Detroit 2011: 2012 Honda Civic Coupe and Sedan
By Chris Haak
As Autoextremist Peter DeLorenzo is fond to point out, Honda’s famous focus on engineering excellence is part of the reason that the company is called, “Honda Motor Company,” and not something like “Honda Transportation Appliance Company.” He never seems to mention, however, that Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, and GM all have “Motor” or “Motors” in their corporate names.
Having accounted for a large percentage of Honda’s sales over the past 39 years, the Civic is as close to a genuine franchise as there is in this industry. Screw up the Civic, and fans may abandon the brand for some of the many predators waiting in the wings, including the Hyundai Elantra, Chevy Volt, Ford Focus. A ruined Civic redesign would be akin to BMW messing up the 3 Series. It was OK when BMW flame-surfaced the 7 Series, Z4, and 5 Series. But had Chris Bangle done something like that to the 3 Series, he would have been run out of town. Honda knows that it can’t afford to screw up the Civic, which sold 260,218 units during 2010, making it the company’s second-best selling vehicle behind the Accord (311,381) and ahead of the CR-V (203,714).
For this very reason, Honda elected to take a conservative approach when redesigning the Civic for 2012, marking the car’s ninth generation. The current eighth generation Civic debuted in 2005 as a 2006 model and has sold well, residing at or near the top of the compact car sales charts for most of its existence. Some 1.5 million units of the current-generation (2006-2011) Civic have been sold. Even more importantly, Honda sells an average of 90,000-plus Civics to customers under the age of 35 annually, which is a great number demographically for automakers always trying to shift their age trend younger.
Well, I’m happy to report that Honda did not mess up the Civic. In fact, they seem to have improved the car’s looks, which surely comes as a relief to Hondaphiles. The new car manages to evolve the current model’s shape, while adding more character and attitude, while simultaneously managing to avoid making the car a caricature of a sporty car that Honda thinks young people might like. See Scion for a case study of that phenomenon.
The Civic Coupe never looked as dowdy as the sedan did in the eighth generation, but the Si Coupe concept that Honda displayed adds a bit more dimension to the front fascia and adds strong character lines along the flanks. Meanwhile, the Civic Sedan – the one that will sell in larger numbers – gets a more cohesive design theme. Aside from the addition of “character” as in the coupe, the sedan also benefits from actually having the C-pillar resolve itself. The current sedan’s C-pillar just curves downward and ends, while the 2012 sedan’s forms a Hofmeister kink, similar to the knockoff Hofmeister kink in the Accord sedan. The windshields on both cars – already steeply raked in the current Civic – slopes even more steeply in the 2012 cars, and the backlights seemingly stretch further rearward, shortening the decklids. Telling, though, is the fact that the word ‘design’ is not mentioned once in the press release, nor is there a topic heading about design in the document. Powertrain Technology, Safety, Manufacturing and Accolades, but not Design.
Speaking of powertrain technology, the Civic, once a segment fuel economy leader, has rested on its laurels for too long. The 2012 model promises to improve fuel efficiency over the outgoing model, but doesn’t say by how much. The Civic Hybrid will continue in 2012, and will be fortified with a lithium-ion battery for the first time, as well as the latest version of Honda’s IMA (Integrated Motor Assist). The Civic GX (natural gas-powered model) will continue as well for 2012, and Honda expects to broaden consumer availability of this alternate fuel vehicle.
One thing that Honda has never lost sight of was the importance of the safety message, and the company projects that the 2012 Civic will be a five-star car all around. Stability control is standard on all 2012 Civic models.
Fans of Honda – both the company’s customers and some in the media – hold the Japanese automaker to a higher standard than others. Hondas are supposed to be fun-to-drive, fuel efficient, space efficient, and attractive. Fans of Honda aren’t bothered by the likes of the CR-Z because they no longer love the Big H; rather, they’re bothered by those cars because they love Honda and what it stands for. Meanwhile, Honda has managed to botch the redesign of nearly its entire lineup over the past few years.
The 2012 Honda Civic goes on sale beginning this spring. Let’s hope that the 2012 Civic marks a return to what made Honda such an appealing brand for so long. Now, about that Acura cheese grater grille…