Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Changed Priorities Ahead: the new Honda Civic

The Honda Civic is a very important car to Canada because for the past 13 years it has been the best selling car here, and boy does it show! Just walk through a parking lot, drive down the road or look out your window and you are bound to see a Civic somewhere. It’s as much a part of the Canadian landscape as snow.

It makes perfect sense too. The Civic has always been that car that is economical, spacious, stylish, easy to drive, and yet so much fun. That was it, the Civic always gave back to the driver in ways that its competition couldn’t. So what about the brand new 2012 one?

Well there are changed priorities ahead. Instead of giving back to the driver the Civic is more concerned with giving back to the environment. Nothing has been spared in the pursuit of fuel economy. And the first evidence of that is found to the left of the steering wheel in the form of the econ button. And then it’s further helped by two bars surrounding the steering wheel that tell you how efficiently you’re driving.

It all works too. I kept the econ mode on and the bars glowing green in the first two days of driving and was rewarded with a fuel consumption of 5.9 L/100km. In the real world!?

The looks of the new Civic, though they are different, are strangely similar to the previous one. The shapes and lines are all so familiar. I was showing someone the car and I had to specifically tell him it was redesigned before he realized it.

The front features a more proportioned Grille and bumper that I think looks fantastic. The long windshield remains and as you continue to the back the car becomes less and less attractive. The rear looks like an unappealing combination of a 2002 Toyota Camry, and 2001 Toyota Prius.

Inside too everything seems so familiar too. Everything is exactly where it was a year ago. However the plastics are much harder. One good thing is the i-MID system included with most Civics. It integrates excellently with my non iPod MP3 player and non iPhone Blackberry. I only wish that the Bluetooth connectivity would allow me to access the phones voice recognition, programming voice codes is so 2005.

It’s not just in the styling where there’s a bit of déjà vu. Under the hood remains the 1.8 Litre 4 Cylinder engine from the previous Civic which is hooked up to the same 5 speed manual or automatic. Once I found some rural roads and an open freeway on ramp I gave it the berries. The 140hp comes in with a really nice growly sound. I was impressed with the performance. In case you're wondering, it's been known to take about 9 seconds to get to 97 km/h.

In the twisty bits the car responds like a Honda. The steering is really nicely weighted, and the wheel feels excellent in the hands. However feel in the bends is what it’s missing. Honda has equipped the car with Electric power steering to fit with its new priorities. The problem is electric power steering cannot communicate to the driver. Instead everything is communicated through the chassis which is quite taut.

Here’s the deal, having fun in the Civic is a lot harder now. It still can be done, but it feels so wrong. As I was romping down a country road inducing downshifts with the eco mode firmly off I sat there seeing the average fuel economy slowly rise as the bars around the speedo glow unapprovingly blue. I’ll admit I started feeling incredibly guilty for having fun. Images of people in need, and all the things we’re doing to destroy the world flashed through my mind.

I pushed the eco button back on.

Yes the Civic is still a great car. But it’s not going to please those of a driving disposition like the old ones did. It’s more a car for the common Canadian. One who just wants to get from A to B as safely, efficiently and comfortably as possible. Yes that’s the game the Corolla plays but the Civic still plays it better.

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