Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Honda Civic: Many changes, some disappointments

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Civic compact is so important to Honda that its peculiar the car didnt get some expected features and functions in its redesign for the 2012 model year.

  • The 2012 Honda Civic hybrid.

    The 2012 Honda Civic hybrid.

The 2012 Honda Civic hybrid.

Examples: No backup camera. No six-speed automatic transmission or manual-shift mode. No heated rear seats. All are available on the recently redesigned Hyundai Elantra, a standard-setter among mainstream compacts.

Even though Civics probably better, more satisfying overall than Elantra, Civic will look inferior on paper or in pixels to people who comparison-shop using brochures and online sites.

The Civic line has so many versions that its almost a brand unto itself.

The 2012 Civic sedan, coupe, HF fuel-efficiency special and the gas-electric hybrid went on sale Wednesday. The high-performance Si sedan and coupe go on sale May 24. A natural-gas-fueled model is coming this fall.

The mileage-enhanced models had a pleasant and an unpleasant surprise.

•The HF high-mileage gas car uses the same engine and automatic transmission as the conventional cars, so it performs the same. You have no sense youre missing some performance for the sake of mileage.

•The gas-electric hybrid is chockablock with improvements, from smaller, lighter battery pack to more power from the engine/motor combo. But a consistent annoyance of hybrids remains, and even seems worse: the shudder that travels in rough waves through the car when the gasoline engine restarts after shutting off temporarily to save fuel.

We drove versions of all models, save the natural gas model. Highlights:

Instrument panel. Supposed to be 3-D-like. But big, flat, round gauges are better. You might like the gee-whiz factor, though.

Noise. All models seemed to kick an unusual amount of noise into the passenger compartment; tire noise on coarse roads and suspension bump-thunks on even small bumps.

Looks. Interesting, jazzy enough to seem new, restrained enough to wear well over time.

Sportiness. Long a Civic selling point. Not a sports sedan, but crisper, more fun, than many rivals. Still seems so.

Seats. Fronts, too much lumbar lump. Rears, not bad; just keep in mind its still a compact car, not a big sedan.

Performance. The 201-hp Si engine has a lot more torque than previously, and a light-touch clutch mechanism, so stop-and-slog drivings easy. Base engine, 140-hp, usually is strong enough. But high-speed highway driving can make it feel and sound taxed. Five-speed automatic shifts great under hard throttle, but sometimes hunts, jerks in lower-speed, go-slow-go-again driving.

Favorite among drivetrain features is one you dont notice: skid control. It blends so smoothly with your own steering efforts that unlike the obvious and unpleasant intrusion on most cars its unnoticed until the next step in your car-control repertoire is, Hail, Mary ….

Civic is a solid, laudable update of a classy compact, undercut by missing features, road noises, hybrid shudders and strained-feeling gas engine.


What? Redesign of the popular, front-drive, five-passenger compact.

Available as (ready?): Mainstream four-door sedan, mainstream coupe, gasoline-electric hybrid sedan, HF high-gas-mileage sedan, high-performance Si sedan and Si coupe, and, this fall, a natural-gas-fueled version. What, no station wagon or pickup?

Most models available with five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. HF and hybrid, automatic only. Si, six-speed manual only.

When? Sedan, coupe, HF and hybrid went on sale Wednesday. Si versions, May 24. Natural gas version coming this fall.

How powerful? Mainstream and HF models have 1.8-liter four-cylinder rated 140 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, 128 pounds-feet of torque at 4,300.

Hybrid has 1.5-liter four gas engine and electric motor, which rate a combined 110 hp, 127 lbs.-ft.

Si has 2.4-liter four, 201 hp at 7,000, 170 lbs.-ft. at 4,400.

How big? Sedan is 177.3 inches long, 69 in. wide, 56.5 in. tall on a 105.1-in. wheelbase. Coupe: 175.5 in. long, 69 in. wide, 55 in. tall, on 103.2-in. wheelbase.

Weights vary from 2,608 to 2,895 lbs. depending on model and equipment.

How thirsty? Mainstream sedans, coupes rated 28 miles per gallon in town, 39 mpg highway, 32 mpg in combined use (automatic transmission) or 28/36/31 (manual). HF: 29/41/33. Hybrid: 44/44/44. Si: 22/31/25.

Test-car trip computers showed:

Sedan, automatic: 34.2 mpg (2.92 gallons per 100 miles) in fast highway driving, and 27.1 mpg (3.69 gal/100 mi) in suburban use.

HF sedan: 29.5 mpg in mix of suburban/highway use.

Hybrid: 37.5 mpg (2.67 gal/100 mi) suburban/highway. Si: 29.1 mpg (3.43 gal/100 mi) in suburban use.

Burns regular; holds 13.2 gallons.

Overall: Nice car, could have been nicer.

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