2013 Honda Civic EX: Driven

The Honda Civic was extensively refreshed for 2012, yet amongst most of us who keep tabs on new cars and how they drive, it was met with a collective “meh.” There wasn’t anything overtly wrong or half-baked with the new and seemingly stark and more conservative Civic; it just didn’t have sparkle and shine.

Honda knew this too, as reportedly even before the launch of that model, it had essentially sent its freshly baked bread (and butter) back to the kitchen for a retake.

What made its debut, in record time, this past November at the Los Angeles Auto Show, is a significantly improved version of the Civic for 2013. And as we saw in a recent weeklong drive of the Civic, this still somewhat ubiquitous loaf is better, from crust to crumb.

At opposite ends of the country, Editorial Director Marty Padgett and I both scheduled a four-door 2013 Honda Civic EX sedan for a week, putting around a hundred miles on each, and then compared notes.

Ripples that add up to a sea change

For one, we can’t believe how much the collection of styling changes—all quite minor individually—add up to a car that looks and feels much more sophisticated. Under the lights of the LA show, we were sure that the Civic looked much improved—and definitely more like the new 2013 Accord—but out on the street this car has a much more confident stance, along with details that, for the most part, take it upmarket. The more sharply styled front end, with the more chiseled, squared-off lower air dam adds up to a more charming ‘cleft’ chin, as you’re walking up, while the Accord-like blacked-out grille, chrome framing, and more open-intake look box it all out as sportier—albeit with some obvious VW influences to our eyes. In back the new lights and rear fascia serve to widen the look just a bit, although we’re not big fans of is the wide chrome bar that runs across the edge of the trunklid, connecting the taillamps. It’s just too played-out of a styling cue and looks tired on arrival.

Inside, the new Civic isn’t all that different by design, but new materials have been subbed in—in ways that affect sight, sound, and touch. Perhaps most obviously, the vast spans of gray all-too-subtly grained hard plastic are gone, replaced by a dark look. The upper tier of the dash is now covered with a softer padded surface that extends around to the upper door trims (to the front doors, at least). Upholsteries are also new, and while the faux-stitching that pops up here and there throughout isn’t that impressive up close, but it all helps contribute to a far better first impression. One thing hasn’t changed, and that’s the downright odd, Dali-esque contours of the instrument panel.

If there’s at all a sign that this is a quickie refresh, it’s that some of these upgrades only affect the front-seat area, while the rear-seat area has been left be; for instance, the upper door area next to the driver and front passenger has the new padded material, while the upper rear door areas get a material that roughly matches it visually but is hard plastic on closer inspection.

As for the layout, skip the still-fussy navigation upgrade; it’s at its best with the base audio setup, which has large buttons, an intuitive layout that you can be comfortable with almost right away. Although we would have liked to have seen the main audio controls pushed above the seldom-used (in many cases) CD slot.

For the most part, when you get the layout without nav, we appreciate the two tiers of information; with the automatic transmission, as we had, the central tachometer feels strictly optional, but the speedometer, fuel gauge, trip-computer, and audio functions are all up at the top, reducing the need to take your eyes much off the road.

Honda jumps on the value-for-money bandwagon

All Civics now include a backup camera (seriously, wow), as well as built in Bluetooth, text-message functionality, and Pandora integration, while EX and EX-L models now come with automatic climate control (seriously, wow) and a host of other features; and the seats you get are really quite good. One thing that doesn’t change is the fundamental cabin layout of the Civic. And that includes a back bench that we think is too high and hard (or at least oddly contoured), not really leaving enough space for adult headroom.

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