The redesigned 2013 model addresses the flaws that disappointed critics.
In the quickest turnaround in the 39-year history of the Civic, Honda Motor Co. introduced a modified U.S. model, just 19 months after the current car appeared.
The rapid redo is central to the company's bid to keep the top-selling U.S. small car ahead of Hyundai Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co. compacts. It's also seen as giving Honda a chance to address flaws cited in withering reviews and extend a sales rally in the company's biggest market.
"I can't think of an example where a refresh was done this quickly and this dramatically with a mass-produced vehicle," said Jesse Toprak, industry analyst for TrueCar.com, a vehicle pricing and data website. The 2012 version was "safe, dull and rather disappointing," he said.
The car was seen as such a disappointment that Consumer Reports, which frequently praises Honda models, declined to award the 2012 Civic the magazine's coveted "recommended" status, citing shortcomings in the car's agility, interior materials and cabin noise.
Honda executives are looking to the new Civic as the quickest way to put such moments in the company's past. The 2013 Civic that debuted Thursday at the Los Angeles Auto Show as it also arrives at dealerships has a new front hood and grille, altered trunk, new rear taillights, standard alloy wheels, redesigned interior and strengthened front end to boost crash safety.
The car's cabin has new sound-dampening materials, ride and handling have been upgraded and technology features, including a backup camera, Bluetooth phone and audio capability, are now standard, Art St. Cyr, Honda's U.S. vice president of planning and logistics, said Thursday at the show.
"We've made a very good car great," he said. Base prices for the Civic line rise $160 to cover the changes, he said. The price of the base model sedan had been $18,005.
Honda and other automakers typically redesign models once every five to six years, with a "mid-cycle" refresh happening after three years.
Honda moved to revamp Civic faster than normal because customers expected more from the car, said U.S. Executive Vice President John Mendel.
"There was a bit of a mismatch between expectations for us and where the market had moved," Mendel said this month in an interview at the company's U.S. headquarters in Torrance, Calif. "Customers had a higher expectation for us."