Review: 2012 Honda Civic 4DR EX-L NAVI

By Brendan Moore

For those of you that have never heard of him, Dan Neil is a great auto journalist. He’s also, by all accounts, a pretty good guy, and I’ve had a couple of brief exchanges with him over the years, and he does seem like a pretty good guy. He also won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2004 (yeah, an automotive writer- cool, huh?), presented annually to a newspaper writer who has demonstrated “distinguished criticism”. The distinguished criticism the Pulitzer Committee had in mind when they handed him that award was his “Rumble Seat” column for The Los Angeles Times, his then-employer. He reviewed passenger vehicles in that column.

He now writes for The Wall Street Journal. In his review of the 2012 Honda Civic Si published in the Journal on October 22, the header on the review was, “Honda’s Sporty New Civic, Heavy on the ‘Ick’.”

I would have given him the Pulitzer just for that alone. That’s some good writing, there.

For the exercise I’m engaged in with this review, the object of my steely, laser-like focus is the less-powerful 2012 Honda Civic sedan with all the options you could reasonably want on a car in this segment. Although I suppose it would be more interesting if I adopted a contrarian view and proclaimed the new, redesigned Civic “masterful” or “the acme of small-car evolution”, I have to agree with Mr. Neil on this one.

There’s some serious “ick” going on with this car.

I’ve driven every Honda car and truck ever sold in the United States, as well as a few of the ones sold only in other markets. Honda was always an over-achiever, a car company that consistently punched above its weight in terms of engineering, performance and quality. With the new Civic, I think it’s now official: Honda currently makes average cars. In the case of the new Civic, make that decidedly average.

The discontent started early, when the Civic was dropped off at Autosavant Plaza. “That’s a really blah-looking car”, stated a passing twenty-something young woman, after first asking me, “Is that the new Honda”? It got worse when another person who has owned a few Hondas previously sat in the car, looked around, and pronounced it “weird”, and remarked, “Doesn’t feel like a Honda”.

Well, they’re right. The car is nondescript, inside and out. It’s not hateful to look at the exterior, and it doesn’t hurt your brain to be in it, but it’s dull as old dishwater on the outside, and there’s something cheap and not quite right on the inside.

And, it’s worth noting at this moment that this model I had was the EX (as the title of this review states) with the leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a great many electronic conveniences, so that is as good as it gets for the Civic interior.

Speaking of which, let’s hit the high points and do a quick overview of just what’s in the car:

Engine: 1.8 Liter SOHC 16-valve I-VTEC 4-cylinder with 140 HP
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Brakes: 4-wheel discs
Suspension: McPherson struts in front, multi-link in rear
Safety: Geez, everything
Interior: Honda Navigation System with voice recognition, XM Radio, FM Traffic, Leather seats and steering wheel, 160-watt stereo with six speakers and AM/FM/CD/ and MP3/WMA playback, Bluetooth, USB and MP3 inputs, heated front seats, power everything, etc.
Exterior: Moonroof, alloy wheels, security system

All of this, and more, minor items not mentioned produce an MSRP of $24,225. This Civic returns 28 mpg in the city and 39 mpg, according to the EPA Fuel Economy Estimates on the window sticker.

So, why no accolades for the new (and redesigned) 2012 Honda Civic from me?

It’s a varied spectrum of reasons, frankly. The interior feels cheap, and not in an honest way, but like they’re trying to convince you that it’s nicer than it really is, and that makes me feel a little put out. I don’t mind a cheap interior if there’s no subterfuge about it and the sticker price matches the level of cheap, a la the Nissan Versa or the Chrysler 200. The interior is oddly laid out; almost to the point of being incoherent from a design perspective in some instances. However, everything worked like it should have worked, and I used it all: the navigation (and the voice response utility), the USB connection, the Bluetooth, etc. No complaints there.

The exterior is strictly dullsville, brother. The 2006 redesign was daring, with its slick, tapered look, and even if you didn’t like it, the Civic stood out. My lord, this car is boring-looking now.

The handling and the braking are very average; in fact, I thought more than a few times that the experience was weirdly turned around from when I used to drive Mitsubishis and Subarus in the 90’s and reflect on the fact that those cars felt a bit numb and sleepy and were not the equal of Honda in that area. Now the soporific Honda is below average, or average, in that department, and not just against the other Japanese cars, but against the Korean brands and American brands as well. And, now, of course, there are cars that just lay waste to the Civic in a head-to-head comparison; cars like the Ford Focus, the Mazda3, the Chevrolet Cruze, etc.

The engine is still a little jewel, and it has a little extra torque down low compared to the last iteration, but extra sound insulation makes it seem almost detached sometimes from what’s going on as you motor along.

The whole effect serves to make the car devoid of any color and impersonal. The Civic has lost the mojo that served it so well for decades, when it was a world-beater in this segment, and is now somewhat sterile and uninvolving. It fills me with ennui, unfortunately. It’s not as bad in that vein as a Toyota or a Lexus yet, but the Civic is definitely going in the wrong direction as far as this writer is concerned. The sense of betrayal is palpable – It’s really a letdown in a major way. But, because it’s still a pretty good car, most buyers will probably not even care that the Civic has been so thoroughly dumbed-down (hey, give me another heaping helping of mediocrity!), but I’m thinking that most of the readers of this site are not going to be happy with the 2012 version of the Civic.

The next generation of this car can’t come soon enough as far as I am concerned.

Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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11 Comments

  1. Wow, that’s a tough review. It’s hard to believe the Civic has fallen behind that far from a Ford or a Chevrolet. Or a Mazda even. I see you don’t like it, and the guy (who I never heard of, btw) at the Wall Street Journal doesn’t like it, but a lot of other people seem to like it. Are you sure you’re not the one out of step here?

  2. Henry – here are a few examples other than ours and Dan Neil’s. Unfortunately, we’re not on a deserted island here. Also, I say this as a fan of Hondas – my current car is not a Honda, but my last one was, and it served me incredibly well.

    http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/honda/civic/sedan-ex-4-cyl.htm
    “But the Civic falls down on several counts. Handling has lost its agility and is now plagued by vague steering. The ride is choppy and road noise remains overly noticeable. Interior quality took a step backward. Braking performance suffers from long stopping distances in the Civic LX.”

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/review-2012-honda-civic-ex/
    “But the design is clunky, the materials are cut-rate, and the driving experience is so dreadfully dull that even a Toyota Prius is a blast in comparison. Over the past few years Honda has repeatedly claimed to have remembered what made it great, and to be returning to those roots. While they’re at it, they might want to pay closer attention to what GM, Ford, and Hyundai have been up to. Perhaps this has happened, just not quite soon enough to help the new Civic. If so, we’ll be able to look back on the 2012 model year as a low point, after which the cars got better.”

    http://www.autoblog.com/2011/07/13/2012-honda-civic-ex-sedan-review-road-test/
    “Unfortunately, nothing about this new Civic, from its design to its interior appointments to its fuel economy and pricing, has stepped up in exchange to help it stand out from the competition.”

    http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2012-honda-civic-first-drive-review-car-and-driver
    “Aside from being quieter and more efficient, the new Civic doesn’t represent improvement as we define it. The Civic lacks the passion, soul, and entertaining driving dynamics of its predecessor. Mainstream buyers may not care, but enthusiasts surely will.”

  3. I must wonder if the Honda people are aware of the reduced value of their Civic marque and what they are trying to fix now.

  4. @Henry –

    Whether I am “out of step” with other reviewers or not is of no consequence to me; I don’t seek safety in numbers. This is my unvarnished opinion of the 2012 Honda Civic. If it doesn’t suit your point of view, then, there are alternative opinions, as you mention.

  5. Chris Haak, I don’t know you’re justifying what your writer put out to someone like this guy Henry, it is what it is, and if he doesn’tike it, he can get bent. Right? If everyone had the same opinion, then you would only need one guy to review every car in the whole industry. With everybody saying that blogs give good reviews just to get cars from the car companies, he should be happy your writer is so honest.

  6. I think that the Honda fanboys unhappy with the review are either forgetting or unaware of how much better than the competition they USED to be. There was a time (late 1980’s to early 2000’s) that Honda was so far ahead in design, technology, quality, etc that everything else was basically crap. Now they have rested on their laurels for nearly a decade, and the competition has caught up and even passed them by.

  7. Yeah, I don’t know why you feel like you have to refer to other sites to justify what your blog publishes. Seems timid.

  8. Point taken, guys. However, my response to him has nothing to do with me being timid and everything to do with a personality trait (flaw?) that I have that doesn’t let an asinine comment go un-responded to, particularly if there’s an easy way to disprove the first comment.

    At this point I’d have to delete four comments on this post to reverse it, and that’s not how I play the game, so my response is going to stay, for better or worse.

    I’ll keep your comments in mind next time this happens, though.

  9. I would like to buy a small car that is reliable (I keep my cars until the cold bitter end), safe and has good gas mileage. While not as exciting as before, I wonder if the civic is still a good buy on these grounds? Hyundai and Ford do not have a long enough history of building reliable cars (they have long histories, just not good ones in terms of reliability).

    Any thoughts about whether this civic is more likely to be running smoothly in 10 years? For instance, 10 years ago, you could bet that a new civic would be doing fine after ten years, but a Ford …

  10. Derrick – Boring doesn’t equal shoddy, and underwhelming performance doesn’t mean the car won’t last. I don’t think Honda has started manufacturing cars of low quality; I think Honda has made the new Civic rather dull and not very much fun. I think the new Civic is somewhat sterile and blah.

    So, I feel confident in saying to you that the 2012 Honda Civic should last a long time. But – I think that some of the Civic’s competitors that best the Civic will also probably last a long time. There just are no guarantees on which car will last the longest.

    “You pays your money and you takes yer chances.”

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