|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
In her defense, she’s not the only one who found it hard to pick out the Civic in the growing sea of compact cars. My cousin described it as “plain” while a friend even mistook it for a Hyundai. Such is the dilemma of the all-new Civic: hampered by a sheet metal that looks too similar to that of the previous model. In fact, the new Civic seemed to have avoided the growing trend towards oversized headlights and using tons of ducts and gaping air intakes. Sadly, it has transformed the Civic into a very conservatively designed car, one that’s destined not to alienate would-be buyers, but at the same time won’t attract those who opt for style. And this is a shame since each and every part of the Civic has been tugged and pulled to achieve a sleeker silhouette.
Much of the same can be said about the Civic’s cabin: it looks largely the same as it was before, despite being extensively changed from the ground up. In fact, you can’t help but notice that the interior’s even more conservative now thanks to the disappearance of the spaceship-like design cues like the mesh pattern on the steering wheel and Z-shaped handbrake. Nonetheless, some design cues--primarily the love-or-hate two-tier dashboard have been kept. It’s a configuration that worked wonders before to improve driver operation, but now it’s just too big and confusing with too much going on from an instantaneous fuel consumption gauge to the Eco coaching light to a host of other lights, needles, and what have you.
While the two-tier gauges remain something to be desired, the introduction of the new i-MID multi-information display is a welcome addition. Located to the right of the digital speedometer, it displays everything from album art to trip computer functions to emergency information in a pleasantly high-resolution five-inch screen. You can even set you own wallpaper if you so wish. Aside from the new i-MID display, the Civic is still home to the best man/machine interface in its class. With the controls canted towards the driver and controls dominated by an easy layout and large buttons, this is one easy car to understand and drive.
Hard plastics cover most of the interior, and this the largely the most disappointing thing with the new Civic. Nonetheless, you can give credit to Honda for adding some texturizing effect to lessen the cheapness. Plus, these hard plastics tend to withstand the test of time much better than the soft stuff. As a side note, the Civic uses rubberized or rubber-covered plastics on areas such as the power window switches. From experience, these look good when new, but they melt easily and flake off thanks to Manila’s unrelenting heat.
Despite having external measurements almost identical to the previous model, the new Civic is up on interior room. Even without a tape measure, it feels airier and roomier inside. Honda says shoulder room is up along with increased hip room for both front and rear occupants. Oddly, the Japan-made EXi Limited has three-point seat belts for all, but these new Thailand-made ones have three-point belts only for the outboard passengers. The seating position is typical Honda: low to the floor with the legs out. Outward visibility is great thanks to the expansive windshield and slimmer A-pillars, but proper ingress/egress requires some getting used since the raked roofline resulted in a couple of brushes with the headliner.
The Civic also eschewed the latest round of multi-speed gearboxes and engine tricks in favor of modest aerodynamics tweaks to deliver class-competitive performance numbers. The same old 1.8-liter mill returns with little modification, producing the same figures as before. In turn, it’s marked to the same conventional five-speed automatic with flappy paddles attached to the steering wheel. The single ace up Honda’s sleeve is the new Eco button which improves the Civic’s fuel economy by changing the throttle mapping, shifting, and air conditioning operation. All in all, the Civic did 9.1 km/l—which is good, but not exactly bonkers. The 2012 Subaru Impreza can easily match those figures despite having a larger engine and four-wheel drive.
On the road, the all-new Civic is safe, stable, but largely unremarkable. It veers towards a “set it and forget it” mindset than something that’s likely of interest to car enthusiasts. There’s no doubt that it’s refined, but it’s a humdrum performer that neither encourages nor rewards enthusiastic driving. The culprits are the electric power steering with its slower ratio resulting in a less than energetic turn-in, and the more compliant (softer) suspension that delivers improved ride quality at the expense of a numbed driving experience.
Honda’s move to mature the Civic is by no means a mistake if you look at the bigger picture. After all, the majority of compact car buyers will probably appreciate its improved composure and refinement. And you can applaud Honda engineers for doing their homework on this subject. However, the Civic has always been on the sportier side of the compact car segment, and Honda it seems is turning its back away from this legacy. Nothing about the new Civic from its design to its interior appointments to its fuel economy has stepped up in exchange to help it stand out from the competition. Honda should remember that the Civic has its set of loyal buyers who’re after comfort and fuel economy but not at the expense of driver involvement and a dash of sportiness. The Civic isn’t a Corolla, and it shouldn’t strive to be one.