By Jason Allan - Updated Date: 8/31/2011
The 2012 Honda Civic is the all-new, ninth-generation version of the country's best-selling compact car and third-best-selling car overall. Offering a unique combination of affordability, reliability and refinement, the Honda Civic has long been a gold standard not just for the category, but for personal transportation in general. Its dominance is in decline, though, as evidenced by our most recent compact sedan comparison test in which the 2012 Honda Civic tied for first place with the ultra-stylish new Hyundai Elantra. The Honda Civic does remain the clear leader in variety, with a wide-ranging lineup that includes sedan and coupe body styles, a 201-horsepower sporty Civic Si version, a 45-mpg Civic hybrid variant, and a limited-availability natural-gas-powered version.
If you appreciate mechanical refinement similar to what you might find in a commercial airliner, the 2012 Honda Civic is the clear choice in the category. And even if you don't easily discern such qualities, just-right steering and pedal feel are the kinds of qualities that quietly contribute to long-term driving satisfaction.
The 2012 Honda Civic is neither as sporty nor as stylish as the Mazda3 or Ford Focus, the interior design isn't as interesting as the Hyundai Elantra's, and it isn't the smoothest or quietest car in the class.
The all-new-for-2012 Honda Civic is instantly familiar inside and out, with key changes comprising increased fuel economy, more refined driving dynamics and enhanced infotainment abilities. The Civic hybrid is now more fuel efficient, the Civic Si is more powerful and there's the new mileage-maxing 2012 Civic HF that delivers 41 highway mpg.
The 2012 Honda Civic is not the smoothest or quietest car in the category. Nor is it the most fun to drive. Curious, then, that we'd rate it tops in driving dynamics in our shootout of the four newest cars in the category. How does it do it? With the help of steering and pedal response that other automakers could only dream of delivering. It's easy to overlook excellence in these areas, but just as driving feel is a big part of the magic in a Porsche, the way the Civic gracefully listens and responds to a driver's input is a key reason we consider the 2012 Honda Civic the connoisseur's compact sedan.
We like being able to listen to the music on our iPhone without having to plug it in, and the Civic's Bluetooth Audio system is notable for how quickly it connects and begins playing.
Standard in all but the base Civic DX trim is a new five-inch LCD monitor that provides music and mileage info, plus Bluetooth and navigation info when equipped.
If the 2012 Honda Civic has an Achilles' heel, it's the interior styling. Everything works wonderfully, but the design, textures and materials put its visual appeal in the bottom half of the segment, behind new and newly relevant nameplates like Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze.
Just when observers thought Honda might unleash the most expressive Civic yet - as an answer to the bold new Hyundai Elantra attracting so much attention – the even-keeled automaker instead delivered the most evolutionary Civic redesign ever. It's hard to argue against sticking to a styling strategy that's helped keep the Civic at or near the top of the sales charts for many years running.
The 2012 Honda Civic starts at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price of $16,555 (including destination) for a Civic DX, but that's with no radio, no air conditioning and no power mirrors or door locks. Stepping up to the Civic LX remedies those shortcomings and nets a few other goodies for an extra $2,000, but an automatic transmission will set you back another $800. The Honda Civic's myriad active and passive safety technologies are included as standard equipment across the line. The EX and EX-L models sit at the top of the 2012 Civic's non-hybrid, non-natural-gas pyramid, with the Si coupe and sedan covering performance side of the street.
A 2012 Honda Civic EX-L with Navigation has an MSRP at $24,225 and includes leather seats (heated front), a moonroof, Bluetooth phone/audio connectivity, a full-function i-MID display and a six-speaker AM/FM/SAT/MP3/ Bluetooth audio system with USB and auxiliary ports (which offers plenty of functionality but just-okay sound).
With no direct injection or turbocharging, 140 horsepower, and five speeds not six in the manual and automatic transmissions, the 2012 Honda Civic has the simplest powertrain of the newest compact sedans. Nevertheless, it delivers exceptional fuel economy and plenty of power. The mileage-maxing HF trim features the same powertrain, but adds two highway miles per gallon with a lower ride height, aerodynamic adds and tires with lower rolling resistance. The Civic Si, in sedan and coupe form, comes with 201 horsepower and a six-speed manual transmission.
Civic DX, LX, EX, EX-L and HF
1.8-liter in-line four cylinder
140 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm
128 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,300 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 28/36 (manual), 28/39 (automatic), 29/41 (Civic HF automatic)
2.4-liter in-line four cylinder
201 horsepower @ 7,000 rpm
170 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/31 (manual)
1.5-liter in-line four cylinder + electric motor
110 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
127 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1,000-3,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 44/44 (Continuously Variable Transmission)
Civic Natural Gas
1.8-liter in-line four cylinder
110 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm
106 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,200 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: N/A
For an adequately equipped 2012 Honda Civic you're looking at close to $20,000. You'll find similar pricing for many of its key competitors, so if $20,000 is more than you care to spend and/or you want more goodies for your money, you might consider stepping down a segment into Honda Fit territory. Even though the 2012 Honda Fit isn't the least expensive car in the category, we deemed it the best value in our recent four-car comparison test thanks in large part to its legendarily strong resale value.