– Superb fuel economy
– Cabin space and features
– Ride and handling balance
– Pricey with options
– Needs slightly more power
– Few hard-plastic cabin bits
The Honda Civic now has a new face for 2013, only a year after the lukewarm reception to the all-new 2012 model. Now hailing from Honda’s U.S. factories, the compact sedan that set the benchmark for decades, before 2012 anyway, is back with a number of upgrades that are supposed to bring the Civic to the top of its game again.
Receiving a much-needed facelift, the front-end now has a reshaped chrome grille, redone lights out back, new bumpers front and rear, and funky new wheels on the top VTi model, as seen on our test car. The new car is well-built and looks good, but won’t attract any attention.
Inside, the interior has received some much-needed soft-touch materials on the passenger-side dash face and the upper front-door sills, although the driver-side dash and rear-door sills remain moulded in hard plastic. All armrests and door inserts are padded in leatherette in our VTi, matching the leatherette seat upholstery. Along with the two-tier digital dash, the interior exudes a high-tech premium look that no other car in this class can match.
The seats themselves are moderately bolstered up front, while rear legroom and headroom remains among the better ones in this class, although slightly upstaged nowadays by some less-desirable rivals such as the Nissan Sentra and the VW Jetta. The flat floor for rear passengers is a great feature. The gooseneck-hinged boot offers decent space, with split-folding rear seats as well. There are four basic cup-holders, a couple of central cubbies, and pockets on all doors. It would’ve been nice if the front cup-holders and storage tray had covers though, like in the previous-gen model.
The dash still houses a two-tier instrument panel, so you have to position the adjustable steering wheel very low to read it clearly. The digital speedo has some blue-green lights that change colour to show how economically you’re driving. And in all but the base model, there is a little full-colour “i-MID” screen to the right, showing trip computer, Bluetooth, stereo and other settings in pretty animation. A working Bluetooth phone is now integrated with buttons on the steering wheel, alongside cruise control, “i-MID” and stereo buttons. The CD/MP3 stereo is above-average, with available USB and AUX ports, and tweeters in the A-pillars. The single-zone auto a/c gets freezing, something we appreciated as summer approaches early this late April. Other features in the VTi include a sunroof, basic keyless entry, HID headlights with fogs, rear camera and sensors, and the usual power accessories. On the safety front, ABS, ESP, front airbags and active headrests are standard, while only the VTi gets side and curtain airbags.
The 1.8-litre engine is unchanged, at least on the surface. Producing 139 hp at 6500 rpm and 173 Nm of torque at 4300 rpm, it is still mated to a basic 5-speed automatic. The rev-happy engine turns over at only 2300 rpm while doing 120 kph. That’s great for fuel economy, as the “i-MID” indicated a fuel consumption figure of only 8.3 litres/100 km by the end of our road test. For whatever reason, we also recorded a better 0-100 kph time of 10.9 seconds compared to the 2012, although we’ll chalk some of that up to a better run-in engine. We could actually feel the “VTEC kicking in” as well, as there is a slight surge in power delivery at maybe 4000 rpm. It’s no rocket, but it’s adequate for the daily drive.
There is also an “ECON” button to reduce consumption further, but it’s a ridiculous feature, considering the first thing it does is drastically reduce a/c performance. In regular mode itself, the transmission likes to sit in the higher gears, requiring slightly more push on the throttle to downshift for acceleration. And yet, we prefer this 5-speeder to the hesitant 6-speed automatic in the Chevy Cruze, the latter also being slower and thirstier.
Comfort levels are pretty good, even with new suspension tuning that makes it more agile compared to the 2012 model. It still rides on four-wheel-independent suspension, when most others, including the new-age Koreans, still use a cheap live-axle rear. The ride quality is largely smooth, without the floatiness of a Corolla or the harshness of a Cruze. The road noise is moderately noticeable on some roads, but only because wind noise is well-muted. Even the engine has been silenced better now, cutting down on the loud engine buzz of all previous Civics. On the highway, all-round visibility is good, and the cabin is almost as quiet as the Accord.
The electric power steering has been retuned as well, now offering a nice bit of heft and a bit more feel, all the better for piloting fast around turns, while still being manageable enough for slipping into parking spots. The “chassis” is noticeably more agile now, just like the 2007 Civic we tested years ago. Body roll is nicely kept under control, and swinging the steering left-and-right like an animal does not induce any untoward oversteer, even with the standard stability control turned off. Somehow, even the disc brakes are much better now, offering linearly-weighted pedal feel and uneventful stops. The VTi now gets wider 215/45 tyres as well, on larger 17-inch alloys, so grip limits are higher, while still safely understeering once the limit is reached. In short, this car is almost as entertaining to drive now as the class-leading Ford Focus, only with more cabin space as well.
As a car, there isn’t much more we can ask from the 2013 Honda Civic. It’s got its mojo back and then some. While we’d have liked the rear passengers to feel some of the interior improvements, they can still enjoy more space than in a Focus or a Mazda3. The driver gets to enjoy great handling and responsive controls compared to an Elantra or a Corolla. And everybody gets to enjoy the sorted ride quality and general refinement compared to a Cruze or a Lancer. Even though it is built in the U.S. now, the Civic still has a sizeable price premium over similar cars, but it at least offers a whole lot more as well.
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