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2012 Honda Civic
Nine generations and nearly 40 years on, the Civic has stuck to its principles
By Malcolm Gunn
The new Honda Civic's song remains the same, but its melody just keeps on getting richer and sweeter.
The first-generation Civic that arrived for the 1973 model year was the ideal antidote for increasing pump prices (and gas rationing in the United States) that struck fear into the hearts of drivers back then.
Through the Civic, Honda showed the world that inexpensive, fuel-efficient automobiles could also be fun and desirable. In fact, an original Civic in mint shape will fetch a pretty penny among enthusiasts these days.
Additionally, Honda became an early proponent of environmental responsibility and conservation at a time when the Detroit-based ironmongers continued pumping out ever larger and wasteful fleets. With each successive generation, the Civic has stayed mostly true to its original purpose and has reaped the rewards from a growing and loyal customer base.
It's clear that the ninth-generation Civic that's just now trickling into the retail pipeline (slowed due to parts shortages from the recent earthquake/tsunami in Japan) is following an evolutionary path. There's no shock-and-awe approach to its design or technological content. Instead there's a continual effort to improve on the Civic's inherent goodness that will more likely be felt as much as noticed.
The coupe and sedan have evolved only modestly, compared to their previous-gen counterparts. The rooflines are a bit more sweeping (what Honda calls a "one motion profile") and the front roof pillars are now thinner to improve visibility.
Other updates include a more attractive nose plus a general updating of the rear deck and taillamps.
The sheetmetal is attached to a slightly stiffer platform that also cuts the distance between the front and rear wheels by a little more than a couple of centimetres. Despite the shrinkage and without changing the vehicle's width or height, Honda has increased shoulder and legroom for front- and rear-seat passengers, while slightly enlarging the trunk space. That's progress.
For the driver, Honda recast its two-tier instrument panel into a slightly more formal layout. The large, centrally located tachometer is retained, topped by a speedometer and standard 12.7-centimetre screen that can display key operating telephone and audio-system-selection info. Upgrading the Civic's already decent road manners involved dialing in greater steering responsiveness, retuning the front and rear suspension for a smoother ride and enlarging the underbody's flat surface area to reduce air resistance (to improve fuel economy).
Honda didn't substantially alter the Civic's base 140-horsepower 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, other than to tweak it to improve fuel economy. However, the sporty Si coupe and sedan receive a new 2.4-litre engine that generates 201 horsepower (up from 197) to replace the previous 2.0. That means 31 more pound-feet of torque for a much peppier drive.
A five-speed manual transmission, or optional five-speed automatic are offered on regular-strength Civics, while a six-speed manual gearbox is reserved for the Si.
Also back is the significantly changed Civic Hybrid sedan that now features a 1.5-litre four-cylinder aided by an electric motor to produce a combined 110 horsepower. That's the same output (but more torque) than before, but the system now employs a lighter and more advanced lithium-ion battery, replacing the previous nickel-metal-hydride battery.
Honda claims the Hybrid will achieve 4.4 l/100 km in the city and 4.2 on the highway, a slight improvement compared to the 2011 edition. The numbers show greater electric assist around town helps provide a six-per-cent improvement in economy.
Meanwhile, Honda affirms that you can bank on 7.2 l/100 km in the city and 5.0 on the highway for Civics with the base gas engines and automatic transmissions. No matter how good that seems, though, the Hybrid is nearly 40 per cent better in town, which should be a factor in anyone's purchase.
With numerous performance choices and trim levels, the Civic continues to provide a lean to loaded assortment over a price range that remains about the same as before (starting at $16, 400, including delivery costs). That should ultimately give Civic fans plenty to sing about.
What you should know: 2012 Honda Civic
Type: Two- /four-door compact sedan/coupe
Engines (hp): 1.8-litre SOHC I4 (140); 2.4-liter DOHC I4 (201); 1.5-litre SOHC I4 with electric motor (110, combined)
Transmissions: Five-speed manual; five-speed automatic six-speed manual (Si); continuously variable (Hybrid).
Market position: The ninth-generation Civic presents a wide range of fuel-economy and performance choices for an equally diverse group of buyers. Its all-things-for-all-people approach has made it a winner for nearly four decades.
Points: Good or bad, Civic's retention of previous styling will make it a familiar face with buyers; Si model's added torque at lower rpms makes it a smoother operator; Restyled dashboard improves on previous edition; Hybrid's updated battery system, better fuel economy, should enhance demand; Will this Civic hold its high ranking among Canadian buyers?
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 7.2/5.0 (1.8, AT)
Base price (incl. destination): $16,400
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Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!