2013 Honda Civic EX Road Test

Honda remembers how to make a top-notch compact again.

What It Is
Honda's best-selling compact sedan comes in for an extensive update after its first model year.
Best Thing
Nearly everything that needed to be improved was improved.
Worst Thing
Not as fun as previous Civic models.
Snap Judgment
Why couldn't the ninth-generation Civic have been this good from the get-go?

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When Honda was developing its current-generation Civic compact sedan, the U.S. was deep into its economic meltdown. Honda surmised that the market could make do with a lower-quality, cheaper car than the one it replaced, and no one would mind. The 2012 Honda Civic was the result. Then reviews started flooding in, calling the new Civic a half-hearted effort and a thrift-driven rehash of the car it replaced. We were no exception.

Yet Honda moved nearly 318,000 Civics in 2012, largely on the back of the model's perennially strong reputation and the fact that the cars were practically being giving away towards the end of the year to make room for the 2013 model. Executives knew their product was inferior to the one it replaced, with flimsy, low-quality plastics, a lack of sound deadening, and sub-par suspension and steering. They needed to fix the Civic and bring it back up to the standard that had made the car a go-to for entry-level shoppers.

They created the 2013 Honda Civic, which debuted in November at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show. Intended as a mid-cycle refresh, Honda instead rushed the redesign years ahead of schedule, engineering out all of the kinks that made the 2012 car a dud. But with any rush job, there was always the possibility that Honda would brush over the details. We picked up a 2013 Honda Civic EX for a week to see if Honda had fixed all that it had promised and once again made the car as good as we expect from the automaker.

What We Drove

As part of "Operation: Damage Control," Honda eliminated the base-level DX model, leaving what was the mid-level LX as the entry level. Standard for the 2013 model year on all models for the first time is a backup camera, Bluetooth, and Honda's i-MID infotainment screen on the dash. It now starts at $18,955, including $790 for destination and handling.

Our tester was a better-optioned Honda Civic EX, which added 16-inch alloy wheels, a power moonroof, rear disc brakes, and five-speed automatic transmission. In addition, it was finished in a rich Kona Coffee Metallic paint, new for the 2013 model year. The final $21,605 surprisingly lacked satellite radio, a $367 option that comes standard on many rivals at the Civic's price point. Honda has the luxury of making options like that a la carte still, much to our dismay.

On the safety front, the 2013 Civic returns with all the same equipment as the 2012 model, with six standard airbags and crash-test scores that are among the best in the industry. Besides about 100 pounds of added insulation, the car remains much the same under the skin as the outgoing model, albeit with updated and improved controls throughout its interior. For those with kids, they'll be happy to know that the 2013 Honda Civic has LATCH points for two child seats, which are easy to place in the back seat, given the car's tall, upright roof line. Seat foam is firm, however, leaving us to dig around between the crack in the seats a little before we found them.

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The Commute

Honda stepped up its game for 2013, giving the new Civic a more planted ride similar to Civics of yore. It also gave the '13 Civic something the old cars never had: quietness. In around-town driving, the new car is nearly silent in operation, with quick shifts from its five-speed automatic that quell most noise the engine could have from revving. We found the car was geared towards the pursuit of high fuel economy, with the transmission reluctant to downshift for more highway passing power.

While the Civic felt remarkably more composed on the highway than the car that came before it, that firmness leaves it with some rough suspension jolts on less-than-perfect stretches of road. Get used to hearing every "ka-THUNK" over every pothole. It's just a consolation for having a good suspension and not enough sound deadening to soak up the noise, a class-average consolation.

Despite carrying on with yesteryear's engine and transmission technology -- a 1.8-liter four-cylinder carried over from the 2006 car and a five-speed auto in a world of six-speeds and continuously variable automatics -- the Civic has a commendable fuel-economy rating of 28 mpg city/39 mpg highway. We saw numbers in the high 20s in our mixed driving throughout Los Angeles.

The Grocery Run

In another move towards refinement, the 2013 Honda Civic comes standard with a cloth-lined trunk on all models to mitigate unwanted interior noise. It used to be standard only in the Civic EX. The Civic boasts 12.5 cubic feet of cargo space, which seems small for the class on-paper. But its deep, squared-off space leaves plenty more room than you'd expect.

At parking lot speeds, we found the 2013 Civic's steering to be light and precise, albeit lacking in feel. Coupled with large windows, generous mirrors, and a backup camera, getting around tight spaces was a snap. The camera displays right at the driver's eye-level in Honda's i-MID monitor that displays radio, Bluetooth, and diagnostic information. For 2013, its interface was simplified and upgraded to match that of the redesigned 2013 Accord's.

We found the Civic's packaging as impressive inside the car as its trunk. While the Civic's dimensions aren't any larger than its rivals, it has ample room in both front and back, its superior packaging with a nearly flat floor in back makes the middle-passenger space seem less like a penalty than in other compact sedans. Honda has been pulling off such a feat with its designs since the mid-2000s; we wonder why other automakers can't successfully duplicate it.

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The Weekend Fun

Think of the 2012 Civic as you would the movie Rocky V, which was so much worse than the rest of the Rocky series that Sylvester Stallone felt the need to come back into the ring at age 60 to make up for it. While not as lithe as it used to be, the Civic comes back reinvigorated and concentrated on being a top-not compact sedan again.

Compared with the 2012 version, steering has been tightened up, feeling more controlled. Honda engineers were quickly able to compensate because the power steering was switched from a hydraulic pump to an electric servo for the 2012 model year to take some of the burden off the engine and aid in improving fuel economy.

One of the traits that best defined the Civic from its archrival, the Toyota Corolla, has always been its sporty side compared to the Corolla's plushness. And the Civic has always sold in great numbers because of it. The young people who buy these things like fun cars. While certainly much better than it was in 2012, the Civic is no longer the go-to sport compact in its class. Heck, even the Chevrolet Cruze is more engaging. And the Ford Focus and Mazda3 are positively lively by comparison. But given the Civic's mass-market mission, we don't think its handling dynamics are too far off-base for the class, and we don't think much of anyone will mind. We just wish the car were more fun to drive.


The 2013 Honda Civic is otherwise what the ninth generation should have been from the onset. Its interior is filled with rich and soft-touch plastics. Its controls are better laid-out, and it's more refined than the Civic has ever been -- and much of the class for that matter. As Honda rushed the updates into production in a matter of 12 months, we know that Honda is fully capable of making world-class cars still and hope the 2013 Civic teaches the automaker that it should still be looking for ways to constantly improve instead of falling back on its laurels.

The 2013 Civic isn't without its flaws. We would like to have seen a high-tech engine with direct fuel injection and the continuously variable automatic transmission used in the 2013 Accord for this refresh. Truth is, however, that what it has works well and is plenty competitive in its class in refinement and fuel economy, at least for now.

But those are the least of our worries, because the Civic is once again the sort of value proposition we've come to expect from the storied name, melding quality, refinement, and a feeling of solidity that was missing from the 2012 version into a car that more than rivals the best in the class and makes a compelling case for being on everyone's compact-car short list. It may not be the dynamic masterpiece the Mazda3 is, but it offers plenty more room inside. And it is marginally smaller inside than the 2013 Nissan Sentra, but the Civic is the far quieter car of the two. The Civic isn't the single best car in any particularly category, but it's better than average in all of them.

Put another way: We wouldn't recommend the 2012 Honda Civic to a friend -- and maybe not even to an enemy. But we'd be remiss if we didn't put the 2013 Honda Civic at the top of our list.

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Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $21,605
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 28 mpg
EPA Highway: 39 mpg
EPA Combined: 32 mpg
Cargo Space: Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Good
Estimated Combined Range: 422.4 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Excellent

Notebook Quotes

"The 2012 Honda Civic was somber and uninspired, and a disappointment to fans of the storied nameplate. Honda promised to do better, and the 2013 model is that promise come to fruition. The revised styling and updated interior instantly catapults the Civic to the top of the class, if it's not leading it." -Matthew Askari, Associate Editor
"Now with no glaring faults, it's significantly better in all the right ways. Or, on par with the best in the field. Which means it's the car that should have debuted two years ago. Which also means it's about two years behind." -Jason Davis, Associate Editor
"I think the 2013 Honda Civic proves one thing: Honda's not afraid to fight back. The fact that it could turn around this car in such short time, and so effectively, proves that the company is willing to address its mistakes. It also proves that the fundamentals of the 2012 Civic were strong; a new interior and retuned suspension have brought it from the back of the pack to the front." -Keith Buglewicz, News Director

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I own a 2012 Civic and agree it needed this upgrade - but it needs a whole lot more to match the Ford Focus and Mazda 3.

Even with the tacky faux leather slapped on the dashboard - that revolting 2 tier Picasso-on-Acid dashboard has got to go. Just sit in a Mazda 3 and you'll understand what "instant enthusiasm" means. You are really inspired to drive that car - just for the dashboard alone. There's simply no excuse for that Honda monstrosity in this age of computer aided design. It's just plastic for heaven's sake - why can't you make it sexy and inspiring to look at - since the dash is the ONE part of the car that you look at constantly while driving.

The Mazda dashboard is sex on wheels - and they didn't need to compromise that - just because top-management wanted a PC like wallpaper display for the teeny-bopper 20 year old crowd. You can have your cake and eat it too - as Mazda has proven. 

Now for Mazda's sins - I test drove the Mazda 3 repeatedly - and loved its road performance - but I bought the Civic for one simple reason: The Mazda's interior colors (or lack of them) were so DEPRESSINGLY DARK (all black - don't you know). I live in North Carolina which has more grey overcast days than Seattle Washington - and I need something to cheer me up. And Mazda's all-black cave-like interior just brought me to tears. Their only option was a pukey - and I mean pucky - vomit colored "dune" brown. Sorry - but 255 gray days per year in North Carolina just needs a car interior that LIGHTENS UP A BIT. And Mazda's totally uninspired lack of engaging exterior colors sucks too. Bland blue, bland silver, bland black.  What ever happened to champaigne green, or wine-red or some other sophisticated colors? What's with all this boring and dull primary colors?

So the I test drove the Ford Focus. Exterior colors were pretty good - and the exterior shape - well - easily superior to the Mazda 3. Which brings to mind the 2nd fault that most Mazda fans will never admit: The Mazda 3's overall shape uses artificial body curves to accentuate a base design that is - at best - uninspired. The Focus is a totally convincing organic design - that just works - from grill to trunk. 

But the Focus' dashboard is boring compared to the Mazda 3's. If we could just get Ford to upgrade the Focus' dash to something sexy - they'd have the 21st century version of the classic 1960's Mustang - everything working together seamlessly - to inspire.

Bottom line - I bought the Civic for its mood-lifting interior color scheme (a pleasant beige) - even if I have to look at that disgusting dashboard - drive with that vague boat-like steering and put up with the under-performing brakes. 

It's too bad that Mazda and Ford can't remedy their respective ills - and its too bad their design and color faults aren't acknowledged more in the press. These 2 cars could be all time classics - but miss the mark.