The Civilized Civic
Older and wiser: the 2012 Honda Civic 2.0 EL
By Mark Cabilangan
ON YOUR MARK
Asian Dragon Magazine
January / February 2013 Issue
Since its Philippines debut in 1990, the Civic has essentially been the anti-Corolla - a hip alternative to the ubiquitous Toyota compact sedan. For the past 22 years, every Civic model has been a perennial bestseller. The most ground-breaking Civic to date was the 8th generation released in 2007, technically designated as the “FD.” It was a revolutionary model that advanced the Civic design by leaps and bounds, and set the bar high for its competitors. With its hood, fenders, headlights, grille and bumper coalescing in one seamless arc, the FD had a futuristic look that made it a crowd favorite. Having been such a popular model, great pressure was certainly placed on Honda designers who were tasked to come up with the next iteration.
Which brings us to the 9th generation Honda Civic, codenamed the “FB.” So far this new version has had a tumultuous initial year in the US. First, the independent and influential Consumer Reports magazine rated it as having “scored too low to be recommended,” pertaining to the car’s performance and build quality. Strange because CR had always been a strong endorser of past Civics. Some months later, Honda CEO Takanobu Ito issued a mea culpa and assumed “full responsibility for the vehicle's meager performance in the United States,” when North American sales figures of the new Honda sedan were lower than expected. Then, after less than a year since its release, the car was re-launched at the 2012 LA Auto Show with a thorough facelift - an updating procedure usually reserved until a model’s third or fourth year mid-life cycle.
To find out what all the hullabaloo was about, On Your Mark decided to try out the new 2012 Honda Civic. After a week in it, this writer came away with the impression that perhaps US consumers and critics “doth protest too much.”
While we concur that the newest offering may not be as sleek, sexy or innovative as its predecessor, it is the next logical step in the Civic evolution. The drive, fit and finish of materials looked and felt great, and hardly made it the total fail that the Americans have purported it to be.
In fact, we were impressed with the efficient use of space, the effortless maneuvering and the stellar fuel economy of the 2012 Civic.
The new Civic retains most of the design concepts of the previous model, like the overall wedge-shaped silhouette and the signature stem-type side mirrors. The one-piece look of the front fascia has been staggered to layers, and jutting out is a more pronounced bumper.
At the rear, the triangular shape of the taillights and the recessed style of the trunk resemble the design on the Mercedes C-class.
Garnished with horizontal reflector bars, it emulates its big brother Accord, which sport the same stripes.
Like a more mature version of the FD, the FB is actually quite handsome by itself. Of course it helped that the unit lent to us by Honda Cars Philippines was the top-of-the-line 2.0 version with the Modulo Sport package installed. With skirts on the bumpers, a spoiler on the trunk and rolling on sporty 17-inch rims, our new Civic was even eye-catching.
According to its spec sheet, this Civic has technically shrunk. While the overall length and width of the sheet metal has remained somewhat the same, the wheelbase was cut back by one and a quarter inch. This was because Honda engineers wanted a lighter and lither frame for maximum fuel efficiency. Despite the shortening of the wheelbase though, the cabin seems to have incredibly remained as spacious as the old FD, if not even growing a tad roomier.
Motorists spend more time inside the car than outside of it. So they should be more concerned with interior appointments, and Honda hits the mark yet again with the new Civic’s astute cabin.
Consumer Reports did quite a number on it, criticizing the poor fit and finish. This made us wonder if our Japanese version is different from the American counterpart. What we saw in our test unit was a dashboard that inherited the predecessor’s signature two-tier layout, which still looks both minimalist and high tech.
Matte leather seats came with the unit and the use of plastics and urethane surfaces was done in that exquisite way that only Honda can do.
For the operator, the thick leather-bound steering wheel allowed for a confident grip.
It was loaded with directional pads and toggles too for control of the i-MID vehicle management and audio system, all piped to an LCD on the dash.
The gearstick with its alien xenomorphic head, while strange, at least made an indelible impression. The driver-centric cockpit, with the dashboard that wraps around the motorist, helped everything to be within reach.
The rear seats felt very airy, with shoulder width space adequate for three adults. The knee-room is one of the most generous we have seen in a compact sedan.
Our test unit, the 2.0 EL with 153 hp and 190 Nm of torque, had more than enough power to thrust the new lighter body. It is agile on the corners, swift to move from a standstill. As expected of a compact, the steering is very easy.
However, the extreme levity in this case made it feel disconnected. We’ve had better feedback from a Logitech steering wheel on a Sony PS3. Like a video game, it is child’s play to navigate, but just like a video game, it feels almost unreal. The good news is, when this writer was maneuvering in closed quarters, tight parking spots or switching lanes, control was a breeze. Those into racing and drifting may want to look elsewhere, but for the 97% who will use the new Civic as their daily workhorse, they will not be disappointed.
With the ECON feature turned off and subjecting our ride through relentless Metro traffic for days, the Civic did a meager 5-6 kilometers per liter. However, with the efficiency-managing green button turned on, mileage was optimized to about 8-9 kilometers under the same driving conditions.
In our CR-V review, we questioned why it still had the ancient 5-speed transmission and our objection is sustained with the Civic, which uses the same old gearbox. While hardly exciting, the tranny was at least buttery smooth. When the smart ECON feature is managing your shifts, you won’t be over-revving either. For those who prefer to be more hands-on with the gear-changing, paddle shifters are thankfully included. The suspension is not bad, but the rigidity brought us back memories of the Honda Jazz, with the ride being a tad stiff.
At P1.145M for the 2.0 EL (additional P83,000 if you want the Modulo package pictured here), the Honda Civic is competitively priced. There are also 1.8 liter flavors starting at an enticing P908,000.
In looks and performance, the 2012 Honda Civic may have evolved to be less sporty and more civilized than its adventurous predecessor, but compared to other Japanese compact sedans out there today, this new one still stands out - and delivers.
Now about that facelift that the USDM Civic has gone through, Honda Cars Philippines has stated that our local Civic will not undergo the same update, at least not yet, because judging from the sales figures, Philippine customers seem to be satisfied with the new Civic’s looks, easy maneuvering and fuel-sipping ways. So are we.