Preview Drive: 2012 Honda Civic

Redesigned ninth-generation compact carries on with broad selection of variants ... Hybrid gains lithium-ion battery pack ... thrifty HF model debuts

by Bruno Bornino and James M. Flammang
(Historical introduction by James M. Flammang; main text and
all photos by Bruno Bornino, reporting from Washington, D.C.)

2012 Honda Civic Si coupe

Not many cars approach, much less exceed, the longevity of Honda's compact Civic, which first reached U.S. dealerships as a 1973 model. Now, for the 2012 model year, Honda has redesigned its entire Civic lineup, which appears to rank as the broadest in the industry. In addition to the regular Civic sedan, Honda offers a Civic coupe, a sporty Si coupe and sedan, a Civic Hybrid (which gains a lithium-ion battery pack for 2012), and a new fuel-miser HF sedan. As if that selection isn't sufficient, coming later this year is the next generation of Honda's Natural Gas sedan (formerly known as the Civic GX).

Civic sedans feature a "mono-form body," said large project leader Mitsuru Horikoshi, along with a "smart futuristic cockpit" that yields "exhilarating space." Honda adheres to the maxim: "man maximum machine minimum."

Outer dimensions are unchanged, but the 2012 Civic offers greater rear legroom. Designers sought - and achieved - a clear field of vision around the front pillars, which are now 9 percent thinner. Motion Adaptive stability control is now standard, controlling oversteer, understeer, and centering. A new algorithm for U.S. models is meant to help in icy conditions.

Honda's 1.8-liter two-stage i-VTEC four-cylinder engine produces more torque in normal use ranges, according to the company, driving a five-speed automatic. The basic Civic gets a fuel-economy estimate of 28 mpg in city driving and 39 mpg on the highway. A new Eco Assist system provides a coaching function.

Wind-resistance improvements accounts for the bulk of the difference in fuel economy for the new HF sedan. That one gets a fuel-economy estimate of 29-mpg city/41-mpg highway.

In the Civic Hybrid, output from the electric motor has been increased to 20 kilowatts, again working with a 1.5-liter gasoline engine. Honda's continuously variable transmission (CVT) has been improved, too. But the main difference is a new lithium-ion battery pack, replacing the prior nickel metal hydride batteries. The new battery pack has about triple the capacity, and the 2012 Hybrid gets a fuel-economy estimate of 44 mpg - for both city and highway driving. That's a 23-percent increase.

Again offered in either coupe or sedan form, the sporty "flagship" Si model holds a 2.4-liter engine that produces 201 horsepower. Torque output has increased 23 percent, and the Si earns a fuel-economy estimate of 22-mpg city/31-mpg highway with its six-speed manual gearbox. That's an increase of 1 mpg in the city and 2 mpg on the highway.

Hybrid sales are expected to grow 22 percent by 2015, according to senior product planner Jay Guzowski. Compact cars are forecast to grow almost 37 percent. Already, compact buyers say Civic is their top choice for consideration.

Ninth-generation models are "retaining the inherent real goodness of our Civic," says John Mendel, executive vice-president of auto sales, referring to the "Civic's storied past." Not long after its first appearance as a 1973 model, for instance, the early Civic was the first car to meet U.S. emissions standards without using a catalytic converter.

Civic pricing starts at $16,555 (including destination charge) for a DX sedan with manual shift. The 2012 Civic Hybrid starts at $24,800, while the new thrift-oriented HF sedan has a sticker price of $20,205.

On the road with a set of Civics - by Bruno Bornino

Washington, D.C. - When it comes to "civic pride, " Honda is in a class by itself. For example, Honda is introducing its ninth-generation Civic in six, count ‘em six, completely redesigned models, giving the Japanese manufacturer the widest array of vehicles in the compact segment.

These super six Civic models include the five-passenger Civic Sedan and Coupe; new thrift-minded Civic HF; Civic Hybrid; sporty Civic Si Sedan and Coupe; and the four-passenger Civic Natural Gas sedan As would be expected, each model is well equipped, technically advanced, features a spacious interior with more convenience, has the latest safety equipment, and is value priced in a range from $15,000 to $27,000. The Civic Sedan, Coupe and Hybrid are on sale now; the HF goes on sale May 10, and the Si May 24. Sales of the Natural Gas version will begin this fall.

I drove four of the six Civic models – the Sedan, HF, Si and Hybrid -- at the National Press introduction, and quickly understood why the Civic has been one of America's best-selling cars since 1973. Besides being fun to drive, each model is sure to continue Honda's tradition of setting class-leading standards with even more innovative technology. Maneuverability and overall handling are exceptional, since Vehicle Stability Assist is now standard on every Civic model. Each also has many personalization possibilities, features the latest safety standards, provides outstanding economy and high mileage ratings, and in short, is an increased all-around value.

I started my driving right at the top with the premium EX-L sedan model. My drive started from downtown D.C. and continued over a scenic route of 40 miles to FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins professional football team. The route covered congested city streets, curving hilly roads, and high-speed freeways, with plenty of blossoming cherry trees and historical monuments and buildings along the way. Everything about this Civic model is first class, and the comfort, convenience and technology is usually only found on much more expensive vehicles. Included are a power moonroof, easy-to-use navigation system with voice recognition, leather-heated seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated mirrors, and a premium audio system. The five-speed automatic transmission teamed with a 1.8-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine that delivers 140 horsepower.

The Civic sedan's smooth ride was accompanied by predictable cornering and secure handling. It also achieves a very welcome fuel-economy estimate: 28 miles per gallon city, 39 mpg highway and 32 mpg overall. The ride ended with me wishing the route were much longer.

My next trip was in an all-new Civic HF model that was also powered by a 140-hp, 1.8-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine with a five-speed automatic transmission. It features a trunk tip spoiler, unique aerodynamic alloy wheels, low-rolling resistance tires, and underbody covers for greater mileage. Obviously, everything works and helps because the HF gets an estimate of 29 mpg in the city, 41 mpg highway, and 33 mpg combined. On top of that the HF looks stylish, has an attractive and comfortable interior, terrific ride, and command-of-the-road handling.

For the performance enthusiast, who I'm not, the Civic Si has always been highly recommended. The 2012 Si has even more power with its new 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine it generates 201 hp from the previous model's 197 hp produced from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The new engine sounds like an invitation for the motorist looking for a fun-to-drive car, which is what I am. The six-speed manual transmission features short and crispy shifts that perfectly compliment the sporty nature of the Si, The high-performance 17-inch tires add greatly to the overall nimble, secure and exhilarating ride.

With gasoline prices already past the dreaded $4 per gallon mark and quickly approaching the ridiculous $5 per gallon scalping, more and more drivers are thinking hybrid. After driving the new Civic Hybrid I feel obligated to tell economy-minded motorists not to be "fuelish" and to start thinking about the number 44. That's the number of miles per gallon that the EPA estimates the Civic Hybrid is capable of attaining in city, highway and overall driving! A 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine with Integrated Motor Assist that develops 110 hp powers the Civic Hybrid. It is mated with a smooth shifting Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Obviously, gasoline mileage is just one of the things to be considered when thinking about purchasing any vehicle, but if it's a hybrid you're considering I truly feel you would be impressed by the performance of the 2012 Civic Hybrid. I know I was!

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