2012 Honda Civic VTi-L Sedan Automatic Review

The new 2012 Honda Civic was launched in Australia in early 2012. It is the 9th generation of Honda’s popular subcompact car, slotting in between the smaller Honda Jazz/City and the bigger Honda Accord/Accord Euro. The Honda Civic started out as a small 2-door hatchback city runabout back in the early 70’s and has since grown to become arguably one of Honda’s most important models today, contributing to a large part of Honda’s total vehicle sales worldwide.

The market for subcompact cars is at its most competitive ever. The 2012 Honda Civic is faced with tough competition from not only the likes of Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla and Holden Cruze, but also the Korean offerings such as the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cerato.

The Civic comes in three different variants. There are two 4-cylinder petrol models, starting with the entry level 1.8 litre VTi-L and the more powerful 2.0 Sport model. Then, there is an eco-friendly Civic Hybrid, which has a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine with Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). Honda Australia has kindly offered us the best selling model in the Civic range for this review, the 1.8 litre Honda Civic VTi-L Automatic.

So, is the new Honda Civic a better car than its predecessor? And more importantly, how does it stack up against the rest of the field? Read on to find out.

Design & Comfort

The exterior of the new Civic continues the “forward looking” design philosophy of its predecessor. Apart from similarities in the roof line and side profile, the new Civic has been give a totally new design. The front incorporates a low nose with wider front grill sandwiched between a pair of new edgier headlights. The front bumper sports a larger intake with sharper lines and a lower lip.

The edgier styling elements continue on to the side with bold shoulder lines that swoop backwards, meeting a higher rear end. Gone are the stretched tailights with quad brake light clusters of the old model. In their place are a pair of more conventional looking taillights. In contrast with the front, the rear of the car looks bland and uninspiring.

Overall though, the 2012 Honda Civic looks modern, muscular and refreshed.

Inside, the dashboard is futuristic and unconventional. Like the previous model, the dash’s meter display has a two-tier layout with the top housing a digital speedometer, fuel gauge and real-time fuel consumption. The bottom section encloses an oversized tachometer and numerous other warning indicators. Whilst Honda aims to inject a bit of sportiness and uniqueness into the Civic’s interior, I find the dashboard layout a little too busy. That said, it still has good ergonomics, as Honda is well known for.

The Civic will seat four adults with comfort although rear leg room can be tight for anyone over 6 feet. All round visibility is excellent, typical of Honda vehicles.

Score: 7/10

Handling & Performance

Despite the rather bland outlook, the new Civic is surprisingly a sporty handler. On country B roads, the car is very planted and handles corners with confidence. The steering is direct and accurate, although a little more feedback from the road would make driving the Civic more enjoyable. Bodyroll is always kept in control through the winding roads and the 205mm wide Bridgestone Turanza tyres offer excellent grip.

The 1.8 litre i-VTEC engine in the test model produces 104 kW and 174 Nm or torque. It is refined and revs smoothly all the way to its 6500 rpm redline. However, the engine lacks a bit of low down torque when the going gets tough, such as ascending a hill. You will find the Civic downshifting to lower gears all too often as it struggles to keep the engine at the optimum powerband. If there is a need for more power, there is always the more powerful 2.0 Sport model to choose from.

Highway cruising in the new Civic is pleasant and comfortable. At 110km/h the engine ticks just over 2,000 rpm. The suspension is well balanced between handling and comfort, giving a smooth ride on most road conditions.

The 5-speed automatic transmission in the Civic is probably the thing I like most about the car. Gear changes are so smooth they are virtually unnoticeable. For an instance you might actually mistaken it as a CVT gearbox. Should you desire, two pedals behind the steering wheel allow manual shifting when the transmission is put in Sequential (S) mode.

Score: 7.5/10

Quality

Quality has always been one of Honda’s strengths, and in the new Civic this is no exception. Fit and finish is remarkable. Panel gaps are tight and well aligned. The car feels solidly built. The same can’t be said for the materials used in the cabin though. There is excessive use of cheap looking hard plastics both on the door panels and the dashboard. The automatic gear shifter especially, is a disappointment. It looks outdated and when you compare it with what the rest of the competition is offering, it makes you wonder why Honda did not opt for a gated shifter or something better looking for the new Civic in the first place.

The compromise in the quality of materials is clearly a result of cost-cutting measures taking place at Honda in recent years. Despite that, the leather clad steering wheel is nice to hold and is perfectly sized.

Score: 6.5/10

Economy

Our test car returned a reasonable 7.7l/100km average fuel consumption. This figure consists of approximately 60% urban and 40% freeway driving with an occasional pedal to the metal 2nd gear squirt, not a bad performance but not class leading either.

Score: 8/10

Features

Standard features in the Civic VTi-L include a 6-speaker audio system with speed-sensitive volume compensation, CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, USB and iPod connectivity, climate-control air-conditioning, cruise control and Bluetooth.

New to the 2012 Civic is a colour LCD incorporated in the top tier of the dashboard. It is a multi-information screen that displays the trip computer and also serves up the various menu functions. Also new is a so called “Eco Assist Technology”. It is essentially an information system to help the driver adopt a more fuel-efficient driving style. Two clusters on both sides of the digital speedometer called “Ambient Meter”, change colour depending on the driving style. To get the best out of your fuel, the colour that you will be aiming for is green!

To the right of the steering column is a round green button with “ECON” written on it. At the press of this button you get, well, strangely, less power, but supposedly improved fuel economy. Honda call this feature the “Super Economy Mode”. However, it is hard to tell whether this mode gives a better fuel economy, as the fuel consumption figure looks pretty much the same with or without the mode switched on. A noticeable difference in terms of performance though, is that with “ECON” off, the transmission is more responsive to kick-down and more willing to drop a gear or two when called for.

Score: 8.5/10

Verdict

Our Score: 4.0/5

The 2012 Honda Civic VTi-L offers decent performance, is well equipped and has all the reliability one can expect from a Honda. Its smooth drivetrain is class leading. It is also more refined and fuel economical than the previous model. With pricing starting from just A$22,990 the new Civic represents good value. However its dull looks and sub-par cabin quality in an otherwise great package mean the Civic is going to have a tough competition ahead.

Price: From $22,990 – $39,583 (On-road Price). As tested: $26,568 (On-road Price).

Warranty: 3 years/100,000 km

Engine: 1.8 litre four-cylinder (VTi-L), 104 kW/ 167 Nm; 2.0 litre four-cylinder (Sport), 114 kW / 190 Nm; 1.5 litre four-cylinder, 67 +17.2 kW/ 132 + 106 Nm with Integrated Motor Assist (Hybrid)

Transmission: 5-speed manual (VTi-L), 5-speed automatic (VTi-L, Sport), CVT (Hybrid)

Body: 4-door sedan

Safety: 5-star ANCAP

Dimensions: Length 4,540 mm, width 1,755 mm, height 1,435 mm, wheelbase 2,670 mm

Kerb weight: 1,205 – 1,285 kg

Car reviewed is based on Australian Specified model and may differ to that available in your country of residence

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