A week spent in the most efficient and least entertaining model in the current Civic lineup
Fit and finish, ergonomics
Braking and steering
A Civics lesson
By now nearly everyone knows the story of the 2012 Honda Civic. Suffice it to say that the Japanese automaker misjudged the marketplace and brought out a de-contented vehicle at a time when competitors were upping the ante, big time, in the compact segment.
I had a chance to evaluate a 2012 Civic EX back in August of 2011 and found it to be a major disappointment. While the fit and finish was generally good, much of the interior was hard and plasticky, the dashboard looked clunky and the rear suspension had a penchant to do the fandango over washboard surfaces.
Fortunately, Honda realized its missteps and set about correcting them in little more than a year.
2013 Honda Civic Hybrid L sedan
The 2013 Honda Civic Hybrid sedan weighs 2880 lbs., an increase of 27 pounds over the 2012 model largely the result of a beefed-up front structure and more standard equipment. This is less of an increase than other versions because Honda wisely chose to bless the hybrid with both front and rear aluminum bumper beams (the rest of the lineup gets a steel one in back) due to its lower horsepower.
The hybrid is also longer by nearly 2 inches to 179.4 due to alterations in the front and rear fascias. Its other dimensions remain unchanged: a wheelbase of 105.1 inches a height of 56.5 inches, a width of 69 inches and front and rear tracks of 59 and 59.9 inches, respectively.
The powertrain is also a carryover from 2012: an all-aluminum, SOHC 1.5-liter inline four that produces a less-than-sporty 90 horsepower and 97 lb.-ft. of torque. Betwixt this powerplant and the only transmission available – a CVT – is an electric motor that brings an additional 23 horsepower and 78 lb.-ft. of torque to the party.
EPA estimated fuel economy is 44/44/44 city/highway/combined, while our own observed fuel economy, in primarily suburban driving, was a less than spectacular 40.6 mpg – but more on that later.
Although it doesn't necessarily sizzle, changes to the hybrid's exterior improve upon much of the drabness present in the 2012 model.
In back, the squarish taillamp design of the 2012 iteration has morphed into a more horizontal shape whose lower half continues across the restyled trunk lid until it reaches the license plate binnacle. The trunk, itself, is brightened considerably by a bright chrome horizontal trim strip that bisects its entire width while the hybrid retains its unique decklid spoiler.
The updated Civic's sides and fenders are unaltered, but the hood has been given more sculpting. The shortcomings of the 2012 model's front end have also been addressed. In its stead is a blacked-out grille trimmed in bright and blue-tinged chrome. The shape of the narrow lower air intake also ties in with that of the deck lid and sports a stylized bright chrome blue-trimmed horizontal accent strip bracketed by a pair of blue-tinged fog lights.
Like the other models in the lineup, the dashboard was completely reworked for 2013 – couched in what Honda terms "revised textures and panel junctions." Gone is the ill-fitting, hard plastic, multi-sectional upper dash replaced by a more contemporary unit that not only features soft-touch surfaces but elegant-looking stitching on the lower panel.
In addition, there's a new headliner and the clunky add-on look of the previous infotainment system has been supplanted by a new i-MID display with new standard features including Honda's Bluetooth HandsFreeLink, Bluetooth audio and a rearview camera.
The soft-touch materials, along with new metallic accents, continue along the upper door trim panels replete with a "stitched look" to match the stitched "leather-like" door panel inserts. In total, the revisions made to the materials as well as the overall interior fit and finish pull the Civic back up to the top.
As in the 2012 model the two front seats, in particular, are very comfortable – although the leather in our tester could hardly be called "supple." There is plenty of headroom in front and in back and rear seat passengers are treated to 36 inches of legroom.
In typical Honda fashion, all controls are within easy reach of the driver, are very intuitive and operate smoothly. I was able to pair my iPhone to the Civic Hybrid's Bluetooth system in less than a minute without having to consult the owner's manual. The low cowl and beltline along with a generous amount of glass also results in excellent visibility out the front and sides.
Cargo volume, on the other hand, is nearly 2 cubic feet less than non-hybrid models at 10.7 and is further constrained by the fixed rear seat that has no center arm rest, forcing Starbucks-reliant tree huggers in back to pretty much fend for themselves.
Finally, I have two additional observations about the interior.
Just as in the first go-round the two-tier dashboard layout takes a bit of getting used to but once acclimated I ended up appreciating the fact that I could view speed as well as a number of other functions without having to take my eyes off the road. It also helps that with the CVT-equipped hybrid you can pretty much ignore the tach in the lower display, anyway.
Secondly, kudos to Honda for the quick execution of what is much more than a re-style. The overall interior ambience is more luxurious - even the hybrid's "Econ" button on the lower left dash panel no longer looks out of place.
Like other Honda models, rather than rely on option packages Civics come in a number of trim levels that, as they rise in price are pre-packaged with an ever-increasing number of standard features. In the case of the 2013 Civic Hybrid, this means a total of five different flavors – hybrid, hybrid with leather, hybrid with navigation and hybrid with leather and navigation.
All hybrids come with 15-inch lightweight alloys, six airbags, power windows, automatic climate control, tilt and telescopic steering column, ABS and stability control. Also standard is a multi-information display with a 5-inch LCD screen, rearview camera with guidelines, USB and auxiliary input jacks, Bluetooth, illuminated steering wheel-mounted cruise, audio, phone and i-MID functions and an AM/FM/CD/XM audio system.
New for 2013, all hybrids also get standard Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW) systems.
Models with leather get a leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather-trimmed interior, heated front seats and body-colored heated power side mirrors with built-in turn indicators.
Hybrids equipped with navigation get Honda's satellite nav system with voice recognition, FM traffic, a multi-angle review camera (with guidelines!) plus the addition of illuminated navigation controls on the steering wheel.
On the road
Before we get started on the hybrid's road manners, it should be noted that for the most part Honda has performed yeoman's work in transforming the Civic's drivetrain.
Taking advantage of the opportunity and in anticipation of the new narrower-offset crash testing, Honda beefed-up the Civic's front structure with its new ACE II system, constructed of 55-percent high-strength steel and providing a stiffer structure for a number of chassis upgrades.
Stiffer wheels and front springs and a new front stabilizer bar with Teflon-lined mountings allow for flatter cornering. The rear suspension also gets a thicker stabilizer bar, increased spring rates and reworked suspension bushings to increase both bump and roll-motion stiffness.
The suspension no longer has a problem with washboard surfaces while the overall handling feels more connected. There is none of the jitteriness of the outgoing model and the Civic's ride now feels both luxurious and well-controlled at the same time.
The cabin is also quieter as the result of additional insulation and thicker glass although it should be noted that both road and tire noise are still apparent.
But even with all those changes the newest Civic offers little in the way of sporting pretensions and this is compounded even further by the increased weight and dearth of ponies under the hood.
Acceleration, to put it politely, is underwhelming while punching the econ button (and why wouldn't you - after all hybrid buyers should want to wring the highest efficiency from their vehicles) has a tendency to suck the last vestiges of driving enjoyment from the hybrid's powertrain. This is not altogether a half bad thing, since the scrubbing off of rapid forward movement seems to bring out one of its worst characteristics in the form of extremely non-linear brake pedal feedback.
I understand that there are still compromises that must be made for extreme fuel efficiency, but in this instance the level of compromise is hardly justified by the slender gains in fuel economy.
Manufacturer suggested retail pricing, including the $790 destination charge, begins at $25,150 for a base hybrid and tops out at $27,060 – a figure that matched precisely the bottom line of our Alabaster Silver leather and navigation-equipped tester.
The Bottom Line
Unlike the rest of the Civic lineup, the hybrid model in particular, as nice as it is and with its legacy of dependability, reliability and resale value might not be enough in today's competitive compact car segment.
For example, conventional powertrains such as the one found in the Mazda Mazda3 Skyactiv are approaching the kind of gas mileage found in the Civic Hybrid for thousands of dollars less.
Still want a hybrid? In that case the Toyota Prius in the same price range is capable of mileage figures that easily eclipse those of the Civic.
The fact is that despite its good points, traditional Honda advantages may not be enough to justify putting it at the top of the list of most new car buyers.