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