The Honda Civic is one of the best-selling vehicles in history. More than 20 million have been sold around the world in 40 years of production, with more than 200,000 of those in Australia.
The outgoing eighth-generation model has been the most popular Honda Civic of all time, and has laid a solid foundation for the new ninth-gen Civic to build off. With the small-car segment now more competitive than ever, the new Honda Civic needed to take a proper generational leap, stepping up in all areas. But after putting the 2012 Honda Civic sedan through its paces at its Australian launch in Melbourne, it appears to have taken little more than a shuffle forwards.
There’s still plenty to like about the Civic, however, and that starts with the revised prices. The VTi-L manual is now the entry-level model in the range. At $20,990 before on-road costs, it’s $1500 cheaper than the old base model (VTi) and $3700 less than the old VTi-L. The Civic Sport is also $4300 cheaper than before at $27,990, and while the Civic Hybrid is up $1500 to $35,990, the price increase is largely justified by its all-new powertrain. The UK-built Civic Si hatch continues unchanged until the new model’s launch in July.
The new Honda Civic Hybrid gets a 67kW/132Nm 1.5-litre petrol engine (up from a 1.3-litre) and a more powerful electric motor. The end result is a maximum output of 82kW and 172Nm (down 3kW and up 2Nm) and a fuel consumption improvement of four per cent, now 4.4 litres per 100km. We achieved 5.6L/100km in a short urban run, although others on the launch came within a few tenths of the claimed figure.
The Civic Hybrid also benefits from a new lithium-ion battery pack that is 29 per cent lighter and 35 per cent more efficient than the old nickel-metal-hydride unit, meaning the new model can operate in full-electric mode for longer than before.
There’s nothing inherently exciting about the way it operates, but importantly, the Hybrid’s drive is effortless and very smooth. Peak torque is now delivered much lower and across a broad rev band (1000-3500rpm), although it’s still a modest accelerator. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) keeps revs in check and contributes to the powertrain’s quiet nature. The stop-start system also works seamlessly, turning the engine back over near-instantly with little rumble or fuss.
But Honda Australia says only five per cent of Civic sedan buyers will pick the Hybrid. The majority – around 70 per cent – will opt for the base VTi-L. With it comes a mildly revised 1.8-litre petrol engine with 104kW and 174Nm (up 1kW overall). The five-speed manual and automatic transmissions carry over from before. The manual’s official fuel consumption dips one tenth to 6.8L/100km, while the auto drops half a litre to a competitive 6.7L/100km.
The remaining quarter of buyers will slide into the Civic Sport. Its 2.0-litre engine – now teamed exclusively with the auto gearbox – produces 114kW and 190Nm (up 2Nm), yet fuel consumption has been slashed by 11 per cent, down to 7.5L/100km.
Unsurprisingly, the Sport is the perkier of the two. Like all good Honda powerplants, there’s plenty of life once the revs climb above 3000rpm, yet the noise it generates isn’t overly intrusive. The Civic Sport isn’t the quickest small car, but the engine’s refinement makes it enjoyable in its own right.
The 1.8-litre struggles more down low in the rev range and lacks the crispness of 2.0-litre. The engine and the five-speed auto are forced to work harder when overtaking and climbing hills, suggesting another ratio wouldn’t go astray to help reduce the workload.
Both models get steering wheel-mounted shift paddles in place of a sequential stick shifter, and in ‘manual’ mode the transmission obediently holds gears and kicks back upon request.
All Civic models feature an ‘Econ’ button that alters the throttle and transmission response and the power of the air conditioner, and an ‘Eco coach’ that aims to educate drivers by displaying green and blue dashboard lights depending on their driving style, all in an attempt to further improve efficiency.
The Civic’s ride is one of its strong suits. The suspension responds smoothly and directly to larger ruts and undulations and coarse surfaces, and finds a sweet, comfortable balance that’s neither too floaty nor overly firm. The Sport feels the most planted, although its larger tyres tend to be a little louder on rougher roads.
The steering may lack feedback, but that’s more than made up for by the confidence-inspiring consistency at turn in, nice mid-corner weight and quick return to centre out of bends.
The updated exterior styling substitutes curves for angles to create a sharper, but ultimately still conservative, design. The VTi-L comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, while the Sport adds 17s, fog lights and a sunroof. The Hybrid is differentiated by its chrome/body colour/clear blue front grille, blue headlight and taillight tinting, LED brake lights and 15-inch alloys.
The old Civic’s interior was crying out for an overhaul, but unfortunately the new model hasn’t brought Honda anyway near the most refined cars in its class. Only the doorsills have a soft-touch finish, with the rest of the plastic panels hard, scratchy and in some cases oddly patterned. All three models have beige-coloured upholstery. The leather in the Sport looks decent, but the furry cloth in the VTi-L and Hybrid is a bit 90s and looks dirty even when brand new.
Functionality is a redeeming feature, however. The important information is well placed on the split-level dashboard to reduce the time your eyes spend off the road, and a series of buttons on the tilt/reach leather-wrapped steering wheel make navigating trip, audio and vehicle information displays fuss-free.
Standard features include cruise control, climate control, front centre armrest with console bin and rear-seat armrest with cup holders, five-inch LCD display, and a four-speaker audio system with AUX and USB ports, iPod integration and Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming.
The Sport gets subtle metallic paint highlights throughout the cabin, while the Hybrid adds additional energy use information screens on the display and two front tweeter speakers.
The driver’s seat remained comfortable over hour-plus stints on the launch. There’s plenty of leg and knee room for rear-seat passengers, although headroom gets tight for those north of 5’10’’.
The VTi-L and Sport gain an extra 64 litres of boot space – now 440 litres in total – although both are now forced to make do with a space saver spare wheel, unlike the previous model. The Hybrid’s boot is actually nine litres smaller than before (351 litres), and also features a temporary spare. The petrol models benefit from a 60:40 split-fold rear seat to expand the sedan’s cargo space, while the Hybrid has a fixed backrest.
Safety is on par with the competition. The new Civic sedan has earned the maximum five-star safety rating from ANCAP, and comes with six airbags and electronic stability control as standard.
The range is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty and the Civic Hybrid’s lithium-ion battery is protected by warranty for eight years.
The ninth iteration of the Honda Civic hasn’t quite made the generational jump many hoped it would. Its drivetrains lack the overall responsiveness and engagement of the class leaders, and its interior and exterior styling is dated compared with its rivals. The ride is better than ever, however, and combined with improved efficiency and lower prices, the Civic remains a solid option in the small sedan market.
2012 Honda Civic sedan manufacturer’s list prices (excluding government and dealer charges):