The 2013 Honda Civic is an unprecedented car for the Japanese automaker because, objectively, there was nothing wrong with the 2012 version, the first year of the ninth-generation car. Subjectively, however, it was seen as a back step, owing largely to its uninspired handling performance, less sophisticated steering, cheaper interior materials, and carryover engine and transmission in the base model.
Honda designed the 2012 at a time when the Great Recession was in full force. It banked that shoppers were going to want a cheaper Civic at a lower price point, so it essentially decontented and repackaged the previous-generation version, which proved to be a giant blunder. While the Honda Civic has sold and continues to sell in great numbers, it has done so from the legacy of its reputation as an undeniably reliable compact sedan. However, it did little to satisfy the critics and reviewers who have mounted a long list of complaints.
The 2013 Honda Civic is ostensibly what is rumored to be what Honda was intending to roll out as a 2014 or 2015 refresh. But it has come early, as Honda misread just how long our downturned economy would last. So consider it a rush job. But even at that, with development cycles often measured in years at a time instead of the months it took for the 2013 Civic to make headway, it looks to be a marked improvement over the car it succeeds.
So far, just the styling. Honda has given the 2013 Civic a new honeycomb grille and chrome strip evocative of the 2013 Honda Accord midsizer. It’s also reworked the front bumper with more chrome, changed the headlights to a more jeweled look with clear lenses, given the car new wheels, extended the tail lights with a chrome strip connecting them, and added a mesh-look diffuser to the lower portion of the bumper. All of this goes a long way to make the car look more distinctive and add a sense of familiarity between it and the larger Accord.
Honda has said it will release more information about the 2013 Civic closer to its official debut at the Los Angeles International Auto Show, but we anticipate the car will have improved interior materials–maybe even a soft-touch panel or two–possibly a version of the new HondaLink infotainment system that was recently introduced in the 2012 Honda CR-V and 2013 Accord, and perhaps even revised steering and suspension calibrations to help bring back that sporty feel that was once a hallmark of the Civic range, not just the high-power Civic Si.
Engine and Drivetrain
Once again, Honda has stayed mum on what will be powering the 2013 Civic, but there are two very different schools of thought as to what it could be: The first is Honda perhaps retaining the 1.8-liter four-cylinder from the 2012 car, linked to either a five-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission. While they work perfectly well, they seem rudimentary in a world of six-speed automatics, continuously variable transmissions, sophisticated direct-injection engines, and turbochargers that have become par for the compact car course.
The other option is that Honda digs through its “Earth Dream” drivetrain technology that was launched in the 2013 Accord. That could spell the use of a continuously variable automatic transmission and direct-injection engine, likely putting out more than the current car’s 140 horsepower while delivering better fuel economy, maybe even cracking mid-40s mpg on the highway.
That would certainly put what was a lower to midpack at the top of the segment, as the current fuel economy champs are the Chevrolet Cruze Eco and Volkswagen Jetta TDI.
The 2012 Honda Civic will hopefully be to Honda what the unintended acceleration fiasco was to Toyota: A wakeup call to end complacency. We don’t know much about the 2013 Civic yet, but we expect it to be a better car in every way possible than the 2012 model. In fact, a leaked internal memo from Honda to its dealerships said to put the old cars on fire sale, as they’d be a “hard sell” next to the 2013 model.
The 2013 Honda Civic works out to be a plus for the automaker in that it lets the world know that Honda still has some life left in it. But it’s also a huge setback in that Honda is admitting that it’s imperfect; that it’s gone out of its way to make a substandard car and correct a mistake the year after. Honda believed it could pawn off a product that would sell no matter what, and its marketers were right. But the company earned itself a black eye in a highly competitive market that would have done damage in the long term.
We’ll surely see if the 2013 Civic lives up to being the sort of quality product we expect of something with the Honda name attached to it.