People assume that car companies know their competition’s every move, as if there was some sort of mission impossible crew sent in every weekend to monitor R&D progress. While some less-than-ethical information exchange goes on, on the whole, a car manufacturer like Honda finds out what the competition’s latest widget looks when we do. Need proof? Look at the
2011, 2012, 2013 Honda Civic. The 9th generation Civic was intended to début as a 2011, but the financial implosion caused Honda to go back and re-work their compact car as a 2012 to keep prices low. In the perpetual game of auto-leapfrog, Honda miscalculated the direction Ford, Hyundai, Kia (and perhaps even Nissan) were headed. The result was bashed by Consumer Reports and raked across the coals by most of the press. Did buyers care? Apparently not. The 2012 Civic was purchased in impressive quantities by real-people. Honda could have found solace in their sales, but instead they did something unusual: they re-re-redesigned the Civic for 2013. Say what?
The 2013 Civic isn’t just a second-year options package shake-up, and it isn’t even a mid-cycle color and trim shuffle. The changes after only a year on the market land somewhere between a refresh and and a redesign-on-the-same-platform. How can I call it a redesign? Well, if Lexus can call the “new” LS a new car… But I digress.
While I didn’t hear as many complaints from my comrades in the auto-biz about the Civic’s curb appeal, Honda took the opportunity to graft a chrome smile from the 2013 Accord onto the Civic, redesign the bumper covers (front and rear), add smoked tail lamps, new wheels and finished everything off with a trendy honeycomb grille. While I didn’t have a single issue with the way the old Civic looked, I have to admit this one looks better, especially from the front or back where Honda spent some cash to have the tail lamps cross onto the trunk lid giving the Civic’s heinie a more premium feel. From the side it would seem that noting has changed with the same four-window silhouette, but the difference is in the glass: it’s thicker this year for improved sound isolation.
The problem with the 2012 Civic wasn’t the exterior. And, in my mind, it wasn’t the interior design OR the interior plastics quality. Yep, you heard me right with that. The old Civic’s plastics weren’t great, but they were easy to clean, textured attractively and I just didn’t expect anything different from an $18,000 car. What I did have a problem with was a lack of color-matched bits and ill-fitting panels. Our 2012 tester’s four main dash components sported four different variations of the same target color. For 2013 Honda cranked the thumbscrews on the parts suppliers and all the colors in our Civic EX were the same.
In addition to the color change, Honda had an eye on touch points, swapping out the hard doors and dash “faces” for squishy injection-molded units with fake stitching. Keeping costs d0wn, the same gauge cluster and dash structure remain from last year as well as the dash parts farther from your reach, but they have all been re-cast to texture-match the new bits. Even the radio’s plastics have received a color and texture upgrade to look classier. The change has brought the Civic from slightly below average to a solid contender, although I think I prefer the style of the Elantra, Sentra and Focus to the Civic’s dual-level dash.
Honda continues to put fairly exaggerated lumbar support in the front seat backs, something you don’t find in many of the competition. The extra support was perfect for my back, but since it isn’t adjustable, you should get plenty of seat time before you buy to be sure you can live with the shape. For my average six-foot frame, the seating and driving position proved ideal enough that despite sharing driveway time with a 2013 Mercedes CLS63, I found myself choosing the Civic for longer trips during our week. Say what? The Civic’s compliant suspension and seat ergonomics were better on my back than the $120,000 Merc.
As with most cars that have families in mind, the Civic’s rear seats are close to the floor and the door openings are wide and tall making ingress/egress easy with or without a child seat in tow. Honda has a reputation for function over form, and that pays dividends in the rear with a high roofline that allows a more upright seating position, more than can be said of the Elantra. Fold those 60/40 rear seats down and you’ll notice an area Honda didn’t touch: cargo. The Civic’s trunk pass-through is still somewhat small and oddly shaped preventing larger items from riding along. The trunk’s 12.5 cubic feet is in line with the Focus and Corolla, but a few Cubes behind the Elantra and Sentra. When it comes to bag carrying, the Sentra has a further trick up its trunk: a 24-inch roller bag can ride vertically in the Sentra’s cargo hold allowing you to carry a surprising seven carry-on sized rollerbags, try that in your Panther replacement.
The Civic’s reputation is a huge feature that can’t be ignored in a review. Honda has long been known for reliability, solid build quality and high resale value. That’s great, but like many shoppers I care more about plugging my iDevice in and pairing my phone. Thankfully Honda got the note and for 2013 Bluetooth phone integration and audio streaming are standard, as is Pandora smartphone integration. As of the time we drove the Civic, the Pandora app integration is only compatible with Apple iPhones, but word is an Android app is happening at some point. Unlike BMW’s iDrive, you don’t need a Honda app to use streaming radio, you just download the Pandora app and the car knows what to do. If you want to see the system in action, click on the video at the top of the review.
As before, the 160-watt four-speaker audio system is standard on base models while EX models toss in A-pillar tweeters. Also unchanged is the somewhat funky split-level nature of the system where the radio controls are in the center of the dash but the display is integrated into the dual-level instrument cluster binnacle. If you feel particularly spendy, you can add Honda’s easy-to-use but quite expensive $1,500 nav system to the Civic EX or EX-L. The touch-screen unit does bring a bevy of voice commands to the party, but for the price, I’d skip it. If you are debating between the EX with nav and the EX-L without, go for the L without. 2013 hasn’t brought any significant changes to either system, although thanks to software changes from Apple and Honda, you can now use your iDevice’s native music browsing interface to select your tunes. Is that safe? Who knows, but it is handy.
If you had hoped 2013 would bring a variant of the new EarthDreams engine from the Accord, you’re not alone, I had fantasies about that as well. It’s not that the 1.8L, 140 horse four-cylinder engine in the Civic is a bad mill, in truth it’s smoother than the diesel-like nature of any gasoline direct-injection engine, the problem is the power to fuel economy ratio. Especially with that Accord sitting on the same lot. The four-banger is still mated to Honda’s 5-speed manual or 5-speed auto which seem designed to highlight the low 128lb-ft of twist. The broad ratio spread of the 5-speed trying to balance off-the-line acceleration with highway fuel economy leave the Civic feeling strangely breathless when you’re hill climbing or passing. The lack of a 6-speed transmission or a CVT (Nissan claims their CVT has a ratio spread similar to a 7-speed auto) is a serious omission and largely the reason the Civic is a full 1.5 seconds slower to 60 than a Focus, more than 2 seconds behind an Accord and even 0.2 slower than the less powerful CVT-equipped Sentra. We were unable to get our hands on the Elantra for a 0-60 test in time, but other outlets tell us its faster as well.
The cog swappers may be old school, but they do manage to deliver good EPA numbers. Our 5-speed automatic Civic wore a 28/39/32 (City/Highway/Combined) rating and managed to get a TTAC real-world score of 33.5 MPG in mixed driving. It’s rare that any vehicle get over the EPA combined score in our testing, so this is particularly noteworthy. The Fusion SE delivered its 31MPG combined last time we tested it, the Corolla claims 29MPG combined but we scored 28 last time we had one, and I’m sure you’ve heard about Hyundai’s MPG woes. The new Sentra scored the highest in the group we tested at 36.2MPG and the Cruze 1.8L the lowest at 27, you can thank the CVT in the Sentra for that number. Speaking of CVTs, the 2013 Accord EX tester scored 32.5 on the same commute thanks to Honda’s new cog-less swapper.
I didn’t think the last Civic was a sloppy mess out on the road, but other reviewers weren’t so kind. One has to be mindful of the competition when comparing, and that’s why I scratched my head. The Corolla is ancient and drives like a Tonka truck, yet it’s the sales leader, the Cruze’s steering is so numb and overboosted its like driving an RC car. (The Corolla is proof that car shoppers are lemmings, except for our readers of course.) I liken the old Civic to the new Elantra since it straddled the middle between firm and soft, sporty and not with plenty of “numb” tossed in for good measure. The Focus attempts sporty with firm springs and a well-tuned chassis, but electric power steering makes sure that every compact car has a healthy dose of Novocaine when it comes to steering feel. At issue was the Civic’s rep as a fun to drive subcompact with plenty of feel, sharp dynamics and feel, 2012 killed that in favor of trying to be everything to everyone. To make the Civic “crisper” and satisfy the forum-fan-boys, Honda swapped out every bushing they could get their hands on and tweaked everything that was tweakable. The changes certainly give the Civic the starched collar it lacked last year, but do little for ultimate grip or steering feel. Grip is something you can fix yourself with new rubber, but steering feel should just be mourned because it’s not coming back.
The other thing Honda underestimated about the competition was how far they would go in terms of noise isolation. Hop in a Cruze and it’s as quiet as an entry-level luxury car, the 2012 Civic? Not so much. To fix the issue Honda jammed as much foam as they could find in the wheel wells, firewall area and under the carpet. They swapped the window glass out for thicker material all the way around and spent some extra time to resolve dashboard squeaks. The difference is nightand day, while the Cruze is still the quietest in the bunch, the Civic is on par with the Focus and Elantra (well ahead of the Corolla.)
Most refreshes do little to alter the substance of the product, so the 2013 Civic is all the more impressive. It also begs the question: if Honda could do this just one year later, why didn’t they just go here in the first place? We may never know.
Refinement costs money, but thankfully Honda seems to be eating most of the expense as the 2013 model is only $160 more dear than last year. Considering the added feature content and the more upscale interior and exterior, dealers can start saying “and, it’s a Honda” at the end of the sales pitch instead of “but, but, it’s a Honda!!” as customers walk next door to the Hyundai dealer. OK, I kid, but the distinction is important, it takes the Civic from a purchase you had to justify to your car buddies, to one that is solidly competitive and understandable. At $18,695, the Civic LX (automatic) is finally within a few bucks of the $18,650 Elantra GLS. At that point it comes down to aesthetics and brand preference. I prefer the way the Civic looks to the new Elantra (although I’m told I’m crazy by our Facebook peeps), but I am also mindful that the Elantra carries a better warranty and a comparably priced Elantra or Sentra still offer a few more standard goodies.
There’s just one more elephant in the room. I drove the Civic and the new Accord back to back, something that I suspect many a shopper will do. (You know, because they are on the same dealer lot.) I know it’s a slippery slope to compare a car with its larger stablemate, I posit the Civic’s biggest threat is its big brother, and for good reason. The Civic/Accord comparo is even more apt if you’re considering a $20,815 Civic EX (like our tester) or the $22,265 EX-L. Jumping up to an Accord LX gets you dual-zone climate control, an 8-inch infotainment screen, backup camera, more interior room, more refinement, a bigger trunk, and 2-second faster sprint from 0-60. That’s before you think of the value of having an Accord badge on your trunk vs a Civic. What’s the toll for this jump? A cool $1,665 (or $36 a month on a four-year loan) and the loss of the EX model’s sunroof. What about economy you ask? That’s the kicker. Thanks to Honda’s new engine and CVT, the Accord averaged 32.5MPG on the same commute as our Civic, just one MPG less. If you’re looking for basic transportation, the Civic LX model is finally able to sell on more than just Honda’s brand, but if you’re drawn to that Civic EX, take a ride in the Accord before you sign on the dotted line.
- The comfortable interior is a serious improvement from 2012.
- Honda’s reliability and resale value reputation can’t be discounted.
- Both transmissions are one-cog shy of competitive.
- Power and fuel economy are behind the competition.
- I’ve never been a fan of the non-standard gauge layout.
Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and gas for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30: 3.47 Seconds
0-60: 9.78 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 17.46 Seconds @ 79.8 MPH
Average Observed Fuel Economy: 33.5MPG over 751 miles