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2012 Honda Civic delivers what you expect from classic compact sedan

It's hard to comprehend but the 2012 Honda Civic is the ninth generation of the Civic, which has sold more than 8.8 million units in the United States through 2010 since its launch as a 1973 model. Honda continues to deliver what one expects from a classic, compact sedan.

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The Honda Civic has long been known for being, as the Japanese manufacturer points out, "a fun-to-drive compact that is simultaneously fuel efficient, sporty, … and durable." The company tried to throw in "stylish" too but I can't concede that point. In the 38 years the Honda Civic has graced our shores, the sedan has never made me do a double take. (I had a used 1995 Honda Civic with a 5-speed manual transmission that served me well for many years.)

What's got me sold most on the 2012 Honda Civic I spent a week with courtesy of Honda? It's comfort and lack of pretense. The 2012 Honda Civic EX is a car I wanted to drive. Sure, my two daughters, ages 6 and 3, were probably underwhelmed (the oldest really wants a Hyundai Equus that she calls a Korean limo) but I had nary a complaint with the ride or quality of this car.

For 2012, the Civic chassis was developed to maximize driving enjoyment as well as passenger comfort and safety. It's against my nature to agree when a manufacturer calls a compact sedan "fun to drive," but the Civic really is.

Is it sports sedan fun to drive? Let's be realistic. It's not but Honda's highly developed MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension systems, along with Motion-Adaptive Electric Power Steering for excellent steering performance, contribute to deliver a fun driving experience.

One of the reasons I envy engineers is for their ability to do illogical things. The 2012 Honda Civic sedan has a wheelbase that is reduced 1.2 inches to 105.1 inches, with the overall length, width and height the same, yet the interior space is somehow increased. A roomier cabin on a shorter wheelbase does make for a more enjoyable driving experience. (Automotive engineers – please don't write me. I do understand the basic engineering. I just admire what you can do.)

Fuel economy was strong in the week I had with the 2012 Honda Civic EX loaned to me by Honda. With my usual mix of city and highway driving, I was able to obtain about 33 mpg. The EPA rates the Civic at 28-mpg city and 39-mpg highway from its re-engineered 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter I-4 engine.

On the safety forefront, every Civic has as standard equipment the newest generation of vehicle stability assist, an anti-lock braking system (ABS) with brake assist, side-curtain airbags, front-side airbags with a passenger-side occupant position detection system and a front seat design that can help reduce the severity of neck injury in the event of a rear collision.

Similar to the previous-generation Civic, an Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure in the front of the vehicle helps make the vehicle highly effective at absorbing and disbursing the energy of a frontal crash. The Civic also gets IIHS's top score.

It's amazing how far small cars have come in terms of energy absorption in crashes. Dispersing the energy around the passenger cabin is an effective means for protecting the occupants. Cabin integrity along with things like airbags is an important key to walking away from crashes that once routinely killed people.

Let me give Honda the floor to explain this a little more in depth (and explain why you should strongly consider this when buying a car): "Unlike most conventional designs that direct frontal crash energy only to the lower load-bearing structures in the front end, the ACE system actively channels frontal crash energy to both upper and lower structural elements, including the floor frame rails, side sills and A-pillars. By creating specifically engineered 'pathways' that help distribute these frontal impact forces through a greater percentage of the vehicle's total structure, the ACE system can more effectively route them around and away from the passenger compartment to help limit cabin deformation and further improve occupant protection."

The only area I can quibble about the Civic EX is price. It has an MSRP of $20,505 that I don't feel is a great value when compared to vehicles like the Hyundai Elantra, which cost $20,195 in a similar trim level but offers so much more, and the Toyota Corolla, which has an MSRP of $18,600. The EX, with its cloth seats, seems a bit overpriced above $20,000. It feels more like an $18,000 car.

VITAL STATISTICS of 2012 Honda Civic EX

  • Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
  • Length: 177.3 inches
  • Width: 56.5 inches
  • Height: 69.0 inches
  • Curb weight: 2765 lbs.
  • Engine: 1.8-liter I-4 engine
  • Horsepower: 140 horsepower
  • Torque: 128 lb. ft.
  • EPA estimated mpg city/highway: 28/39
  • Base price: $15,805
  • As-tested price: $20,505
  • Also consider: (a comparative vehicle) Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze

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