It's been a bestseller for decades, more than 8.8 million sold in the U.S. since its 1973 introduction, and the latest redesign is aimed at making the Honda Civic the absolute number one player among an increasingly capable crop of compact cars.
The all-new 2012 Honda Civic is the ninth generation of the Civic, and it has a long, distinguished record of engineering innovation. As has been the case in previous iterations, there's some of that in the 2012 Civic models, too, aimed at giving it the broadest possible reach in its market segment.
On the other hand, it's not really the gee-whiz breakthrough that's distinguished some previous generations, particularly in terms of engine innovation. Though to be fair, Honda has imbued some models with a little more thrust while simultaneously raising fuel economy ratings right across the board.
Perhaps more important, the latest Civic will be available in its broadest-ever array of models: The DX, LX, and EX sedans and coupes come with a 140-horsepower 1.8-liter engine expected to get 28 mpg in the city, 39 mpg on the highway when equipped with the 5-speed automatic transmission.
The Civic Hybrid continues, with efficiency improvements for 2012. Although Honda has a specific hybrid model, the Insight, the Hybrid returns to the Civic lineup with increased power in its integrated electric booster motor and deeper electric power reserves in a new lithium-ion battery pack.
For those who don't wish to pay the hybrid premium, there's the 2012 Civic HF, with exceptional fuel stinginess from a regular internal combustion power train designed for thrift. Fuel economy is up in standard Civics, too.
The Civic Si returns as the high output member of the lineup, offered once again in coupe and sedan body styles. With the demise of the S2000 sports car, it's the only high-performance car in Honda's lineup. The 2012 Civic Si features a new engine, a smidgen of additional horsepower, and substantially more torque. The 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder is rated at 201 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. The added torque makes the Si easier to drive around town without constant downshifting, significant because a 6-speed manual is the only transmission offered.
Though completely redesigned, the 2012 Civic looks similar to the previous-generation version. Its exterior dimensions are about the same, though the wheelbase is slightly shorter.
The cabin is attractive with quality materials and nicely designed seats with lots of adjustment and a new driver's information display. The available 160-watt audio system sounds very good and Bluetooth is available for hands-free cellphone use.
Underway, the 2012 Civic is creamy smooth and exceptionally quiet. The brakes are easy to modulate for smooth stops in everyday driving and will stop the car quickly when called upon. Handling is average, so the standard models do not rate high on the fun meter.