrain.  The transmission is a five-speed automatic with no manual shift mode.   For those keeping score, Cruze, Elantra and Focus get six gears.  It’s hooked up to a very clean and smooth 1.8-liter 140 horse four-cylinder. EPA rates this setup at 28 city, 39 highway.  The HF model adds 1 to 2 MPG largely by way of aerodynamic tweaks and low rolling-resistance tires.

2012 Honda Civic EX-L Sedan

An “econ” button on the dash helps drivers to eek out a few extra miles per tank.  It softens throttle response, remaps the transmission shift points, affects AC operation, and allows the cruise control to be less draconian about holding speed when climbing hills before it downshifts.  This mode makes Civic noticeably more sluggish. I’ve turned it off.

Acceleration is about par for the course in this class.  0-60 runs happen in the low nine-second range.  Honda, historically known for allowing more road noise through says there’s less of it now, though Civic doesn’t seem as quiet as Chevy Cruise.

New Driving Dynamic

For 2012, Civic’s ride quality gets tuned for the masses with suspension dialed toward comfort.  That’s great when cruising but the revered touch of athleticism is now gone from this car.  There’s more body roll in corners and the steering is light.  Want a sportier dynamic?  Go directly to the 201 horsepower Si model.

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Anti-lock brakes are discs all around on EX. Pedal modulation is good, stopping distances are a bit longer than some of the others in class.  Edmunds Inside Line says they are prone to fade with repeated hard stops.

For average sized owners, Civic’s visibility is terrific.  Smaller people positioned close to the wheel could have their left-side vision blocked by the windshield pillar.  It’s thinner than the outgoing car’s and you have to be pretty petite for that to happen.  Civic is not alone here, it’s something that’s more common as cars become more aerodynamic.  Just ask my 5’1” wife who’s looking for a new car.

2012 Honda Civic EX-L Sedan

In the unfortunate event of an accident the ACE body structure has proven itself in IIHS and NHTSA crash tests.  Civic comes with the expected six airbags.

My How You Have Grown

Civic isn’t much bigger this time around but in case you haven’t noticed it’s no longer the tiny car it once was. It’s about the same size as an Accord from a number of generations back.  That helps cargo capacity.

Some mid-sized sedans hold only six packs of Kirkland brand bath tissue, Civic gobbles up seven and can carry more with the split folding rear seats.

So the 2012 Civic is roomy, fuel efficient, safe and most likely very reliable.  For a new model though it’s no more compelling than the outgoing one and in driving dynamics slips a notch for enthusiasts.  Because Cruze, Focus and Elantra are substantially improved from their predecessors they give Civic real competition, something it has never really had.

2012 Honda Civic EX-L Sedan

Back To Consumer Reports

Include CR in your decision but like any information source treat them as a guide not a bible. Look at multiple reviews, opinions vary.  Cars.com for example does recommend Civic.  Even CR says “Not all of the news is bad. Fuel economy is very impressive, despite the Civic’s seemingly low-tech powertrain. There’s decent rear seat room, too.”

The automobile industry is a crazy business these days folks.  Many of the charges leveled at Civic apply to the newest Volkswagen Jetta, another car that didn’t move the needle much with its redesign.  The result?  VW has never sold more of them.  For Honda, that can’t be determined until their supply chain gets back to normal.  Let’s check back in a year, shall we?

I’ll close with my three favorite tips- Test drive, test drive, test drive.  You’re spending over 20 grand.  Take a day or two to experience all the vehicles in the segment you’re buying, even the ones you might dismiss at first.  A car is a personal choice, the smallest details can make a difference to an individual.  Make sure the one that ends up in your driveway is best for you.

FULL GALLERY BELOW.  ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY HONDA.

11 Comments

  1. Just-James says:

    Honda is in trouble. The 2012 Civic bears this out. Aside from the barely changed exterior, and the interior moving decidedly downmarket; honda has also failed to update any of its technology. For the Civic, Honda is still using outdated five speed manuals and automatics, while its competition have moved onto six speed manuals (Ford Focus aside) and automatics. The quality of the interior materials used by its updated competitors, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruse, Hyundai Elantra, are all significantly better and more stylish. On top of which, they are also, quieter, better riding and handling.

  2. TheCarFan says:

    Driven is, for me, the best automotive reviewing team on the Internet. Tom Voelk is also one of the best reviewer.

  3. crash says:

    The Civic looks better in person then in film. I haven’t sat in one yet – however am concerned w/ the a poor quality / hard plastics of the interior…traditionally a Honda strong suit – I think they’re losing their edge…seriously – 5 years ago, I would have ripped on Chev / Ford for those seams / gaps.

    I still think this will sell boatloads; Honda has earned the priviledge of that through exceptional reliability and spirited driving. I do see their share dropping though to the likes of Focus / Elantra / Cruze…

  4. hiptech says:

    After decades (since 1989) as a dyed in the wool Honda owner (fan) I think my tastes are changing. I’ve watched each succeeding generation go from excellent to mediocre culminating in this current Civic iteration.

    I could go on about how earlier model generations were stale and conservative but lately it seems Honda (along with a number of other manufacturers) have lost their way. At least the cars were well crafted with above average driving dynamics, reliability and value. Today, not so much.

    I won’t belabor the point about subjective styling decisions but suffice it to say Bob Lutz was right. Car companies run by enthusiasts and not “bean counters” don’t need to advertise how great their cars are… actions speak louder than words.

    While its unfortunate how many cars appear to be designed by committees, it’s mind boggling how more than one person thought this was a good idea. Whatever happened to organizations who practiced quality improvement strategies, innovation and engineering excellence (anyone notice the frequency of Honda recalls)? Not that long ago these were the hallmarks of companies like Honda.

    I said it five years ago and I will say it again, Hyundai is becoming the new Honda. They may not be there yet, but by their next model generation ( about 3 years) they will be darn close!

    As for the current Civic, I am not surprised given the latest crop of polarizing and subjectively ugly models emanating from Honda/Acura. It’s almost like someone left the boss’s son in charge of the company and everyone was told whatever he wants, goes.

    Reminds me of “Simpsons” episode where Homer is left to run his brother’s car company and ends up bankrupting it. And they say you can’t make stuff like this up…

  5. apollo says:

    i have seen a few of these now and while at first i did not think it looked much different it has a very plain look about it in the back sort of like an older camry. the plastic that tom says looks like rice paper sort of looks like inexpensive industrial plastic. what i don’t understand is why civic has not moved ahead of the old version, it just a redesign of the interior and exyerior panels with no added features like push buton start or auto temp control or big glass roof. i know it is a civic and not a mb s class but they have to make this thing sell against cruze and eleantra and focus. the only people that will buy the civic will be the ones that own a 10 year old one that has been releiable. if you want something fun you have to go to a mazda 3 now. used to be hondas were just getting ugly but now they are loosing their fun to drive ability. very sad

    • Ken says:

      I agree, I think Mazda is the only Japanese car company I would consider for something fun within that price range.

  6. dravi says:

    The materials on the inside look really cheap for a $22,000 car. I recently drove a Cruze (that I rented), and it was quite nice – leather seats, great dash, and the materials actually look compelling. I’d be surprised if the Civic sells as well as it has in the past. I’m thinking Honda was short sighted when they built this car.

    • apollo says:

      so your rental car looks better than a car that people would buy? wow! usually rent a car fllets buy the stripped down models and that would be surprising to see a chevy look good that way

  7. 68mlo says:

    I may be in the minority, but I actually like the 2012 Civic sedan’s sharpened up lines. It’s less conservative than Corolla or Cruze, if not quite as stylish as Focus or Elantra. Just my 2 cents…for now.

    I’ll reserve final judgment until I have driven one myself, of course. :)