2012 Honda Civic Road Test
What I'll try to do here, is pitch this review at the most typical reader here - one who is most likely an owner of a current Civic, but who is certainly aware of the promotional material available elsewhere on the internet. I spent about 6 hours driving and many more prodding and photographing the cars, and chose to drive some of Spain's roughest back streets as well as some of the smoothest and newest motorways.
All the cars were full spec models (EX GT with safety pack).
Furthermore, I will attempt to be as accurate as I can - with no bias nor "club owner" factor. Hopefully though, this will be no Insight review...
So, what's it really like?
Looking at the photos of the instrumentation layout in the brochures, I was fully prepared to be disappointed. The satnav has gravitated to an out of sight low down position, and the car has gained another yet another screen high up as well as losing the 3D tacho. All hinting at a poorly thought out mess.
However, once you drive it you quickly realise that it works brilliantly. The speedo position is unchanged, and just as in the 8G it is close enough to your line of vision and far enough away to be in your focus range so it needs just a half-glance to see. But all the info that was in the centre of the tacho is now also in the upper region, on the new small "i-MID" screen. The i-MID displays great simplified satnav turn directions (with a countdown), or the radio, or the temperature, or indeed anything within reason that you specify or it decides is pertinent at the time. Even changes in aircon settings. In practice it works brilliantly - simplified, clear information in your eyeline, and detailed, rarely used information relegated to a lower area.
The cockpit still retains the wraparound feel; and it is clearly a Civic. I had no doubt that I was back in one, and it was a good feeling.
The tacho looks a little weedy and cheap in the photos, but it actually appears well made and elegant in the flesh.
The steering wheel has beautiful premium feel, with high quality fine-stitched leather and twin 4-way button sets that put my Merc to shame. Even the stalks have a new-found solidity; the car has moved squarely into premium territory, and you feel and see (and fail to hear) this move at all times inside the cabin.
The satnav was the familiar (but now nice and updated) Alpine/Navteq unit. The interface is simple and obvious, the TMC well displayed and the turn directions precise (especially when displayed on the i-MID). However it still suffers from the same old story - an entire 4 lane motorway
was missing, and it had me curving through the countryside at 120 kph not really knowing what was going to happen next.
The reversing camera now has a "where you will end up" yellow box superimposed on the image, which does encourage the rather dodgy practice of actually reversing using the camera alone. The parking sensors display nicely on the i-MID, but controversially (for a Civic person) I risked turning round and using the "looking out of the rear window" method of travel. The wiper only really wipes the upper part of the upper screen, but what surprised me was that the lower screen is now much lower such that you can now actually see where you are going! The reversing camera or parking sensors have moved from the essential category to the vaguely-nice-to-have category in the new car.
As you cast your eyes back, you can easily see the biggest and most important change all around the cabin. The quality of the materials and the solidity of their feel makes a 1 series appear cheap and nasty. Even my E Class has areas of cheapness that just don't feature in the Civic. And I searched for the inevitable never-seen corner of brittle plastic, and failed to find it. I poked, prodded, squeezed and it never responded. Hewn from Swindon ABS.
The magic seats and boot space appear unchanged - but I was pleased to see a nicely integrated subwoofer lurking at the side of the boot space. Quick check on Malaga FM, and the sound system is very very good indeed, albeit Belinda Carlisle.
There is a complete 360° panorama of the interior here
Ride, Comfort and Steering
Climbing in for a drive, the premium sensation starts with a rock solid thunk from a rock solid door into a perfect-fit hole. Everything you can see or touch has an upper-range BMW or Merc feel to it. And absolutely not Civic, nor even Accord nor CR-V.
As soon as you move just a few feet, it is obvious that this car is everything you ever wished your 8G Civic was. The crashing and banging, the jiggling, the roar, the groans, the thumps and even the squeaks - they have all gone. It is as good as a Golf, maybe even slightly better with less road noise (especially from the rear). If you throw the car around it comes alive and is rigid and precise. But it manages to silently absorb all but the most massive irregularities in a truly BMW-like fashion.
Much has been said about the fluid suspension mounts. These are normal on a premium D segment car, so it is not a bodge (as some may see it), but just a use of expensive components in a smaller car. The rear suspension is much modified too, with stiffer trailing arms (wall thickness increased from 3mm to 4mm), and there are mass dampers, subframe changes, baffles and re-thought spring and damper rates.
After the initial astonishment wears off (this can take a while) you can start to enjoy the package as a whole. The premium look and feel of the interior and controls combined with the near perfect ride and lack of road noise cannot fail to make you smile. It really is an achievement, and it embarrasses many a car that would be normally described as "Executive".
If I am going to be super-fussy, I would have a little pop at the steering. I have never been a fan of EPS, as it tends to be "tuned" to have slight dead zone at centre. I can see the logic - given that all the roughness of the road has been removed by the suspension, then why not remove the same roughness from the steering wheel? But I always consider that steering feedback aids relaxation, since you tend to be able to be more precise. A little EPS tuning at Swindon maybe (before customer launch)? Despite the dead zone (and it really is more of a perception that an actuality), you can steer the car with the same accuracy as an 8G, and it certainly feels as if it is the same gearing and weight as the 8G.
All the cars I drove were fitted with the ACC and CMBS. The ACC worked as expected, but it's not something I would spend money on.
Engines and transmission
This was the first car I drove. I immediately suspected that this was deliberate (I was allocated this car for the first journey) given that I had previously been very positive about the 8G auto, but it was most likely a coincidence. The engine in this car seemed just a touch quieter and smoother than the 8G, and the auto worked perfectly and seamlessly. Being gentle enough so that the revs stayed low, this car around town is as lovely as a new Merc. Quick starts out of junctions were very quick, and there was never a need to start using the paddles on the steering wheel.
On faster main roads serenity, solidity and silence were all still present, so long as you didn't want to press on. If you did, you were met with the howl of the 1.8, which somehow now is slightly out of place. It's not an unpleasant howl, but it's certainly not nice enough to do it for the sake of it.
And then on to the problem. The gearing in this 5 speed auto is so tall, that even on most uphill stretches the 5 speed auto will change down and the car will start howling. Loudly. I tried 120 kph with the cruise control on, and I'm sure on one occasion (admittedly a fairly steep incline for a motorway) it dropped two gears. The combination of 1.8, auto and hills is not great. But for a relaxed driver in town and on A roads, the car is perfect.
Just as with the auto, the 1.8 loves to be driven gently. Giving this car some beans reveals the following:
- The engine is about quick enough, but it howls. And howls.
- The gear change is massively improved. So slick and quick, and every change is a pleasure.
- The gearing is tall. Really tall. I got 102 kph (63 mph) in second gear! So the only place you can legally hit the rev limiter in the UK (in second gear) is on the motorway.
- On the same motorway inclines, leaving the car in sixth and flooring the throttle (which will maintain the speed, just) is a much better solution than having an auto box change down and irritate you with noise.
The 1.8 manual is refined and quiet, with decent performance if you are prepared to endure the noise.
On starting the diesel you are aware that this engine is not as quiet and refined as the 1.8. It has no tractor-like rattle, but instead a muted deep grumble that sounds like you are fast-boiling a large cauldron of oil under the bonnet.
I have to tell you what happened, rather than attempt to describe the car. It
made me do it. At once, the Civic came alive. The satisfying push at low revs (with a deep grumble) that escalated into a yet more satisfying push at higher revs just makes you grab for a quick change and start looking for the twistiest road. And when you grab for the change, you will feel one of the best gear changes ever. Short throw, totally precise and mechanical - yet seemingly without friction. As good as any Porsche gear shift and a complete pleasure.
I found twisty mountain roads and enjoyed them. I found swift A roads and drove them at low revs in total comfort and quiet, but at the same time at a tremendous pace. And the motorway was devoured with total ease.
The diesel is just a little noisier at low revs than the petrol, but if you want a car that can be fun, premium, comfortable, fast and impossibly economical - then this is the one.
The manual cars had start/stop, which worked perfectly. I did my duty and tried to beat it, but failed. They also have an ECO button, to help you drive more economically. In the hybrid cars these ECO buttons are worth avoiding, but here they have a very subtle effect, most notably slightly softening the throttle response. You can feel it happen by holding about 10% throttle and quickly pushing the ECO button in and out.
Exterior and Styling
The elephant standing outside the car.
I was going to write a massive section about this, but it seems to be such a personal thing that there's not much point. Having seen the car on the road, in different colours, static and moving, here are my thoughts.
- At many angles it looks great, at some it looks odd. It is much better in the flesh than in the photos.
- Sometimes it doesn't look as expensive as it feels to drive.
- It is clearly aerodynamics driven - possibly to an extreme point (the ex-Honda-F1 team aerodynamicists were involved).
- The lack of front bumper, the low bulge round the doors and boot and the boot notch are unusual to the eye.
- There's too much red at the rear and this is best masked by the red car.
- The dark grey Y-fronts at the front look fine in the flesh, but can be masked by a dark car.
- The nose is a bit squashed, and is reminiscent of the 7G Civic.
- The car looks very good on the road, especially when flying past you on the motorway.
- Notwithstanding all of the above, you can't see the car from the inside.
Most of the press photos are of the yellow cars. Here's a quick selection of poor shots taken on a rainy grey day of the green one. This is probably more of an accurate representation of how the car will look in the UK!
The Civic is in every way a massive leap ahead of the old car, and a hugely desirable car. It is impressively quiet, comfortable, fast, economical and fun.
The styling may win back some customers that were lost with the 8G, but then again it may lose some current 8G owners.
The pricing appears to have been more accurately benchmarked that we may have hoped for. In the past a Civic EX got you a lot more kit than a similarly priced Golf. Now the two cars are very level in price, the the best option may well be a lower spec Civic to take advantage of the superior driving experience but not pay the premium for the toys.
I'd have one. It addresses everything that I feel needs to be right in a car. And I suspect it would grow on me further with ownership.
- Production has been delayed by the Thai floods, so expect first deliveries in Feb, not Jan.
- There was going to be no CTR, but there now might be. Maybe. Maybe not.
- There is no engine for a CTR, so first they will have to make one, or simply turbocharge one that they haven't made yet.
- The 1.6 diesel may come in high and low power versions, but exactly when and how is still not known. Either way, it won't be for a while yet.
- I'm sorry I didn't drive the 1.4, there was only one and I never got to it.
EDIT: Noise test, along with other cars tested by me for reference. 70 mph, mediumly rough surface on the M1 near me:
Insight: 76 dBA
09 Civic: 74 dBA
07 Accord: 71.5 dBA
09 Accord: 71.5 dBA
12 Civic: 71.0 dBA
09 E Class Merc: 68 dBA
EDIT: Some more pics, some attempting to answer questions in the thread.
Video inputs in the cubby:
USB Stick satnav display:
USB stick i-MID display:
Video on the satnav:
ACC with no car detected:
ACC with car detected:
Rear door opening angle: