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2012 Honda Civic EX-L Sedan (Honda)
2012 Honda Civic EX-L Sedan (Honda)

2012 Honda Civic

Honda Civic fails to respond to upstart challengers Add to ...

Once you get past the small-diameter and rather racy steering wheel, and the dead pedal brace for your left foot, you’ve pretty much exhausted the “fun-to-drive” features of Honda’s ninth-generation 2012 Civic EX sedan.

And the rest? Well, call it more than good looking enough, competent enough and comfortable enough, just not class-leading or cutting edge as was often the case during its first four decades.

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Will this new-generation redesign add a 14th straight year to the Civic’s astonishing tenure as Canada’s best-selling car? That wouldn’t come as a surprise. Its reputation remains solid, as does its value. And it most definitely doesn’t offer any less than previous generations did to the 1.6 million Canadian compact class buyers who’ve bought Civics so far.

In Honda tradition, dating back to its bikes-only days, there’s always been continuous improvement and that’s also the case this time around. It’s just a little disappointing it doesn’t offer more that’s new and interesting and even a little exciting, instead of catching up where it had fallen a bit behind and pretty much maintaining the status quo in other areas.

Giving it a styling remake that would put that uppity new Hyundai Elantra in its place would have helped.

The 2012 Civic is redefined rather than radically redone and, despite a little added drama here and there, doesn’t even put the previous (admittedly good looking) one in the shade.

Dimensionally, it’s almost exactly the same on the outside, although the wheelbase has been trimmed a bit (as is weight), which didn’t stop Honda from finding a little more passenger room – most noticeably for rear-seat passengers – and upping trunk capacity to 344 litres, up by four.

The interior treatment is new too but continues the twin-level instrument panel theme (slight frown of disapproval here) which, with its angled centre stack, allows the driver to focus on all the things he or she needs to operate. And there are more of these, including a new 125-mm multi-information display screen and now available is Bluetooth HandsFreeLink, satellite navigation and Honda’s Eco Driver Assist system to help make you a more fuel-efficient driver.

A little more poke under the hood wouldn’t have gone amiss. Perhaps provided by something sexy like the turbocharger Chevy’s Cruze uses to punch up power of its smaller engine.

The Honda’s reliable 1.8-litre, single-overhead-cam, i-VTEC valve controlled four-cylinder has been updated somewhat but still makes 140 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque. Honda has always seen itself as an engine company – and early Civic engines were world leaders – so why not tuck something a bit more advanced under the hood of its top seller?

And six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, like those now offered by many rivals, would have been nice (only five-speeds are available). You’d think Honda, which always made Civics neat to drive, would be all over this.

Engine and auto transmission tweaks have improved fuel economy across the range, however. And the EX, when equipped with remapped automatic transmission, gets impressively improved mileage ratings. The 2010 model was rated at 8.2 litres/100 km city and 5.7 highway and the 2011 ratings are 7.2 city/5.0 highway.

Drivability remains okay and there’s enough power to let you merge or pass without white-knuckling the steering wheel, but an extra transmission ratio would certainly help. The same goes for ride and handling, which in the case of the former is as accommodating to your posterior as any car in this class. The Civic sedan doesn’t throw you any handling curves either, although some of the liveliness and response associated with it in the past is more muted.

It should be noted the previous is based on a week spent with the popular choice EX model. Some of those comments might have been a little different if I’d been driving the 2.4-litre, 201-hp, six-speed manual gearbox equipped Si sedan. But the Si is in a league by itself, and at $26,000 per, Honda isn’t going to be selling too many boatloads of these.

Civic is duking it out this year with entry-level manual gearbox DXs starting at $14,990 that will appeal to the impecunious, but most of the action is likely in $17,490 LXs, with the $19,490 EX likely close behind in volume terms (add $1,200 to all for an automatic transmission) and the loaded $24,390 EXL somewhere downstream from that as is the Hybrid.

It’s tempting to dub this latest version the Toyota Corolla of Civics, a car being steered exactly down the middle of the road. Generally a nice safe place to be, unless there’s something coming the other way. Which in this case there is, as traffic in the compact segment is heavier than it’s ever been, travelling faster and aggressively cutting off those unwilling to match, or out-macho, the latest moves.

Tech specs

2012 Honda Civic EX

Type: Compact sedan

Base Price: $19,490; as tested, $20,690

Engine: 1.8-litre, SOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 140 hp/128 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.2 city/5.0 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, Mitsubishi Lancer, Hyundai Elantra

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