Strengths: This is the Mercedes-Benz of compact sedans
Weaknesses: No longer a class style leader
Synopsis: A superb example of balance, value and pedigree

To understand why the 2012 Honda Civic EX-L Navi (you call that a car name?!) shares the top honors with the Hyundai Elantra Limited in this comparison test, you need to understand what made Mercedes-Benz great. Once, in an era when luxury cars were great and the competition was strong, Mercedes-Benz was the greatest luxury carmaker in the world.

Now, other automakers build faster cars than Mercedes-Benz, and prettier cars than Mercedes, and more reliable cars, more comfortable cars, better-handling cars, more value-laden cars than Mercedes...but not all at once.

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That "nobody does it better all at once" territory is prime Honda real estate, and the all-new Civic still rules that land. How the Civic does it, however, is a bit of a mystery.

In the heat of our four-car comparison, the 2012 Civic tanked on its exterior styling, and also bottomed the list on interior styling. Same goes for its limited trunk space. And while the 1.8-liter engine was completely competitive in its fuel-economy numbers, the power output was nothing to brag about and the Civic's five-speed automatic transmission seems iffy at best in a class where six forward gears is now the norm.

Yet somehow, the 2012 Honda Civic EX-L Navi pulls it off. The underpowered engine and under-geared transmission work together beautifully, seamlessly to make certain that you're never stranded at the deep end of the onramp. Like most Honda engines, the Civic's 1.8 really shines at higher revs. The four-wheel disc brakes do a superb job of nestling the Civic to a stop, and while the ride/handling balance places ride far above handling, the steering feel and response belong in a "How to Do Everything Right" textbook.

Slipping inside the Civic EX-L Navi, you'll note that the "L" stands for standard "Leather" and the "Navi" stands for standard "Navigation" - the only compact sedan in our test that came with standard Nav (although the $24,225 price made the Civic EX-L Navi the most expensive car in our test).

Also worth noting is that the Civic was the only vehicle in our test that was ready (or even able) to accommodate a long-legged passenger in the rear seats.

To our surprise and delight, the all-new 2012 Honda Civic EX-L Navi succeeds a lot and fails nowhere. To our even bigger delight the four compact sedans in this comparison can all see the top of the mountain from where they stand, because each of them fits the needs of a certain buyer with his or her own set of priorities.

Comparison Test Results: 2012 Honda Civic EX-L Navi

Overall Editors' Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Interior: 4th
Exterior: 3rd
Performance: 1st
Comfort & Convenience: 2nd
Value: 1st

Read Consumer Reviews for the 2012 Honda Civic EX-L Navi

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PREVIOUS: The Winners, Part One

Fourth Place: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ
Third Place: 2012 Ford Focus SEL
The Winners, Part One: 2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited
The Winners, Part Two: 2012 Honda Civic EX-L Navi

See a side-by-side specs comparison of all four cars in our test.

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