Though it isn't clear at a glance, the 2012 Honda Civic has been redesigned for the first time since 2006, and it now achieves highway mileage close to 40 mpg. A longtime best-seller, the Civic counts among its competitors several high-quality, high-mileage compacts such as the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, 2012 Ford Focus and 2011 Hyundai Elantra, as well as stalwarts like the Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Jetta.
The Civic comes in more versions than any of those models, having coupe and sedan body styles; regular gas, hybrid and compressed-natural-gas versions; and a performance-oriented variant. In the compact class, coupes are few — the Scion tC and Kia Forte Koup are two of the Civic's rivals.
The Civic trim levels are DX, LX, EX and the performance Si, in both body styles. There are also hybrid and high-efficiency HF variants, both in sedan form only. The natural-gas-powered Civic Natural Gas sedan comes later in the model year, with plans to expand its availability nationwide for the first time.
The styling is more evolutionary than revolutionary, and some observers are likely to mistake the new design for the earlier generation. Of the two body styles, the coupe exhibits more changes. The coupe and sedan are exactly the same length and height as the 2011 model, and the coupe's width has grown by a mere tenth of an inch. The wheelbase has decreased about an inch.
Standard wheels range from 15-inch steel with wheel covers to 16-inch aluminum rims for the regular models. The high-efficiency HF, hybrid and CNG models have lightweight 15-inch alloy wheels, and the Si model comes with 17-inch alloys.
The Si also adds a glossy bumper treatment and fog lights, as well as a tightly integrated rear spoiler that's barely noticeable. The HF and hybrid also have aerodynamic treatments that subtly change their appearance, including a smoother front bumper. The hybrid has blue accents in its headlight clusters and grille to distinguish it from the others.
The sedan's interior volume — which increases between 1 and 3.5 cubic feet (depending on trim level) and adds roughly an inch of backseat legroom — remains competitive within the compact class. The coupe loses 0.8 cubic foot of cabin volume. A driver's seat height adjustment and tilt/telescoping steering wheel are standard.
Fabric upholstery is standard, and leather comes only in the EX-L trim level. All trim levels except the DX introduce Honda's multifunction controller, called i-MID (intelligent Multi Information Display). It adds a 5-inch color LCD screen next to the speedometer and a few buttons on the steering wheel's left spoke that let you select from menus. The optional navigation system goes in the usual place, mid-dash, and employs a touch-screen.
Under the Hood
The regular Civic's 2012 drivetrains remain virtually unchanged, comprising a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a choice of five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. Though the engine has been tweaked, its output is essentially the same. The biggest change is in the Si performance model, with a 2.4-liter (technically a 2.35-liter) engine replacing the previous generation's 2.0-liter. Horsepower increases by 3, and torque is boosted by more than 30 pounds-feet for more robust off-the-line performance. As before, the Si comes with a six-speed manual.
The high-efficiency versions include the gas-only HF, which gets an EPA-estimated 29/41 mpg city/highway. Available as an automatic sedan only, it improves upon the regular automatic's 28/39 mpg through the use of aerodynamic treatments and low-rolling-resistance tires.
The Civic Hybrid now has a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine, up from 1.3 liters in the previous generation, and its electric motor is more powerful, teamed with a lithium-ion battery pack. The mileage estimates increase from 40/43 mpg in 2011 to 44/44 mpg for 2012. The hybrid employs a continuously variable automatic transmission.
As required of all 2012 models, the Civic comes with antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control. Though the Si and EX trim levels have four-wheel disc brakes, the lower trims and high-efficiency versions have rear drums. The Civic has six airbags including the front pair, front-seat-mounted side-impact bags and side curtain airbags.
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