The 2012 Honda Civic, long one of the nation's more popular automobiles, is described as "all new" and "completely redesigned" by its maker. But driving it and looking at it closely evinces an assessment that the change is more incremental than a front-page story.
There's nothing wrong with that. The massaged 2012 model is the ninth generation of a car that the company says has reached 8.8 million customers in the United States since it was introduced in 1973.
Over the years, the Civic developed a reputation for durability and reliability that slowly but surely ramped up its resale values.
With six revamped models for 2012, the Civic seeks to cover the spectrum from bare-bones economy and green technology to high performance -- at least as high as it gets in this price class. At the bottom is the "except" DX sedan and coupe models, with a starting price of $16,355.
The reason for the "except" designation is that they are bereft of many of the features that buyers expect, including air conditioning and remote locks. Those amenities are offered on Civic models "except DX." (For the first time, however, stability control is standard across the Civic lineup -- even on the DX.) Four-wheel disc brakes are available only on EX models; DX and LX trims get rear drums.
Honda also offers an HF model with slightly higher fuel economy obtained by reductions in rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag. With its standard five-speed automatic transmission, the HF gets a city/highway fuel consumption rating of 29/41 miles to the gallon compared to the 28/39 on automatic DX, LX and EX models. It has a sticker of $20,205.
All regular Civic models use the same 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine linked to either a five-speed automatic transmission or five-speed manual gearbox.
There also are greener alternatives: a 110-horsepower natural gas model (now available nationwide) with an estimated fuel economy of 27/38, and a $24,800 gasoline-electric hybrid, with new lithium ion batteries and a continuously variable automatic transmission, rated at 44 miles to the gallon city and highway.
At the top for performance is the Civic Si, in sedan and coupe form. It boasts a 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox. It starts at $22,955.
Among Honda's brags for the new Civic is the i-MID, or intelligent multi-information display, which is on all models "except DX." It fits neatly into the two-tier instrument display that is carried over from the previous model. A tachometer, viewed through the steering wheel, nestles below, while the digital speedometer and other instruments sit in the top tier, closer to the driver's line of sight.
The i-MID is a 5-inch color monitor located to the right in the top tier. It displays vehicle and audio information, including driver-personalized "wallpaper." XM satellite radio is available, though unfortunately it is twinned with an expensive navigation system. Those who simply want XM are forced to get an after-market unit.
Taking into account all the variations of the six sedans and coupes (stick shifts, automatic transmissions, navigation systems, etc.), Civic customers can choose from 30 versions. Tested here was the EX-L, which had leather upholstery, but not navigation. It had a sticker price of $22,705.
It displays the modern exterior styling that seems to be spreading through the automotive world. It is what once was referred to as streamlined, fastback or a torpedo body -- though modified in this instance.
Surprisingly, given the dictates of the style, with a roofline that arcs in a near-continuous line from the front to the rear bumper, the Civic manages decent interior room, with enough head, hip and knee room for five passengers.
Even more surprising is the center-rear position in the back seat. In other sedans of whatever size, and some sport-utility and crossover utility vehicles as well, the center-rear seat is severely compromised by a large floor hump and a cushion that is hard and unyielding. But the Civic has a flat floor and a reasonably comfortable center cushion that can accommodate an adult human.
The new Civic maintains its traditional virtues of competent handling, reasonable performance, likely long-term durability and good fuel economy. For now, the Civic remains -- just barely -- at the head of the class.