Even though Honda is one of the most valuable automotive manufacturers in the world today, that was not the case in the early 1970s. At this time, Honda was actually considering pulling out of automotive production. Honda was a company known only for its motorcycles more than automobiles, and it did not fare well on the automobile front. This changed when it introduced the 1972 Civic which pulled Honda to stardom due to its combination of affordability, reliability, and fuel economy in wake of rising fuel costs. Nine successful generations would follow, including the fourth generation Civic that my dad had. My dad’s second car that he bought (First was a Ford Cortina) was a 1988 Honda Civic DX with a five speed manual. After the Civic, my father’s natural inclination was to buy more Hondas. The Civic was redesigned in 2012, and it received criticisms for its subpar driving dynamics, cheap interior materials, and middling styling, which were all unbefitting of a Honda. The 2012 Civic was so bad that Consumer Reports stopped recommending it which shows how serious this situation was. After just one year, Honda refreshed the Civic (As a rule, you refresh a car at three years) in 2013.
One of the criticisms that the 2012 Civic faced can be attributed to its substandard exterior styling. The post 2012 Civics are much better looking in my opinion. The front calls attention to a new grille and bumper design. The chrome grille is tasteful, although I am curious to see if it would look better if the top was outlined in chrome. The only reservation I have with the front are the slightly generic headlights and the weird chrome bar in the bumper. The side continues the aerodynamic profile of the previous generation. The raked windshield is appealing stylistically and functionally. A subtle character line gives way to the taillights. I absolutely hated the rear of the 2012 Civic, as it reminded me too much of a Camry. The new rear taillights and the chrome bar give an upmarket feel to the design. The interior also feels much more upmarket with splashes of chrome. The futuristic instrument panel remains. Granted, it is not a stylish car like the Mazda3 or the Ford Focus, but it is still a respectable design.
As far as the driving experience goes, the Civic can’t match that of the Ford Focus or the Mazda 3. With that said, it is a decent handler. It corners ably with acceptable body lean. It is not overtly sporty, but it feels nimble with an eager attitude to corners. The steering is quick, and the Civic feels composed when pushed to its limits. The only thing that mars the driving experience is the steering. The steering is disconcertingly light like a Toyota’s, and there is no steering feel. Hondas always had communicative steering feel and good weighting to it, which is why you always chose it over the Toyota equivalent. The 2012 Civic’s choppy ride has been addressed with the 2013 update. There is a taut quality to it, as it is slightly firm at low speeds, but bumps are nicely muted as speeds rise. Even on bumpy roads, the Civic’s ride remains settled.
Honda’s engineering excellence extends to its engine, in which the Civic is no exception. Honda’s engines have always felt stronger than their horsepower ratings, and this proves true in the Civic. Utilizing a 143 horsepower 1.8 liter four cylinder engine, the Civic accelerates respectably. The engine is at its best in low revs to mid revs, where it does not take that much for it to keep up with traffic. But if you decide to floor it, the Civic does not disappoint. It will not set your hair on fire, but it will get you to where you need to go. For 2014, Civics gained a CVT (continuously variable transmission) in place of the previous five speed automatic transmission. CVTs have gained a reputation for being too snappy in response, and giving a rubbery and artificial feel overall. However, in the Civic, the CVT acts like an automatic by mimicking shifts. It is very responsive, and shifts smoothly. A five speed manual is available on LX trims for the sedan.
As for refinement, the Civic could fare better. Characteristically of Hondas, road noise from the tires permeates through the cabin. The engine hums noticeably, and it produces a trashy engine note when pressed. There was some wind whoosh around the doors as well.
As soon as you step into the cabin, you quickly notice how ergonomics are Honda’s virtue. Everything falls to hand easily. The controls are so easy to operate that you can operate them without looking while driving. The driver oriented center stack means that the controls are easy to reach. The futuristic instrument panel has been criticized for not being intuitive enough, but I find them easy to read. Thanks to the aerodynamic roofline, the cabin feels airy, and headroom is abundant. Visibility is excellent, and sight lines are good overall. The seats are comfortable, and there is enough legroom in the front to suit most people. With a telescoping and tilting steering wheel and an adequate number of seat settings, it is easy to find a comfortable seating position. Compared to the 2012 Civic with its chintzy plastics and textures, this Civic has much nicer fit and finish with soft touch panels abound and nicely grained textures. The rear seat is roomy, although headroom is middling. The trunk is a decent size.
Ever since my dad bought that 1988 Civic, he has been a Honda man. Growing up, we’ve always have had Hondas. But then Honda (and its luxury division Acura) started to falter with its latest models. The Crosstour is a useless car, the CRZ is nothing like the popular CRX, the 2012 Civic was a disappointment, the latest Honda Odyssey lost its fun to drive edge in the minivan market, the latest Pilot is not as good as the first, the Ridgeline is slowly dying…I can go on. But as I reviewed this car, I kept thinking, “Wow this is a superbly engineered vehicle”. The owner and I kept talking about how much we like this car. Yes, it is not exactly the coolest compact sedan, nor is it super sporty or super stylish, but there is no question that it does many things well. It feels literally designed for the human, because you automatically get used to this car easily. With a new car, there is a period of time where you have to adjust to the car, but in this, you adjust right away. Things fall easily to hand. Suffice to say, I think the Honda magic is still there. With this car, you can tell Honda is getting back on track to make good cars. I can attest to that, because even though I reviewed it for a short amount of time, I can already tell the Civic is a car worth loving.