By on May 19, 2012

More than just a mere model, the Honda Civic is an institution. With 9 million examples sold on American shores, and nearly 20 million worldwide, calling it “Honda’s most important car” doesn’t express the importance of getting the 2012 redesign right. Michael got his hands on the EX model last May, but today we’re looking at the green poster child of the Honda line-up.  Visit TTAC next week as we get gaseous with the Civic CNG.

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If the Civic were a brand, it’s volume would rank above the likes of BMW, Mazda, Mercedes and Chrysler. As you would expect from a volume player, Honda played it safe with the sheetmetal. While overall proportions are exactly the same as the 2011 Civic, the 2012 sports a 1.2-inch shorter wheelbase. The hybrid’s new nose sports a grille with horizontal bars, chrome bling and blue trim to show that the planet is being saved. The overall look is evolutionary and elegant, a logical move for the Civic as the hybrid model can cost more than $27,000 after destination charges. Aside from the subtle blue band up front, a hybrid logo and LED brake lamps out back, there are no visual clues to the Civic’s powertrain.

Exterior

If you thought the Civic was small , then you haven’t been inside one recently. Interior volume is up by four cubic feet and rear leg room has grown by nearly two inches. Four average sized Americans will have no problem spending time in the Civic, but 5 is still a tight squeeze. Honda’s redesigned battery means trunk room has grown slightly from 10.4 cubic feet to 10.7, but still a notable reduction from the non-hybrid’s 12.5 cubic foot trunk. The battery is still located  behind the rear seat meaning the seat backs can’t fold for longer cargo.

The Civic’s interior continues to feature Honda’s “two-tier dash” which places a digital-style speedometer, MPG and fuel gauge high on the dash. Next to the them is a high-resolution 5-inch LCD “Multi-Information Display” (i-MID) which displays hybrid system, audio, trip and fuel-economy information. The lower tier has the tachometer and warning lights and is behind the steering wheel. The cockpit continues to be driver-oriented with the HVAC and radio controls angled towards the driver.

Interior

As the Hybrid shares its interior with the Civic Coupe (starting at $15,755), plastics are hard and the texturing does little to disguise it. In truth, most of the competition isn’t any better, but that’s not to say we can totally excuse some items. Our tester’s passenger-side airbag color was a distinctly different shade than the surrounding dash, a problem we also noted on the Civic Natural Gas tester. Front seat comfort is excellent for long trips, but as Honda continues to put fairly exaggerated fixed lumbar support in the Civic ‘s front seats, (something I personally prefer) you might want to spend some time sitting in the seats before you buy. Rear seat cushions continue to be positioned low in the Civic making longer journeys tiresome for your long-legged friends, but your kids will be happier with seats that start lower to the floor.

Infotainment

Since the Civic Hybrid is essentially the flagship Civic, all models come standard with Honda’s 6-speaker, 160-watt sound system independent of the head unit. Base models come with an MP3 CD player that and basic a USB/iPod interface. The optional navigation system adds a large screen for navigating your “iDevices” as well as XM Satelite Radio with XM Nav Traffic. The system’s interface is logical and well laid out, but the graphics are not as nice as Toyota’s or Ford’s systems. Although you cannot voice command specific tracks from your iPod like you can in Acura or Ford products, practically every other command in the system is “voice commandable.” The $1,300 premium to step up to the nav system is a tough pill to swallow when after market systems deliver a more pleasing interface for less.

Drivetrain/Tech

With little fanfare Honda has significantly updated the “Integrated Motor Assist,” or IMA hybrid system. At the heart of the fifth-generation system is a larger 1.5L engine.Although larger than last year’s 1.3L unit, the displacement increase doesn’t improve power, which falls by 3HP. The biggest change is a revised torque curve for more efficient driving. As before, the electric motor is sandwiched between the engine and a traditional CVT. The new motor is not only more powerful, bringing 23HP and 78lb-ft to the party, but it’s also smaller and lighter than before. With Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive you can’t add “engine+motor” to get total system figures, but with IMA you can. Because the torque and HP curves of the motor and engine differ, the maximum output is where the two lines intersect: 110HP at 5,500RPM and 127lb-ft of torque from 1,000-3,500RPM. (Thank the electric motor for that flat torque curve). Also new to this system is a dual-scroll A/C compressor, first seen in the defunct Accord Hybrid. The new compressor is a huge improvement for the Civic because the A/C can now run with the engine off, improving city MPGs.

Powering the electric motor is an all-new lithium-ion battery and new control circuitry that is 35% more efficient than before. Although the battery’s capacity has gone down (from 5.5Ah to 4.7Ah), lithium batteries can charge and discharge  more quickly, allowing the 2012 Civic Hybrid to recapture more energy from regenerative braking as well as roll around in EV-only mode. Yep, this Civic can now cruise around solely with electric power – for short periods of time. Since Honda doesn’t use a clutch to disconnect the engine from the motor (ala Infiniti’s M35h or Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid), the engine is always turning. Even during 100% electric mode. If you are driving around town, on a flat road, under moderate throttle and speeds under 40MPH, the Civic Hybrid will close the engine’s valves, cut off the gasoline and the 23HP provides all the power to spin the wheels, and the engine. Since the tachometer is still reading motion, the only way you know you’re in EV mode is by looking at the i-MID screen.

Drive

Since the motor delivers all of its 78lb-ft at low RPMs, off the line shove is better than the numbers might suggest. Not all is perfect with the latest IMA system however as transitions between regenerative and regular braking are considerably less polished than in Toyota’s hybrid products, especially when the battery reaches capacity. On the bright side, the CVT and the broad torque curve also turn the Civic Hybrid into a fairly effective hill climber. The Civic Si is incredibly satisfying on a windy mountain road and I would like to say the same could be said of the Hybrid, but I would be lying. When the going gets twisty, the low rolling resistance tires howl and give up early and extend braking distances significantly. Still, road holding isn’t what hybrids are about. Fuel economy is the name of this game.

As I am sure you’ve all heard, the previous generations of Civic Hybrid have had some bad press over fuel economy. Honda obviously took their recent legal woes to heart and not only improved the EPA numbers on the Civic Hybrid, but seemingly the real world mileage as well. EPA economy is up from 40/43 to 44/44 and in our week with the car we averaged a respectable 42.8MPG over 889 miles. Before you comment on the difference between EPA and observed economy however, this was not a typical commute week for me. Instead of my blend of mountain/city/highway driving, the Civic spent the majority of the week going up and down a 2,200ft mountain pass with little highway time. Still, this included the 2012 Hybrid scored better than the 2011 I tested previously, which averaged 36MPG.

How much does Honda’s compact fuel sipper cost?Pricing is easy, and there are only four ways to buy your Civic Hybrid. $24,200 buys the base model with cloth seats, $25,700 adds navigation, $25,400 gets you the base Hybrid with leather and our tester was the $26,900 model with navigation and leather. That’s about $3,500 more than a comparably equipped Civic EX, not to mention pricier than the Insight. For those paying attention, that’s just about the same as a Prius when you adjust for the extra features in a Prius “Four.” If your goal is simply to burn less gasoline, then the Prius is the green car for you. If however you’re looking for something more traditional that is “green enough,” the Civic Hybrid fits the bill perfectly. Of course, there’s still the question of the Insight. Although leather isn’t available, the most expensive Insight (EX with navigation) is $510 less than the Civic. Although the Civic Hybrid is slightly faster and handles slightly better than the Insight, it’s easy to see why the Civic Hybrid has remained, and is destined to remain a slow seller in America.

 

Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.95 Seconds

0-60: 10.2 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.6 @ 79.5 MPH

Average fuel economy: 42.8MPG over 889 Miles

 

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64 Comments on “Review: 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid...”


  • avatar
    carguy

    Mild or IMA hybrids have not sold well as they seem to deliver all the bad aspects of a hybrid (no-grip tires, weird brake pedal feel etc) with none of the stellar fuel economy that full hybrids can deliver. Honda should either go the Mazda route and deliver maximum fun and fuel economy from a traditional ICE or go the Toyota route with a maximum fuel economy high tech appliance. As GM is finding out, the middle ground neither pleases driving enthusiasts nor hyper milers.

    • 0 avatar
      mshenzi

      Honda’s hasn’t yet figured out how to challenge Toyota effectively in the hybrid market, and this Civic doesn’t sound like it’s going to change that. Kudos for staying in the game, but it’s essentially standing pat with a less-than-compelling hand. If Honda doesn’t re-think its approach to hybrids, it seems likely to remain a marginal player for the foreseeable future.

    • 0 avatar
      jimbobjoe

      Incidentally I drove a Nissan Altima Hybrid the other day, and I loved its brake feel.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    Front DLO FAIL!

    Is this so-called redesigned model? Or is that one will be called 2013?

    I’m not a fan of either Honda or Toyota, but I’d take Prius over Civic for being a proper hybrid and being a hatchback.

    • 0 avatar

      This is the 2012. But I doubt they’ll be able to fix the DLO with the 2013, as the changes this would require cannot be done cheaply or quickly.

      The slogan Ralph Gilles used to motivate the team that developed the new Dodge Dart was “Give a shit.” As in, let’s design a car that, unlike the Caliber et al, looks like it was designed and developed by people who gave a shit. The 2012 Civic is not such a car.

      • 0 avatar
        probert

        Jeez – if you have to motivate them with “look like you give a shit” it might be time for a new crew who does give a shit. What did they have to design beyond the front and rear clip?

    • 0 avatar

      This is the 2012. But I doubt they’ll be able to fix the DLO with the 2013, as the changes this would require cannot be done cheaply or quickly.

      The slogan Ralph Gilles used to motivate the team that developed the new Dodge Dart was “Give a sh–.” As in, let’s design a car that, unlike the Caliber et al, looks like it was designed and developed by people who gave a sh–. The 2012 Civic is not such a car.

      My take on the non-hybrid 2012 Civic:

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/review-2012-honda-civic-ex/

  • avatar
    vbofw

    Two things jump out at me as distinctly Honda: 1. the “loose” leather upholstery and 2. the tacky large font that labels each button which seemingly is becoming the Japanese way. An alien would assume these cars are made specifically for old timers.

    Also the “integrated motor assist” logo in the middle of the tach is hilarious — a caricature of a early 90s automotive logo. Why can Hyundai do restrained and tasteful styling but Honda is in another decade?

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    ……..Still, road holding isn’t what hybrids are about. Fuel economy is the name of this game…..

    Fuel economy is paramount in a car like this, but low rolling resistance tires aside, why can’t a hybrid have a semi-performance suspension, at least as an option? I have an 80 mile round trip commute and I want good dynamics. My Altima hybrid has good dynamics; the Prius I had as a loner was horrible in that department. Excessive lean, wallowy, and the tires howled on the on/off ramps. I just don’t see why you can’t offer a good suspension. It is not like the Prius rides all that well on rough roads either. I guess it is true that Americans just don’t care about driving.

    • 0 avatar
      ciddyguy

      Or, perhaps they do, to an extent, but are after the mileage, road dynamics be damned.

      It seems it’s the manufacturers that are doing this either/or thing with hybrids (and many ICE cars as well).

    • 0 avatar

      The 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid might do well here.

      Grippy tires actually make sense in a hybrid, as carrying more speed through turns saves fuel. Of course, this also shortens the life of more expensive tires, so the net cost is likely higher.

      • 0 avatar
        DrSandman

        “…carrying speed through turns saves fuel…” HA! THAT’S what I need to tell my wife why I chatter the front tires on every corner (when safe to do so)!

        For the enthusiast driver who has a hybrid — is there such a thing? like a vampire who likes a good suntan — I would happily have a hybrid with grippy tires and never hit the brakes. Sadly, I believe that most hybrid drivers have NEVER squealed tires. Or at least if they did, he certainly did not enjoy it!

        And as we all know, total cost of ownership has never entered into the hybrid owner’s mind. If it did, they wouldn’t drive a hyrbid!

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, I think hypermilers do carry much more speed through turns than the average driver, if less than an enthusiast.

        One thing I don’t know: if you take a turn fairly aggressively, do you chew less tread off a tire with more grip? If the non-performance tire is at 8/10, and the performance tire is at 6/10, does the latter actually hold up better with equally high speeds through turns?

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        I have a friend who uses a Prius as his daily driver/commuter. His other car is a supercharged Pantera, with a fuel injection system he engineered himself.

        Yes, there is such a thing as in enthusiast hybrid driver.

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        Stave I’m curious how does one go about engineering a fuel injection system, seems kinda dangerous.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Eh, it’s OK, does not sound spectacular in any way, shape or form.

    If I were to get a hybrid, I’d get the Prius C in a fun color and call it a day. Seems I read its driving dynamics are decent, when in comparison to it’s larger brethren in any event.

    Still in all, I agree, why not make a hybrid that has the option of being able to handle as well as save you gas in the process?

    It’s one of the things I love about my Mazda P5, its driving dynamics.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    For that cash I will still go for a vw tdi. Jetta wagon much better driving experience and so for in 35 k driving no issues with vw gremlins

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      I’m also in the “anything but a hybrid” camp as there are more utilitarian commuters that can haul the goods and get good fuel economy when needed.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    “plastics are hard and the texturing does little to disguise it. In truth, most of the competition isn’t any better”

    Seriously? I would say it’s the opposite, that most of the competition does do it better. Have you been in a Cruze or Focus? Their interiors have a quality feel that’s leaps and bounds better than the “new” Civic. I’d even venture to say the Elantra is a small notch ahead.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I can’t remember the last time I touched my dash. I couldn’t care less what it feels like.

      • 0 avatar
        chicagoland

        I agree, I am so tired of these effete car reviewers going on and on about ‘soft touch’. They needed something new to dismiss new cars as ‘inferior’, since manufacturing quality is near equal now.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I’m tired of all the commenters that feel compelled to post in every review how they don’t touch their dash.

        You may not poke your upper dash, but lots of people use the armrest or rest their arm on the window sill. In compacts, your right leg is often in contact with the trim on the center stack. There are contact points in the interior and the material quality matters. Even where you aren’t touching the surface, the so called soft-touch plastics often look much better than their shiny and hard counterparts. This contributes to a sense of quality.

        I think reviews focus on the term “soft-touch” for lack of more objective sounding way to judge interior quality. No one is fondling their upper dash. The bottom line is whether the car in question has a nice interior. If a Lexus and a car with a Fischer Price interior are all the same to you, then more power to you, but keep the condescending remarks to yourself.

      • 0 avatar
        N8iveVA

        For me it’s not so much how the soft touch plastics feel, and i actually do have regular conract with my dash, but it’s how they look. If the hard plasts didn’t look so damn cheap i’d be fine with the fact that they were hard.

      • 0 avatar
        ShoogyBee

        IMO what matters most is that the plastic interior panels and assemblies don’t squeak and rattle. To me, how well it is screwed together is more important than how it looks.

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    On the east coast, the 12 Civics seem to outsell all other cars in it’s class, however I do see a lot of new Corollas and Kia/Hyundais in the same segment. The most striking thing about the 12 Civics is many of them are being driven by 20 something females.

    I am also noticing this with the new CR-V … many young female drivers.

    It appears Honda may be the first brand to figure out how to attract the young female demographic.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Every CUV is going to predominantly sell to women. And since young, 20-something women actually buy cars instead of sitting at home wallowing in misery that no one effectively markets to them, I don’t see it as that big of an issue.

    • 0 avatar
      chicagoland

      Not “the first”. Toyota and others for decades have done well with women. Even the late Pontiac.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    ” the engine is always turning. Even during 100% electric mode. If you are driving around town, on a flat road, under moderate throttle and speeds under 40MPH, the Civic Hybrid will close the engine’s valves”
    ==================
    I would think that the exhaust valves would need to be open and the intake valve operate normally to reduce the drag of each engine stroke.
    =================
    Lithium-ion battery along with a CVT sounds down-right scarey if you plan to keep this for more than 6 years.

    I credit Honda with all the technology and drivetrain development, unfortunately I do not see this being a sales success with it’s blandness. The Hybrid crowd will want something that screams green to fork over the extra cost over a standard Honda configuration.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      No … If you close all the valves, the air in the cylinder is trapped, and acts like an air spring. Whatever energy it takes to compress the air when the piston goes up gets recovered when the air expands as the piston goes down. There is some thermodynamic loss due to heat transfer but it’s smaller than the pumping losses that would be incurred if you let the air go in and out of the cylinder through the valves.

      The various cylinder-shutdown schemes used on GM and Chrysler V8’s operate in the same manner, by closing all of the valves.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I still don’t get hybrids. Would make more sense to make the cars lighter and more efficient overall. Spread the cost of the hybrids over the whole line in generally efficient technologies. A 2400-2500lb Civic would be great for everybody.

    • 0 avatar
      jimmyy

      I had this same thought. Then I purchased a 12 Camry Hybrid LE. I am averaging 43 miles per gallon, in mixed driving. I purchased it for 24K. I think this is the future.

    • 0 avatar
      MrIncognito

      Not in an urban area, no.

      Not to paint with too broad of a brush, but a lot of people who don’t live in major cities will never get any advantage from a hybrid, and extrapolate this to mean that no one gets an advantage from a hybrid power-train. There is nothing you could possibly do to a non-hybrid car in terms of weight savings, etc, that would possibly make it as advantageous as a Prius in the middle of LA, NY, San Jose, or Chicago.

      • 0 avatar
        probert

        This is true but the percentage of people who live away from the congested coasts is very small. That said, I do see a fair amount of prius’s in the west – but mostly trucks.

  • avatar
    amac

    That’s the ugliest dashboard I’ve ever seen.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      Yep it’s a deal killer. Its also not very practical. I had a rental Civic last year and the location of the driver’s HVAC vents just freezes your fingers in the summer.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Ugly – very much, but I still think the Prius center dash is worse.

      I won’t even consider either car as long as they have those dashes.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    I didn’t even need to click the link to know how the flow of the comments were going to turn out…

    Check out this Freakonomics podcast:
    http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/07/07/hey-baby-is-that-a-prius-you%E2%80%99re-driving/

    The upshot was that Prii sold disproportionately well in places like Berkley, where it pays to be seen as being environmental. In places like Texas, the proportion of sales between Prii and Civic hybrids isn’t so drastic. The podcsat conclusion is a bit depressing (from a human nature standpoint) but not unsurprising.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      Thanks for Freakonomics link.

      The Prime Minister who installed solar panels was a politician, so paying close attention to his image comes with the territory.

      The podcast also stated the Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius were a close match in price and mileage. True, but Consumer Reports gave the Civic 62 points and a “not recommended” status, whereas The Prius, got 80 points and a “recommended” status.

      Were I in the market for a hybrid, I would choose the Prius, not for the sake of image, but from reviews.

      I understand the point of the freakonmics research. But buying a Prius is like being a member of club, no different than being a member of any drivers club — from Miata, to Mustang, to Porsche, etc.

      Yes, many Prius drivers are “holier-than-thou.” But I wonder how much of that attitude stems from within the Prius driver versus how much of that attitude is projected onto them.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        “…wonder how much of that attitude stems from within the Prius driver versus how much of that attitude is projected onto them.”

        I wonder this myself. I tend to believe that it’s more a matter of everybody else who projects their own bias against the Prius (and other “status” cars – MB, BMW, JLR, Audi) onto their owners in the manner of: all Prius owners are greenies who want regular cars to die (when in reality they just want to save some money on gas – don’t bother with the higher overall cost of the car, over a convential midsize, because people choose to spend their money in different ways. Is spending $27k on a car that happens to save gas, and might just be the most practical option for their needs, any different than spending $27k on an entry level Buick?), and all MB/BMW/JLR/Audi drivers are c0ck5 who think they’re special and that everybody should get off their roads.

  • avatar
    John

    I applaud Honda for making a new car without a FREAKIN HUGE PLASTIC COVER THAT HIDES THE WHOLE ENGINE! I can actually see where the spark plugs are (coil packs?).

    • 0 avatar

      You might want to check the photo set again. There is an engine cover. Alex took two photos with it on, and another with it removed.

      • 0 avatar
        John

        By golly – you’re right! I want Sajeev to explain why auto designers decided somewhere around the beginning of the New Millenium that every engine needed to be covered with more plastic that is on the Pontiac Aztec.

        Like the Victorians who put doilies on piano legs because it was “rude” to see bare legs!!!

        Behold – the new Burqua Engine Bays!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
        Allahu Ahkbar!

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        The quest to limit NVH and pedestrian safety has given us engine bays full of plastic covers.

  • avatar

    “Rear seat cushions continue to be positioned low in the Civic”

    Karesh complains about this in almost every review.

    “your kids will be happier with seats that start lower to the floor.”

    But I’ve never heard this before.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    Winding road, not windy. Windy refers to weather. That nit aside, good review – thanks.

  • avatar
    bkmurph

    “The overall look is evolutionary and elegant…”

    Evolutionary, yes, but I wouldn’t call it elegant.

  • avatar
    Apollo

    “The new compressor is a huge improvement for the Civic because the A/C can now run with the engine off, improving city MPGs.”

    Alex, did the air conditioner bog down acceleration to an unacceptable degree?

    I had an ’03 Civic Hybrid. To pass on the highway (60 mph and up), I had to turn the A/C off to accelerate well enough. It was kind of annoying, but I got used to it, and figured it was just a trade-off for the 40 mpg I consistently got.

    Then we moved to Texas. On the 70mph highways, accelerating from 65 in order to pass slower drivers took a long time, and it seemed even longer with the A/C turned off. I started dreading road trips. Driving through cities in the summer wasn’t good either: if I left the A/C on, I’d get mid-20s mileage and accelerated like an insufficiently-caffeinated sloth; if I put it in eco mode and let the compressor kick off while I was waiting at stop lights, well…it was still 105 and there I was with 105 degree air blowing on me.

    Ultimately, the inadequacies of the A/C made me hate the car. There was a lot to like about it, but no drivetrain can make a car feel futuristic if you get drenched in sweat because the A/C is crap. If they’ve made the A/C significantly more efficient, it would make all the difference in the world in terms of comfort.

    • 0 avatar

      The compressor only kicks off in eco mode? I thought all cars kicked off under hard acceleration. I know my TDI does (and it makes a huge difference, acceleration-wise.)

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      The A/C changes were significant. The Electric A/C compressor was fine in 75-80 degree weather alone with the engine off. Engine on and the air temperature did drop a bit but it was hard to tell. Under full throttle the belt compressor is disengaged and the electric unit operates. As long as you have battery power this means you get maximum acceleration and A/C. When the battery is exhausted the performance of course takes a hit because you’re loosing the boost from the motor.

  • avatar
    PintoFan

    Someone at Honda needs to realize that these ugly slate-gray interiors only serve to highlight the cheapness of the materials used to construct them.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Can you still get the funky purple cloth seats in the hybrid Civic? I always thought those were nifty…

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I like the looks of the Civic – sure looks better than a Prius. Trouble is, how is this better than a standard Civic?

    Toyota has the market cornered with the Prius and even Toyota can’t compete with itself with their other hybrids, mild or not.

    Always a good job on your reviews, Mike. Keep up the good work.

  • avatar
    28-cars-later

    The one thing I can give Honda here is this hybrid doesn’t jump out and scream ‘I’m pretentious’.

  • avatar
    CV

    This is a little off topic, but . . . Michael, are you or anyone at TTAC going to be doing a review of the updated 2012 Honda Fit, particularly in the Sport trim?


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