2012 Honda Civic First Look

Holding Its Ground in the Compact Segment

2012 Honda Civic Lineup

Honda struck gold with its 2006-2011 Civic compact lineup, and with the compact segment heating up in the U.S., the automaker decided to play it safe with the 2012 Civic, which marks the car's ninth generation. While new compact entries like the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, 2012 Ford Focus, and 2011 Chevrolet Cruze each pose a credible threat to the market dominance of the Civic, Honda decided on a conservative update for the 2012 model year.

The new Civic sports a revised lower fascia, new wheel styles, newly sculpted side body panels, and different taillights comprise the exterior changes. The 2012 Civic was designed to appear familiar to the eighth-generation car. While other automakers can try to catch up to the Civic with luxury car features or a big interior, few can match the Honda's variety. For the 2012 model year, Honda will offer a regular gas-powered coupe and sedan, sporty Si coupe and sedan, highly efficient HF sedan, hybrid sedan and, natural gas sedan. It's worth noting that for the 2012 model year the natural gas Civic will be available on a national level, compared to the four states in which the 2011 Civic natural gas car is sold.

Most consumers will stick with the regular Civic sedan and coupe, both of which keep the same engine as the 2011 model, albeit with minor tweaks to improve midrange torque. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine makes 140 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 128 pound-feet at 4300 rpm. A five-speed manual transmission is standard while a five-speed automatic is optional. The hybrid model has a CVT and the performance-oriented Si is only offered with a six-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy on the regular Civic is up to 28/39 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission, and 29/41 mpg on the HF sedan. Even the Si model has improved fuel economy, at 22/31 mpg, while the Hybrid is now rated 44/44 mpg.

The 2012 Civic Hybrid has meaningful upgrades under the hood, though fuel economy is still far below the similarly priced Toyota Prius. The 2012 Civic Hybrid exchanges its nickel-metal hydride battery for a lithium-ion unit as well as a larger gas engine. The net result is 110 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 127 pound-feet of torque at 1000 rpm. Those who don't want to pay nearly $25,000 for the Civic Hybrid might try the HF sedan. The HF, like Ford's SFE line and Chevrolet's Eco-badged cars, takes a mainstream vehicle and makes small changes to increase efficiency. The HF, Honda notes, is the most efficient gas-powered compact car with an automatic transmission today. That's thanks to lightweight 15-inch alloy wheels that resemble the ones on the 2011 Hybrid, various aerodynamic improvements, and a new rear spoiler.

On the other side of the spectrum is the Civic Si. The Si gets a substantial boost in midrange torque as a result of an engine transplant from the current Acura TSX. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission but doesn't rev as high as the outgoing car. Power is 201 horsepower at 7000 rpm and torque is rated 170 pound-feet at 4400 rpm. A helical-type limited-slip differential remains on the Si, and a sequential rev-limit indicator is new.

The 2006 Honda Civic was Motor Trend's Car of the Year, so the 2012 model has big shoes to fill from a performance perspective. In an initial drive of the 2012 Civic EX-L, Motor Trend wrote that the new Civic feels like a baby Accord. In other words, the 2012 Civic is smoother, quieter, and more refined than the 2011 car that had a busier ride, high noise/vibration/harshness levels, yet quick reflexes.

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