2012 Honda Civic Si
Base price: $15,605 – $26,155
As tested: $22,975
MPG: 22 city/31 highway
- Excellent reputation for reliability and resale value
- Impressive safety and crash test results
- Wide variety of models and trim levels
- Disappointing car for enthusiasts
- Bland exterior, cheap interior
- Handling, road noise, fit and finish
By Jim Prueter
Rather than updating or modifying a previous model to cut costs, Honda recently rolled out an all-new Civic. The 2012 Honda Civic comes in a choice of seven models: a sedan, a coupe, Si sedan, Si coupe, hybrid, high fuel-efficiency (HF), and a natural gas model. Then, with trim levels DX, LX, EX, and EX-L, the offerings start to get confusing.
To keep things simple, there’s the base DX coupe and sedan, starting at $15,605 and offering next to nothing in terms of standard interior features, not even air conditioning or an audio system. The DX trim provides Eco Assist, a new feature this year that helps you drive more efficiently. By comparison, the newly redesigned 2012 Hyundai Elantra, a major competitor with a starting price of $14,495, comes with a six-speaker audio system, a USB input jack, and XM Satellite Radio. As with the Civic, Bluetooth and air conditioning are optional on the Elantra but are less expensive to add.
The next step up, the $17,885 LX coupe and sedan models have an AM/FM radio with four speakers, manual air conditioning, and power door locks. This year, these models get steering wheel mounted controls, a USB audio interface, and a color i-MID system that integrates entertainment information and fuel economy data into the dash. If you want Bluetooth, you’ll have to upgrade to the EX trim, starting at about $20,500.
The first thing we noticed about the Civic’s new exterior design is that Honda seems to have opted for a “safe” styling route that is much less radical or distinctive than competitors’ new product offerings. For instance, the stylish Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, and Chevrolet Cruze share nothing with the previous generation, where the Civic appears decidedly similar to the outgoing model. Honda says they wanted the new model to be instantly recognizable as a Civic, but we think the look, while not offensive, is generally uninteresting, certainly not as fresh or as exciting as the competition.
Inside the new Civic, Honda has added more features to the roomier cabin space, but there’s an overall economy look and feel to the dash. The instrument panel is made of hard, cheap-looking plastics and wasn’t well constructed with numerous gaps and misalignments.
While we had enough leg and shoulder room, our heads brushed the headliner in our sunroof-equipped Civic coupe, so we had to keep the sunroof’s sliding sunshade open to maximize headroom. We also found the wide center console deprived us of desirable legroom.
Rear seat occupants in the coupe models will struggle to gain access and sacrifice even more headroom given the sloping roofline of the model, though the flat floor helps provide extra foot room.
The instrument panel is a two-tier setup with the digital speedometer positioned at a height where you don’t have to take your eyes far from the road to check the speed. The tachometer is positioned on a lower tier that can be viewed by looking through the opening in the steering wheel. The readout is displayed in a 3-D effect that will please some, while others may prefer the traditional large, flat, round gauges.
We drove and tested the sportiest Civic, the Si two-door coupe model with a base price of $22,975, including a $770 destination and handling charge.
What sets the Si apart from other Civic models is the more powerful 2.4-liter, 201-horsepower four-cylinder engine — a jump from the 197-horsepower 2.0-liter of last year’s model. It also has 31 more foot-pounds of torque, now up to 170. That means that while driving around town, you have a lot more take-off power from a stop and more passing power on the highway. The only transmission in the Si model is a six-speed manual that’s easy to shift with a light clutch pedal feel. A smaller 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder powers all other gas-only Civic models.
Other features exclusive to the Si are 17-inch wheels, front fog lights, and a unique rear deck lid spoiler. Inside, the seats are heavily bolstered cloth upholstered with red “Si” stitching embroidery. Other changes include aluminum clutch, brake, and accelerator pedals; a tilt-and-telescoping red-stitched leather steering wheel with a small Si logo; and a power monitor on the car’s information display that indicates the percentage of total horsepower being generated by the engine.
So what’s it like to drive the new Civic Si? To begin with, it has a softer ride and doesn’t feel as sporty as last year’s Si model. There’s lots of body lean in cornering that takes away from the sporty feel that enthusiasts desire in that type of vehicle. Also, there seems to be an unusual amount of road noise in the cabin at highway speeds, and on uneven pavement, the ride is choppy with noticeable suspension jarring and bumps.
As of this writing, only the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has tested the 2012 Honda Civic and named it a “Top Safety Pick.”
The Civic has consistently led the compact segment in retail sales and is the bread and butter model for Honda, but competitors have caught up and, in many cases, passed it in terms of style, value, and overall quality. It has gotten a chilly reception, especially for the bland exterior styling and cheap, hard-plastic instrument panel and center console. Even Consumer Reports magazine removed the Civic from its “recommended” list for the first time in memory, calling it “cheap” and “insubstantial.” Honda executives have said they take the feedback seriously and will act accordingly quickly.