By on May 31, 2012

“There’s only one word that’s banned in our company: brand,” Mr. Dyson said, speaking at “Disruption By Design,” a conference put on by Wired on Tuesday. “We’re only as good as our latest product. I don’t believe in brand at all.”

I agree with Dyson. Brand is an utterly obnoxious word. Brand really just means “reputation”. As we’ve seen before, “building your brand” without any substance behind it will be immediately exposed as fraudulent. But brands still matter.

Being as good as your last product has a lot of implications. It’s probably why the Honda Civic, despite being panned by critics, still draws in customers in reasonable numbers. The Civic, depending on what month we’re talking about, is the best-selling car in its segment, or close to it. The issue with the Civic isn’t that the critics are dead wrong and out of touch (in a sense, it’s true) or that it’s a dreadful vehicle (false, but it could have been much, much better) – it’s that the Civic is just good enough. To the average consumer who doesn’t live and die by double wishbone suspensions, it feels like their old Civic, but fresh and taut and not smelling like dogs and gym socks.

Just for comparison, I went and took a look at the 2000 Civic, owned by my grandmother, with a mere 50,000 miles. After driving the 2012, she vastly prefers it to her car, with the chief complaints being the dual stack cluster being a bit hard to see, and the lack of an illuminated ring around the ignition key. There is way more power from the 1.8L engine, the automatic gearbox in her LX test car has 5-speeds rather than 4, the driving position and visibility are leagues ahead of the old EK sedan – really, everything is just better, new, improved, the benefit of 12 years of technological improvements. Yes, the interior is spartan, with awful plastics and an ugly layout. Was the 2000 Civic, regarded as one of the best Civics in the car’s history, any different in terms of interior quality? Even in the “golden era” of the 1990s, certain items, like the flimsy, mouse-fur sun visors were a punchline. The game has moved on compared to its competitors, but to the people buying the car, it’s not such an affront to their dignity like some members of the motoring press would have us think.

On paper, the Elantra, Focus and Cruze are the superior cars, packed with the latest infotainment, sophisticated drivetrains and avant-garde styling. By comparison, 2012 Civic is simple and easy to operate. The other three have a mess of buttons and cluttered interiors that drive up the sticker price and scare off techno-phobic older buyers as well as young buyers who don’t necessarily have the patience for Sync, MyLink and other in-dash hijinks. Older buyers will care more about value for money. For young people, a Ford Focus is a distant memory of a cheap rental car, and you still have to justify the purchase of a Hyundai to a few of your friends, no matter how good it looks or how much equipment it comes with. You don’t with a Civic.

The danger for Honda is that this could be the last Civic these folks ever purchase. The rough ride and the awfully hollow sound made when the trunk slams may be the sort of thing that compels consumers to look else where. The 2013 redesign will supposedly address the styling and add a CVT and direct injection – robbing the Civic of whatever mechanical robustness it still had compared to the untested, GDI-equipped, tech-laden competition.  If Civic customers end up defecting to Hyundai, Chevrolet or Ford, they’ll find a car that may be a bit more than what they wanted, but one that does look and feel more “premium”, along with a brand that’s had a few years to ripen and perfect their image. Honda’s brand is no longer steeped in the mystique of NSXs, S2000s and Type-R hot hatches. They simply are “Honda”, purveyor of durable, four-wheeled transportation. And if your brand is lost and you’re only as good as your last product, then Honda is in danger of losing them forever.

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84 Comments on “Generation Why: On Brands And The Success Of The Honda 2012 Civic...”


  • avatar
    Pch101

    “It’s that the Civic is just good enough.”

    That is not a good strategy for a company such as Honda, which has used its branding power to command higher margins.

    “Good enough” will keep you in business, but it will not give you pricing power. If people are going to pay a bit more, then they need to feel that there is a good reason for doing so. If there isn’t, then they will pay lower prices and need more convincing (read: marketing), which erodes the bottom line.

    Start sucking profit margin out of a company that has benefited from a margin-oriented strategy, and bad things happen to the operating statement. If the price premium goes away, then the profitability goes away along with it.

    Honda seems to understand this finance principle, given its decision to speed up its mid-cycle refresh. Nissan can shoot for the lower end of the market, but Honda can’t afford that. Literally.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      You’d think that Honda would have learned something from the decline and fall of GM.

      Interestingly, this car was supposedly developed with the goal of cost reduction. While sales have been high, incentives have more than tripled over what was needed to move the previous generation (according to temple of vtec.com). Which is probably eating up any cost savings…

      Again, those who don’t learn from history…

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Interestingly, this car was supposedly developed with the goal of cost reduction.”

        Honda is being squeezed by the yen at one end, and by Hyundai at the other. Hyundai’s quality-without-the-added-price strategy is a direct challenge to both Honda and Toyota’s US business models.

        It’s not easy. If they stay upmarket, then they could permanently lose market share to the Koreans, which could make it difficult to amortize their fixed costs in the future, which puts the company at risk. If they move downmarket, then they’ll have to aggressively take market share away from the Koreans and Nissan in order to make up for the loss of margin and compromised branding.

        To be fair, Honda’s situation is nowhere close to GM’s. GM spent enormous amounts of money trying to support redundant brands, and that’s a problem that HMC doesn’t have. And the Civic isn’t a bad car, it just doesn’t send the right message. This isn’t akin to GM selling a million Vegas, many of which were bad, which established a conquest market for the Japanese.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        As a long-time Honda owner, when I sat in the 2012 Civic at the dealer, my first thought was, “Honda has really cheapened the interior on this car.”

        I never got that feeling with my 1999 Civic or current 2003 Accord. Granted, no one would ever mistake either one for a luxury car, but the interiors were not embarrassing for the price point.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “when I sat in the 2012 Civic at the dealer, my first thought was, ‘Honda has really cheapened the interior on this car.’”

        I doubt that this is true. It’s more likely that the competition has improved, your expectations have risen accordingly, and Honda is no longer able to use interiors to differentiate itself.

        I recall the days when Honda was miles ahead of just about everyone else with respect to ergonomics and interior design. That is no longer the case. It’s not that Honda has gotten worse, but that just about everyone else has upped the game. The domestics and Hyundai have all improved their game, while Honda shifted gears in favor of a more youthful approach (i.e. something that was destined to alienate a lot of the rest of us.)

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    > hey simply are “Honda”, purveyor of durable, four-wheeled transportation.

    I don’t see any problem with that. The 1990-2000 era was brilliant, but the competition was weak for it’s time. But Civic’s of that era were never regarded as anything more than nicer subcompact cars than the competition. And nothing changes, same complaints then as now. Maybe the materials were nicer then, but most people gravitate towards the LX levels, and believe me, it was pretty spartan back in the day at this trim level, nice plastics or not.

    Of course, the competition is better now, but there’s a huge disconnect between enthusiast sites and real world buying. (Witness the sad demise of the vtec.net comments section) ‘Appliance’ is not a derogatory term… if a car performs well in real world driving and fits your family comfortable, that should be a compliment.

    Give Hyundai and Ford a generation or two… Ford is sort of along the road in that they’ve overcome the worst of the 1st generation focus. And if word starts getting out that Elantras are reliable, sales of the next generation will be stong as well. But ‘Civic’ is a brand… by sheer momentum there are now a lot independent shops out there who are well versed in servicing these things, and parts are cheap and plentiful.

    I think a lot of what has happened with the Civic is unintentional good planning. In my part of the world, you see quite a few lower spec 2012′s on the road… that’s because it’s the same price as the Fit, but with more car. There are hardly any Fit’s o the lots because of the exchange rate… Honda was always clear that they made the 2012 Civic for a pared back post-recession world, but I think either intentionally or not, they did that to cover the dip in Fit sales until Mexican production comes online.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      When I bought the Fit in 2010, there was still quite a price bump to even a low spec Civic (~$2k). I found the Civic nice, but boring, except for the strange dash. The Civic is going down the path of the Corolla, once on top, now almost no one cares.

      Just as happened in the 1970′s, when Toyota and Datsun buried VW for entry-level customers, the Koreans are doing the same to Toyota and Honda. Only partly is it the exchange rate, DM then and Yen now.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        I don’t think it’s true that no one cares. The Corolla sells to a lot of people (more than any other compact) because it doesn’t use much gas (despite the four-speed and basic engine) and is rock-reliable in that special “It doesn’t cost a lot to own” that enthusiasts completely fail to understand.

        The Civic isn’t too far behind, and I think this is Derek’s point: people in this segment want relatively inexpensive and reliable. The other stuff is really icing on the cake, but the reason people bought Corollas and Civics in larger volumes and at higher transaction prices than Escorts, Neons, Cavaliers and their ancestors isn’t top-notch materials or outright performance, it’s that the cars didn’t break down under normal use.

        And they still don’t. Unless Honda or Toyota screw that up, the market is unlikely to change.

        Anyone who really, really cares about interior trim or dynamics are probably statistical outliers who are going to lease a Focus Titanium or VW GTI. Or, more likely, a lease-special 3-Series or A4. The tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Corolla and Civic buyers, of any generation, don’t care.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Psar is right. If the Corolla and Civic continue to be paragons of reliability then they will maintain a reasonable market share. Detroit in their bad decades lost the compact car market because of poor reliability and this gave an opening to the “imports”.

        That is why despite Nissan and Toyota’s best efforts the truck market is still solidly domestic because GM, Ford and Dodge have turned out acceptable to good trucks and their buyers come back happy.

      • 0 avatar
        nikita

        Originally the Civic was not at all the same as the Corolla. Corolla was always an appliance, originally RWD live axle, leaf sprung. The Civic was so much more than that. If its only reason for existence is another reliable compact car appliance, then why bother. The marketing is to the urban and hip, but grandma actually buys them. At this rate, the Koreans will take over in a generation.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    My daughter bought a 2003 Civic brand new, an LX. She hated that car almost from the moment she bought it and didn’t let the driver’s door hit her when she sold it and bought her 2007 Trailblazer, which she can’t say enough good things about – in spite of 15-16 mpg.

    Wifey loves her 2002 CR-V EX, but she admits it is noisy and the interior is horrible, but here’s the catch: Nothing goes wrong with it. It runs great and has plenty of get-up-and-go.

    That’s the caveat about Honda and Toyota – their 4 cylinder engines and transmissions – nothing seems to go wrong with them. Ditto for the major components like A/C.

    Lesser components? That’s a different story. Little niggling things, like a CD changer that doesn’t like to play CDs or interior materials that scuff and scratch if you look at them wrong, carpet that looks like garbage and screams “cheap”.

    BUT…the major components have been and perhaps still are bullet-proof, and that’s what seems to matter to people.

    Thing is, my 2004 Impala is just as good and a lot better in many ways. My CD player plays anything…AND is quiet…AND the A/C works…etc, etc…

    So maybe it’s all riding on their past reputation?

    • 0 avatar
      200k-min

      Going from hating a Civic to loving a Trailblazer isn’t what I’d call an unbaised apples to apples analysis of how good the Civic is. These are completely different vehicles and there are plenty of people that just prefer large SUV’s to economy vehicles.

      I can’t speak for current Honda interiors, but I wouldn’t say my ’99 Accord has a cheap interior for its day. When I was cross shopping it with the competition I found it to be near the best in class. The Passat was a little nicer, but over the years I’d argue the Honda interior materials age better than the VW. Who cares about squishy materials if they rub off by 50k miles? GM, Ford & Chrysler interiors at the time were abysmal.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        I had a 1999 Civic EX sedan, and my brother still has a 2001 Accord LX with over 120,000 miles on the odometer.

        The interior materials in the Civic were better than any comparable domestic entry from that time, and wore better than the interiors of contemporary VWs. The same can be said of the Accord.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        As the current owner of a 1996 Passat, 1996 Civic, and 2001 Odyssey, I will definitely say that the Honda interiors fare better than the VW ones. VW used painted and coated plastics on high-hand-traffic areas and some of the coatings can easily be scratched off, even when new. Honda plastics at least have the color molded in and are much more durable.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Personally, I liked the style of the 2003 Civic – hers was a coupe. Except for being silver w/charblack interior, I never had an issue with that car, as the materials matched the price point. She never had a problem with it, just didn’t like it as a car. She didn’t do enough homework to figure out what she really wanted.

      Same with our CR-V – I’m not a CUV-fan, and has the same colors – silver w/charblack interior. Not my cup of tea.

      I’m a car guy and want more character.

      • 0 avatar
        supremebrougham

        You just gave me a flashback! Today at my office a lady in a…Satin Silver CR-V EX came within maybe three feet of driving into the lobby! Thankfully her grandson was able to put the car in neutral and grab the wheel just in time!

        Nice little cars, just not when you look up and see one barreling towards the front door!

    • 0 avatar

      I have an ’08 LX with stick and 1.8 liter. The engine is incredibly responsive, and sings, and got 41 mpg driving from Boston to northern Virginia two weeks ago at 70-plus. The car handles very nicely. The radio and heater have knobs and are easy to use. I love all that.

      I would prefer hydraulic power steering. The steering is fairly numb, though very responsive. The upholstery is downmarket. But the seats are very comfortable.

      A complaint that I would have with a lot of today’s cars: the goddam rake of the windshield. The worst part of that is that it makes the A pillars get in the way of visibility more than they would if there weren’t so much rake.

      I haven’t driven, or even sat in the ’12 Civic. I’m tempted now, to see if I would agree with the assessment, and because my sister needs a new car. (the early ’00s Volvo XC90 with ~120k is beginning to cost $4,000/year in repairs.)

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Unfortunately, the rake of the windshield and, for that matter, the lack of a trunk deck, you can thank CAFE, for the OEMs are beholden to the MPG god currently. Perhaps if they figure out “winglets” or some other fool-the-wind trick to add to the exteriors to give us back reasonably-raked windshields, non-coupe styling on sedans and decent trunk openings, we’re stuck with what we’ve got.

      • 0 avatar
        Lynchenstein

        My thoughts exactly. My wife’s ’07 (LX, stick, 1.8l, sunroof) is a great car. Not an “enthusiast” car, but they don’t all have to be.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Kluttz

        I’m reasonably sure that your steering is hydraulic.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      I put my then-wifey in a 2002 CR-V EX, with the EXACT same result. Except she doesn’t even notice that it is noisy and the interior is horrible. She just turns up the radio.

      Hers, too, runs great with basically no maintenance except the brakes and tires I gave it once, and the oil changes she gives it regularly. The car will probably go 20 years without giving her a lick of trouble.

      Beyond that, though, it’s also impeccably built in the big ways. The chassis is as tight as the day it was built — not a single rattle or squeak. The major and minor controls remain firm and slop-free. The steering and handling are satisfying, and the snow behavior is immeccable. It’s all the car she’ll ever need — a real value for the money, given what it was bought to do.

  • avatar
    dts187

    I really enjoy that quote from Dyson. It seems brand reputation is becoming a non-issue for myself and a lot of my peers. Anecdotal example about a somewhat car savvy girl I know:

    It’s 2010, looking for a new car, and has test driven nearly every compact under $24k. She took notes of each car she drove and ranked them in a spreadsheet that computed an average “score” for each vehicle. Some were statistical (price, warranty, fuel economy) and some were opinion (looks, driving feel, etc). After everything was entered she determined a Kia Forte Koup was the best car for her. Her parents scoffed at her choice. A Kia? Over a “high quality” Honda or Toyota? Her parents know Kia as a company that makes crap cars and that’s that. Nothing will change their opinion. She looked at the product Kia made and judged it against the competition. She decided it fit her wants and needs better than other offerings.

    While not as analytical, a lot of my friends are the same way. Who cares if Hyundai used to make sub-par vehicles? Now they make stylish, average vehicles and are willing to back them up with a huge warranty. There really isn’t a bad new car out there. Most are well-equipped, reasonably reliable, and offer a very similar driving experience to their competition. Brand loyalty is, in my opinion, outdated thinking. Find the vehicle that works for you and don’t give a damn what badge is on the steering wheel.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      >she took notes of each car she drove and ranked them in a spreadsheet that computed an average “score” for each vehicle. Some were statistical (price, warranty, fuel economy) and some were opinion (looks, driving feel, etc). After everything was entered she determined a Kia Forte Koup was the best car for her

      This is how competitors take down the top dogs in any industry. At it’s worst, it’s checkbox engineering, at it’s best, it’s offering more value than the market leaders. It used to be that Honda used to get higher bhp/l stats and the competition overcame that by just plain offering more bhp. Since engine tech has closed up a lot, the battleground is ostensibly with features and finishing.

    • 0 avatar
      onyxtape

      “Brand loyalty is, in my opinion, outdated thinking. Find the vehicle that works for you and don’t give a damn what badge is on the steering wheel.”

      If you have the kind of job where it’s hard for you to take time off to wait in a car dealership service dept, brand (dis)loyalty is not outdated as my friends with A4s, Passats, Jettas, Tiguans, and Tuaregs can testify to.

  • avatar
    segfault

    The 2013 Altima comes within 1 mpg of the 2012 Civic’s city and highway EPA ratings. It’s more expensive but has a much nicer interior and is more powerful and more refined. Since the fuel costs would be similar, I’d definitely consider it over the Civic as a long distance commuter.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    “The plastics used by Honda have been cheap junk for ages – even in the “golden era” of the 1990s, Honda execs would openly laugh at the third-rate interior materials and the flimsy, mouse-fur sun visors were a punchline”

    I can’t believe I am reading this kind of stuff. Must be the long long hours I’m pushing nowadays.

  • avatar
    28-cars-later

    “The other three have a mess of buttons and cluttered interiors that drive up the sticker price and scare off techno-phobic older buyers as well as young buyers who don’t necessarily have the patience for Sync, MyLink and other in-dash hijinks.”

    While I agree on the scaring of older buyers, I find this comment very interesting because unless I have misinterpreted something in past threads on TTAC I thought the so called ‘Gen Y’ loved techno-buttons, talking computers, integrated satellite radio, and places to plug in their Iphone/Ipod/IbuywhateverAppletellsmetoo, which is precisely what those three manufacturers provided. Then this article comes along and sings the praises of Civic simplicity through cheapness and robustness. I can’t disagree with your points because Civic works, and if used cars have taught me anything its touchscreen computers and digital dashes don’t cut it in the long haul (oops Civic has the latter). But I do think this simplicity flies in the face of what ‘tech’ buyers want in a car, am I off base here?

    So maybe the real question is who was Civic really designed for vs. who is it marketed toward?

    • 0 avatar

      28CL,

      I’ve previously written about the pitfalls of touchscreens, tons of buttons etc. When executed properly it works but when it doesn’t, the short attention span kicks in and the technology is written off immediately as not worth one’s time. There are certain must haves, like an aux jack to EASILY plug your iPod in, as well as Bluetooth for hands-free calls, but beyond that, the added layers of complexity can become frustrating and annoying.

      I find more often the OEMs thing that young buyers MUST HAVE these systems, without really understanding that the UX/UI (pardon the geek terms, but it’s fitting) is the key, beyond impressive technology. It’s the same fallacy that social media/web evangelists fall for when talking about how “open” and “social” the world will be. Is Grandma going to be sharing on her social graph? No, a lot of people don’t understand social media and don’t want to.

      For example

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/when-will-we-get-a-decent-ipod-interface/

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        So the designers don’t seem to properly understand what the buyers wants as in the Ipod aux jack or Bluetooth as you named, they just see it as a ‘technology package’?

        So something like this could be the board room conversation in Dearborn or RenCen:

        “Kids today have alot of technology, so lets throw a bunch of technical doodads into the [insert car here], go talk to some of the geeks in IT and see what they like” :)

      • 0 avatar
        stuntmonkey

        > thought the so called ‘Gen Y’ loved techno-buttons, talking computers, integrated satellite radio

        Nothing is new. CNN thought that since Gen X loved video games, they would love it if the sides and bottom of the screen was overloaded with flashing crap…and so began the descent of cable news.

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        Haha +1 Stuntmonkey

      • 0 avatar
        supremebrougham

        I’m so glad to hear that I am not the only one that feels this way.

        Back in the fall my friendly Ford dealer was running a promotion where you could drive a new car with no strings attached. They let me try out a new Edge Limited with the EcoBoost. My impression? It was a really nice car. It had the MyFord Touch. My impression? It’s great system, provided you don’t have to try and operate it while driving the car!

        I knew that I was going to buy a new car back in December. I had read about the new ’13 Escape, too much much going on with it, too much electronics, too many new mechanical technologies being rolled out, and just plain too much$$$!

        I spec’d out a ’12 Escape XLT the way I wanted it. I am glad it has Sync, it works fine with my phone. I like the aux-in jacks. I have an iPod, but I have yet to get it out and use it in the Escape, as I am using the satellite radio and the disc player quite a bit. However, I do have my Sony Walkman plugged into it so I can listen to cassettes from time to time!

        No, I am not old, in my 30′s, just practical!

  • avatar
    geeber

    Very good article, Derek.

    It is my understanding, however, that the 2013 Civic will not feature any drivetrain changes.

    The interior materials will be upgraded, and there will be tweaks to the suspension for improved ride and handling. There will be minor revisions to the front and rear bumpers, along with changes to address the “hollow” sound when the doors and trunk are shut.

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      I thought I read somewhere there was going to be a standard auto CVT in the offing on the 2013, maybe that was just something they were considering.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        The 2013 four-cylinder Accord will receive the CVT, not the Civic, based on what I’ve read.

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        Thx. Smart move by Honda to not potentially ruin their most ubiquitous model. I’m surprised they just didn’t offer it on a smaller selling model such a CrossTour to start, in this way you could market the model as ‘more advanced’ while limiting the scope in the event the CVT doesn’t pan out as expected.

        That’s what I have seen done in the software business, a working alpha build of expected features, and then a limited beta release to X customers who partner with you to work out bugs for X off of an upgrade (or free licence/upgrade depending on the product).

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        I thought the same thing.

      • 0 avatar
        nikita

        Honda’s CVT in a Civic is not an improvement. We had it in a GX and the transmission is the single reason we unloaded the car.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Derek, a very interesting article with lots of food for thought. I’ve always felt that most people look at a vehicle like they view an appliance in their kitchen. Does it do the job effectively without being a headache? Do most people ask themselves whether their stove is the very best stove there is? I doubt it. Once you get your stove, you either like it or you don’t. And when it’s too old or troublesome to keep, you get another one. And you don’t spend weeks making the decision either. The cycle then begins again. By the way, do you like your stove to be complicated to operate?

    • 0 avatar
      afflo

      No doubt. There are also far more variables than whether the car nuts like the car.

      Personal comfort is a biggie… does it feel right? Is the seat supportive for your build? I’m a lanky 6’1 with long legs. I want a narrow seat with lots of bolstering that wraps around me like a condom, and expansive space between the seat and pedals. I don’t care that much about headroom. I want a manual transmission, decent fuel economy, lots of knee room, an unobrtrusive console (again, the knees,) and preferably a two door. With 4 door cars, once I slide the seat all the way back, and recline the seat a bit, I have a pillar next to me, and often the shoulder belt isn’t firmly agaist my shoulder. Plus, in a 2 door, the armrests extend all the way to my elbow. I prefer a low seat, with my legs stretched out in front of me. If I can have a hatch or liftback for the occasional bulky item, that’s a plus as well.

      The 06-11 Civic has a seat that feels too high, without enough seat-pedal space. Scratched off my list. The Accord is nice, but the seats are flat and unsupportive. Gone. Focus, Mazda3, Cruze? 4 door only. The Kia Forte Koup was interesting, as was the Hyundai Genesis, but tiny trunks. Ditto for the Mustang, with the added issue of no usable back seat for my kids when they’re with me.

      The Golf was a contender, but I found love in a ’11 Scion tC. Behind the sporting pretensions, I found what is more or less a modern take on a late 80′s Accord liftback! Manual transmission, lots of legroom, liftback, good fuel economy, enough power to make most common cars of the 80′s and even the 90′s blush, and (like most Honda/Toyota cars with 4-bangers and manual gearboxes) it should last for many, many miles. And surprisingly, it’s a great highway car – I’ve driven it coast to coast, TX-FL round trips twice, and take it on my 50 mile round trip commute each day when I’m not wrapping my legs around a Triumph. Let the internet blowhards scoff, it’s as close to a perfect car for me as I’ve found yet.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    There are many other factors other than “product” features that go into a buyer’s purchasing decision. Do they feel comfortable with the dealer? Service after the sale? Ease of purchase (Honda makes choosing options VERY easy)? Resale? Reliability? Most Civic buyers don’t want to see the service department any more than they have to. Honda delivers and that’s why people keep lining up (still the #1 car in Canada). As long as fit and finish isn’t embarrassing, e.g. 1980s American anything, buyers simply don’t care that much about “hard plastics.” Want to see hard plastics? Check out the 1999 Honda Odyssey that dealers couldn’t keep on the lot for more than about 5 minutes after they were unloaded from the truck.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      The paper mache trannys in the 99 Odysseys could have used some of those “hard plastics” for increased durabiity.
      I speak from experience. This was our one and only Honda, and I wasn’t very impressed with the “brand”.

  • avatar
    Karaya1

    Yes, Honda does seem to have lost it’s way. So sad. My wife just came home with a 2012 Civic just like the one pictured here, as a loaner from the local dealer, and our mutual reaction was also along the lines expressed here; ” not a bad car, but what is there to get excited about? Why would I want to take on debt to park one of these in my garage?”

    And we are both Honda enthusiasts! We both love our Civic Si’s, her’s a 2004 hatchback, mine a 2008 sedan. Her 2004 is in the shop for it’s first repair-unsheduled service- in 165,000 miles. Needs new bearings in the left front wheel. Other then that it is on it’s second set of tires, battery and break pads – over 165,000 miles! And she drives it like she stole it. Drag races SUVs at the stop lights and goes around corners going Weeeeh! Getting 30mpg, or better, the whole time! it’s been just a bullet proof car, but the new Civic she describes as “no fun” and she likes hatchbacks, so she has been looking at VWs. The Fit is nice, just a little under powered to keep pace on todays roadways.

    I grew up with Hondas. Starting with a little trail 90 in ’73 when I was 12. To me Honda stands for innovative engineering, reliability and fun to drive. ‘Fun to drive’ doesn’t mean faster then anything else on the road but rather light weight, good handling and rev happy engines mated to slick shifting manual transmissions.Honda cars and motorcycles have delivered on these counts for decades and I have remained a faithful customer over the years, with a couple of lapses, there was a teenage fascination with Camaros (and Schlitz malt liqueur and Lynrd Skynnerd) and a mid life crisis sort of dalliance with a Subaru WRX, but I have always come back to Honda.

    I see nothing on the lot of Honda dealers to excite me these days. Perhaps they have tried too hard to fit into the North American market. Acres of bloatmobiles for people who steer their cars, rather then drive them, and insist upon 15 cup holders and a plethora of electronic entertainment. Blech! Even the new Civic Si’s main selling points are more room, luxury and a bigger engine with more torque. What would Soichiro Honda say about that! If I wanted a bigger engine with more torque I’d buy a dang Ford Mustang!

    I would sure like to see Honda do something brave again. Like Subaru and Toyota did with the BRZ. Get back to basics. Make something fun to drive and affordable. Surely they still have some engineers and designers who are up to the task.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      >>Make something fun to drive and affordable. Surely they still have some engineers and designers who are up to the task.<<

      If the Civic SI is acceptable, consider the Acura ILX. I sat in one and thought, "This could be my Civic. No video game console, decent interior…"

      Although, 6 speeds may be rare. There were none on the lot.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    While I welcome the less sporty but tougher Strut suspension, I’m not a fan of how after 30-40 years I can’t have a ’12-’13 hatchback Honda Civic.

    As far as addressing the styling though, didn’t they just have a face-lift this year? They should go back to the plain but honest 2006-10 look, it’ll age better.

    I do enjoy having less phoneelectronic doo-hickey junk that I’ll never use, but I’d rather buy a Yaris.

  • avatar
    mcarr

    “Good enough” and premium pricing don’t go together. Great article about how Honda is dangerously close to losing it’s brand status.. er reputation.. in a couple product cycles.

    Hyundai and Kia are Honda’s greatest problem. I actually know people that really don’t know the difference between a Honda and a Hyundai. As in they drive a Hyundai, but always mis-speak and say it’s a Honda.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    This is the reason I refused to buy another Honda despite being a fanboi and after 12 years of owning at least one. Their cars became boring cookie-cutter toasters. Sure that will bring the sales in but enthusiasts will turn away. My previous Integra GS-R was a wonderful car with excellent performance, good options, reliability, utility and economy all thrown together into a tight little package. But no more will they make good cars like that. I drove a 2007 Civic Si before and was rather disappointed.

    I usually buy used but the first time I actually went to buy a new car I gave my money to Subaru instead of Honda. That’s what they get when they start chasing after sales and forget about enthusiasts. Won’t touch another Honda until their engineers start making cars again instead of the bean counters.

  • avatar
    Poncho

    People here underestimate the value of dependability and simplicity. We own two Hondas – 2001 Civic and a 2009 CRV. Both have been rock solid. The Civic just had its first EVER repair (all new struts) – First time the car has been in the shop for anything other then standard maintenance in 11+ years and 150,000+ miles. That is more then I can say of the the multiple Nissans with electrical gremlins, Kias with bad brakes / suspensions, Chevy’s with self destructing Autos, and Fords with suspensions that fall apart that we and various family members have owned.

    As always YMMV…

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    Wasn’t the current Civic hastily redesigned? It was going to become bigger, then Honda saw that cars weren’t supposed to grow anymore so they went back to the drawing board. It was designed in 75-80% of the time it would normally take.

    I don’t think the refresh will do much about the styling though; Honda’s refreshes only modify the lights and bumpers a little bit. I hope they do something about the ride and steering.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      I have an ’06…what’s wrong with the ride and steering?

      • 0 avatar
        carlisimo

        Nothing… the ’06 was best in class in many ways. The reviews seem to suggest that the new car is worse than the generation you have, especially in the steering. Not sure about the ride, though it’s a complaint now and it wasn’t a complaint about the 2006-2011 Civic. Maybe the reviewers feel that if the car is less sporty to drive, it’s ride should’ve improved.

        Anyway, your car is fine. Previous Civics had less steering feel… Before 2001 they were overboosted and the 2001-2005 generation (which is mechanically close to yours) had less caster.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Nothing is wrong with the ’06. It’s better in almost every way than the current gen Civic. Honda has really lost its way, as has Acura (it’s quite sad, actually, to think of how far Honda/Acura has fallen).

  • avatar
    carguy

    Brand reputation has momentum which will cause the brand perception to lag the product direction by some time. This is the case with an improving brand like Hyundai and a declining brand such as Honda. Many at TTAC may dispute that Honda is in decline with the usual “no frills reliable cars” defense but the same case could have also been (and was) made for GM in the 90s. I got to drive a 2012 Civic and apart from the low grade interior, the brakes and ride quality simply don’t meet the current competition in this market segment. Honda clearly agrees or they would not be planning a refresh 12 month after the initial launch.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    It has been obvious for over a decade now that Honda is not developing high volume mainstream models oriented to enthusiast drivers. The simple reason for that is because enthusiast drivers make up a tiny % of the markets they dominate. They certainly do not want to risk sales of for example the Civic by building it so it appeals to enthusiast drivers at the risk of alienating the huge mainstream market. Honda has a well earned reputation for solidly reliable Civics & Accords which continue to garner top marketshares despite the lament of enthusiasts. So give up on it already, Civics & Accords sell extremely well as appliances, what makes anyone think Honda would want to change that?

    Although the domestics and Koreans now have highly competitive and in many cases nicer vehicles how many Honda owners do you think just automatically buy another Honda without even shopping the competition? I’m sure Honda relies on those repeat sales when designing new models. Honda from a sales standpoint is an ultra competitive manufacturer. Does anyone really think they care what enthusiast drivers think of their products? As a caveat, look at Mazda who do build the enthusiast oriented vehicles and come nowhere close to Honda sales numbers. I’ve said this before and it bears repeating in this context, until Mazda figures out they need to produce mainstream appliances to gain substantial marketshare their sales numbers will continue to be dismal. Honda knows and profits from this fact.

    • 0 avatar
      kablamo

      This. Enthusiasts (myself included) are saddened by the boring stuff Honda is making. Mazda is the closest there currently is to a mass-market affordable sports car manufacturer and it just isn’t working out so well. Even the best (eg Lotus, Ferrari) have had tumultuous financial histories and have to cozy up with a volume maker.

  • avatar
    Cleatus

    I think the underlying point of this article is true but some of the authors comments make him sound like a duhmestic fanboy.

    “The plastics used by Honda have been cheap junk for ages – even in the “golden era” of the 1990s, Honda execs would openly laugh at the third-rate interior materials and the flimsy, mouse-fur sun visors were a punchline.”

    This part in particular makes me laugh. Were you alive in the 90s? Because it sure seems like your version of it differs from mine. Not that we have to go back to the 90s because Hondas from the 90s are still on the road today. The interiors of Hondas from the 90s are better then GM interiors from the 2000s. I witness this every week as I have 2 coworkers one with an early 90s Accord and one with a Impala from the 2000s. And guess which one has the most cheap plastic? Its not the Honda. Lets not even get started with domestics from the 90s. So when you say Hondas had cheap interiors in the 90s, compared to what, BMWs? Because they certain made domestics in the 90s look like Fischer price toys.

    So with this blatant inaccuracy how can I really take what you write seriously? Not that I really expect anything else from this site, youve had quite the history of trying to smear Japanese cars while at the same time trying to prop up American cars. This site is sort of a Fox News of car reporting.

    But regardless of all that, you can write all the smear articles you want while trying to prop up the domestics but the problem is reality. When someone buys a Toyota they arnt going to care about what you have to say about them, theyre going to base their impressions off the Toyota they own.

    “On paper, the Elantra, Focus and Cruze are the superior cars, packed with the latest infotainment, sophisticated drivetrains and avant-garde styling.”

    This one was also chuckle worthy. I cant speak about the infotainment systems, not that I care about infotainment systems, nor would it ever effect my buying decisions, or sophisticated drivetrains but when it comes to looks saying the Focus is avant-garde really says to me your writing isnt based on reality. The Elantra and Cruze are good looking cars though.

    When it comes down to it this article is just another domestic fanboy koolaid serving. But I just had to comment because the part about Honda interiors was just so ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar

      Also, a day where TTAC is accused of having an anti-Japanese/pro-Domestic bias must mean the end of the world.

      • 0 avatar
        Cleatus

        Im not sure what that means, but ok.

      • 0 avatar
        86er

        It means you’ve arrived!

        “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.”.

      • 0 avatar
        Cleatus

        “People at Honda used to mock interior pieces for being cheap and nasty. Things like the sunvisors/vanity mirrors were the butt of jokes. I’ve heard it first-hand.”

        ZOMG!!! You heard it first hand!

        So what does that say when the interiors the Japanese used to joke about were still better then their American counterparts?

        Are there any writers on this site that arnt domestic fanboys?

        PS…. I drive a Chevy. And its interior is garbage compared to the Honda I owned before it.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that there’s an inherent pro-domestic, anti-Japanese bias, the interior quality comment struck me as incredibly odd.

      My friend recently bought a 1992 Accord DX with a burgundy interior. What a beauty! Quality velour seat upholstery, completely padded dash, nicely detailed door cards with fabric inserts. On top of that, impeccable late-80s early 90s Honda ergonomics and low dash. Another friend had a ragged on 1997 Accord which still had a tight (if filthy) interior.

      After the article on the Lada 2107, I get the notion that Mr. Kreindler sometimes writes things to get a rise out of people, without knowing what the heck he’s talking about.

      • 0 avatar

        People at Honda used to mock interior pieces for being cheap and nasty. Things like the sunvisors/vanity mirrors were the butt of jokes. I’ve heard it first-hand.

      • 0 avatar
        supremebrougham

        Last week I found sitting at a Hinda dealer a rather rusty and banged up 1993 Civic LX sitting in the very back of the lot. It was unlocked, so I opened the door and got in. The interior was still like new, despite having close to 200k! The seats were not torn, the plastics were still intact. It spoke of quiet quality.

        No, I am not a fanboi of any company, despite my screen name. I just know quality when I see it, and that Civic’s interior was true quality.

      • 0 avatar
        supremebrougham

        Last week I found sitting at a Honda dealer a rather rusty and banged up 1993 Civic LX sitting in the very back of the lot. It was unlocked, so I opened the door and got in. The interior was still like new, despite having close to 200k! The seats were not torn, the plastics were still intact. It spoke of quiet quality.

        No, I am not a fanboi of any company, despite my screen name. I just know quality when I see it, and that Civic’s interior was true quality.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        I had a 1994 Honda Civic EX 5 speed manual that puts any current Honda Civic to shame in any metric.

        I loved that car. It was the epitome of Honda excellence in terms of build quality, reliability, material quality, durability and it was actually a very fun car to drive given its power to weight ratio, fantastic stick shift and uber-fantastic steering (along with an extremely rigid chassis and well damped suspension).

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    Nine months ago, we went car shopping for my 77 year old aunt. The cluttered and “visually busy” 2011 Elantra dash sent here away from the test drive feeling flustered. The next stop was the Toyota dealer. Bingo. She’s perfectly happy in her 2011 Corolla. Had we looked at a Civic first, I think it would have won her over. Personally, I appreciate the simple design elegance of the new Civic interior, despite gripes we hear about materials and textures.

  • avatar
    Charliej

    We see people complaining about Honda not keeping up to date technically. Now when they are going to direct injection and other must have technologies, you complain that Honda is going to be unreliable because of the new technology. Which is it? Are they hopelessly behind or going to be unreliable because that are catching up? This is one of those “have you stopped beating your wife” topics. You have set it up that there is no right answer. Personally, I would think that the fact that Honda still has the best resale values would mean that they are doing something right. Some people think all cars must have 500 horsepower and corner like an F1 car or they don’t amount to anything. These people don’t buy enough cars to amount to anything. The car buying public seems to like Honda just fine.

  • avatar
    aeroking80

    I am a Honda owner, and a guy that would fit the description of wanting nothing more than a reliable, durable car that’s also cheap to own. With that said, I have some serious doubts regarding whether or not I would buy some of Honda’s recent products. It seems that starting with the 1998 model year, a lot of Honda’s vehicles have gone downhill in terms of reliability and durability.

    A quick look at websites like http://www.carcomplaints.com reveals a lot of people who are having problems with their Honda’s:

    - Bad automatic transmissions on 1998+ Accord’s
    - Bad automatic transmissions on 1999+ Odyssey’s
    - Bad automatic transmissions on 2001-2003 Civic’s
    - Bad automatic transmissions on 2003-2005 Accord’s
    - Bad automatic transmissions on 2004+ Odyssey’s
    - Crack engine blocks on 2006+ Civic’s
    - Excessive rear tire wear on 2006+ Civic’s
    - Premature rear brake wear on 2008+ Civic’s
    - Premature rear brake wear on 2008+ Accord’s
    - Excessive oil consumption on 2008-2009 Accord’s

    Even if the number of complaints are adjusted for Honda’s high sales volumes, the percentage of problem vehicles still seem relatively high, and the problems themselves are expensive to fix, and they may hit any where, any time, almost without warning.

    What bothers me even more is the way that the customers with problem vehicles have been treated. To tell customers that it’s “within specifications” for a nearly new 2008 Accord to use a quart of oil every 1,000 miles seems like an insult to their intelligence, and to see this kind of treatment coming from Honda is eye-opening.

    I think Honda’s reputation for reliability and durability has some basis in fact in the past. My dad’s experience with his 86 Civic and mine with my 89 Civic can confirm that, but their recent products no longer live up to that reputation, and unless Honda management takes action to reverse that change, I will have to look else where to find my peace-of-mind vehicle.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    If people want a smaller and lighter Civic they can buy the Honda Fit, technically it is not a Civic but it fills the role of the original Civic.

    Light, effecient, and reliable.

    I’m more so dissapointed in the new NSX and the CRZ, the new Civic is just continuing what the original set out to do.

    But I want my darned hatch!

  • avatar
    AJ

    I have two Jeeps in my garage, and thinking of selling one to buy another. But in the driveway is my daily driver ’09 Civic Coupe. It’s actually my third Civic (and second with a manual transmission) and is rather zippy. I can drive it hard and still get 30 to 34 mpg with it. Like with the previous two, it’s low maintenance, has good resale and is a reliable daily driver. My mom actually has my first Civic, a ’98, and it’s got 140,000 miles on it and still drives like it did when I bought it new. The ’09 is better, but still easy to drive and other then having the timing belt replaced, it’s had *nothing* go wrong with it.

    I don’t love my ’09, but I can tell you that I’m 80% sure it won’t be my last Civic.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Both Honda and Toyota lost a bit of their souls when their founders died. Stone dependable cars? Yes. However, I still remember Honda dealers asking 2k plus or more over invoice. I think Honda gave up when they stopped making the Prelude. I loved mine. I think Toyota died when the stopped making the Celica. I’d druther be poked with sharp sticks that drive a Corolla. Also, I see lots of retired guys driving Toyotas or Lexiis. Slowly. Very slowly.

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    I love my Hondas and Toyotas. Why? Because I buy them new, drive them for a year or two, then trade them in. Easy to get Kelly Blue Book trade in, which means I lose no more than 10% to 15% of the purchase price. Recently, I drove a 10 Pilot for 1.5 years, and only lost 5%.

    I had an 09 Highlander, drive it for 40K miles, then flipped it on a brand new Highlander for only 5300 dollars. I am already looking to flip the 11 Highlander.

    You can not do this with a Detroit product. I tried a few, but stopped with the Detroit stuff after no dealer would make me a decent offer on resale. On an 08 Ford, I was looking at a 40% resale hit after 18 months. Not to mention the trips to the service depoartment. This is not acceptable.

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    Ehh I’ve sat in enough of these to say they are nice cars. nothing to really complain about except for me.

    one big glaring complaint, the steering wheel is just too small for me. Putting my hands together at 10 and 3 just makes me uncomfortable in this car. And I’ve found most Hondas are that way for me.

    It’s why I don’t look at Hondas as a vehicle I want to own. Other than that, I’d probably buy one, I actually prefer the simplicity of the vehicle over the techno-stuffed vehicles of other manufacturers. I’m not “Old” and I’m not “Young”, I just like my cars to be a bit simpler.

    I think that’s the primary reason I actually like the Hyundai Soul, inside it’s just a simple vehicle.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    One issue with new Focus is the DCT trans is very rough and clunky. Not smooth at all and many complaints.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    I just want to say… and speaking in general and not about any one person’s experience:

    The Civic seems to be a hot spot for internet FUD marketing. Not to be naive, all companies plant posts on forums, but as studies have shown, you can pick out the professional FUD spreaders and corporate shills because of the consistency of their messages… real people are very rarely as consistent as the people who are paid to do it, and who have to cut and paste because they are paid by volume.

    Again, I’m not saying that this is the only case, but it is the one that sticks out to me. If you go around the various car blog comments section you’ll see a reoccurring sort of message one that starts off with “I used to like Honda’s but…” and then the following post being fairly lengthy, around 200 to 300 words.

    Of course there are people that feel legitimately that way, but this particular ‘meme’ strikes me because it seems to be subtler, more refined second wave after a previous period where any mention of Honda on a car site immediately got thread-jacked about how another up-ancoming company (always the same one) was eating Honda’s lunch.

    Hard to prove, but there are papers out there about paid posters and word consistency/choice. My point being, if there seems to be a disconnect between the internet and real life with Civic sales (heck, the recent Accord numbers were pretty good too for an end-of-life model), this might be why.

    • 0 avatar
      Cleatus

      I think its more the owners of the blogs and websites and the writers they hire. They tend to be pro-domestic, pro-european and anti-japanese. They also seem to be pro-korean as long as its against japan and not america or europe. The people in the comments then exhibit group think and parrot the bias of the writers.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        You.. seem fairly new here.

        That’s all I can think of to explain how you can assume TTAC has an un-thinking pro-domestic bias when 8/10ths of the commenters here regularly sh- themselves apoplectic over TTAC’s ‘blatant and irrational bias against General Motors products and repeated attempts at assassinating the character of that company through the written word.’

  • avatar
    Les

    Just wanted to comment on how ‘regular people’ don’t like ‘Enthusiast’ cars like Mazda makes and cite as proof the superior sales of Hondas.

    I can find several Honda dealerships all within an hour’s drive of where I live, same with Toyota, Nissan, Kia and Hyundai…

    I’d have to drive twice as far to find the nearest Mazda dealer, same with Suzuki and Subaru.. and even farther for Mitsubishi (All OEMs of at least one model ‘Enthusiasts’ sputter into apoplexy over, ‘Why aren’t these cars selling?’)

    Simple, not enough dealerships, not enough market penetration. The ‘Appliance-minded’ Automobile shopper isn’t actively seeking Camcords nor arbitrarily rejecting cars with Enthusiast cred, they’re buying what’s convenient.

    • 0 avatar
      jeoff

      Yep, I like my Mazda, but they have closed too many dealerships in GA, to make buying another one make sense. My time is too valuable to drive more than 15 min from work to have warranty work done.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    To paraphrase an epigram which was once, and may be again, all the rage: “It’s the product, stupid.”

    It amazes and, occasionally, delights me that on many instances, despite all the savvy “marketing” and design effort, a vehicle is bought by a population segment which was not even on the radar screen when the car was conceived…..cases in point are the Honda Element and now the Kia Soul. Both of these vehicles were targeted for youthful active millenials. Both are now frequently seen being driven by Boomers who appreciate function, utility and value.

    If the OEM’s just built cars for “enthusiasts”, we’d all be driving Mustangs and 3-series. To echo a previous commenter, “appliance” is not a bad word. I want a car which I can trust that it will start, drive and keep me and my family safe, with reasonable maintenance at a reasonable “total cost of operation”, but which also will not embarass me in the neighborhood or with my clients and colleagues. Honda Civic and Accord are in that sweet spot.

    Which is why an Accord LX, vintage 2012, is in my garage. The fact that of this automotive reasonableness costs me, in total, about $0.47 cents per mile, all in is a great bonus.


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