When the ninth-generation Honda Civic was in development, the global economy was tanking, and the Japanese automaker figured customers would be willing to settle for less as long as the price were right. Considering that the Civic was the best-selling compact car of 2012, that assessment was not entirely inaccurate. But it got a lukewarm response from critics, and Honda CEO Takanobu Ito reacted by personally taking responsibility. The result was a rushed face-lift, and we’re glad Honda did it.
Our tester, a 2013 Honda Civic EX sedan, was easy to distinguish from our long-term 2012 Civic Si four-door, and not just because of the EX’s Dyno Blue Pearl finish. The front end gets a sleeker lower valance treatment and chrome-framed, Accord-like mesh grille, while the hood receives a more prominent power bulge. In back, things get decidedly racier with the widened taillights with smoked lenses and adjoining horizontal chrome strip. Reflectors are now integrated into the rear bumper, which also gets a diffuser-like design element. New two-tone, twisted-spoke alloy wheel design on EX models add to the 2013 Civic’s edgier look.
Inside, the 2013 Civic replaces the previous model’s hard, oddly textured plastics with soft-touch materials. The tiered dashboard remains, and will likely take some time to get used to for the Civic uninitiated, but it now looks and feels more upscale thanks to new, higher-quality upholstery. Also still intact are the spacious-for-the-class rear seats. Mechanical changes are limited to stiffer front and rear anti-roll bars with new bushings.Though the ride may be decent for the class, a good amount of road noise infiltrates the cabin. On the highway, the noise level increases as the Civic’s buzzy 1.8-liter I-4 is added to the soundtrack. It produces the same 140 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque it did in the 2012 model, and, while there’s plenty of power to move you around town, it’s not enough to move your soul. The five-speed automatic transmission seemed intelligent enough to know when we wanted to downshift, but it would be nice to have the ability to choose for ourselves with a manumatic mode.
Because mechanical changes are minimal, the 2013 Civic’s performance numbers are unsurprisingly similar to those of a 2012 Civic EX we tested in 2011. It still needs 9.1 seconds to accelerate from 0-60 mph and 16.9 seconds to complete the quarter-mile, though it finishes at a slightly slower 82.5 mph. At 119 feet, the 60-0 mph braking performance represents a slight improvement over 2012’s 126-foot result. The Civic also delivered a repeat performance in lateral acceleration with an average 0.81 g, and completed the figure-eight in 28.5 seconds at an average of 0.58 g, slightly slower than the 2012’s 28.2 seconds.
While performance remains the same, the 2013 Civic does offer enhanced style plus more standard features, including a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, and Pandora streaming radio. To preserve the Civic’s value argument, Honda raised prices by a mere $160. The Civic EX carries an MSRP of $21,605, with leather costing an extra $1450 and navigation an additional $1500. The base DX model has been dropped for 2013, which means the LX and sporty Si are the only two Civic sedans available with a manual transmission.Also supporting the Civic’s value argument is its respectable real-world fuel economy. We spent most of our time in Econ mode, which dulls throttle response and hastens upshifts, and saw an average of 30.5 mpg — not far off the EPA’s estimate of 32 mpg combined. There’s room for improvement in that number, since we didn’t pay much attention to the color-changing Eco Assist display. Drivers who do will likely see a bump.
With this refresh, Honda has built the ninth-generation Civic it should have built from the onset. While there are still better-driving cars in the segment — the Mazda3 Skyactiv comes to mind — the good car hidden beneath the mediocre designed-by-bean-counters wrapper has a chance to shine. Though the Civic has earned the honor of best-selling compact of 2012 and looks set to repeat for 2013, Honda needs to make sure it brings its A game when it comes time to design generation 10. Toyota certainly won’t be gunning for second-best with the upcoming Corolla. Nor will the rest of the competition.
Louisville Kentucky Honda Dealer
Bob Montgomery Honda