WELL, there's nothing like a verbal poke in the eye to get your undivided attention.
Not all that long ago, Honda announced the mid-2011 arrival of its 2012-model-year Civic. Fans of the brand seemed pleased, as evidenced by the upwardly pointing sales charts. However, the press and a certain advertising-free consumer magazine gave Honda a rough ride, reporting that the Civic had an uninspired look, unexciting handling and plasticky interior.
Now, most automakers would have simply ignored those comments. Not so, Honda. Whether motivated by its competitive instincts or by a desire to simply do better (or both), it's introducing a heavily revised 2013 Civic sedan well ahead of schedule.
What a difference just a single model year makes. Although the lower-volume Civic coupe has been generally left alone, the sedan's adjustments include completely new front and rear bodywork encompassing a more prominent grille, restyled hood and new fog and corner lights. At the opposite end, a reshaped trunk lid and bumper are flanked by a fresh set of taillights. Additionally, all trim levels feature new wheel designs.
The alterations don't dramatically change the sedan's appearance, but they do give it an unmistakably classier look, which is a good thing when competing for the hearts and wallets of compact car customers.
Structurally, changes have been initiated to improve the Civic's front-end collision protection, especially at each corner, which should help it meet new partial front-end crash-test standards.
There's high-strength steel in the A-pillars (that flank the windshield) and in the side sills below the doors.
Changes have also been made to the suspension, steering and soundproofing materials to improve ride comfort, reduce cabin noise and create a sportier driving experience. Sedans and coupes equipped with the optional automatic transmission have also been fitted with larger front brake rotors.
Honda has addressed concerns regarding the Civic's interior by giving the dashboard a major makeover. There are now fewer visually irritating creases and angles and most plastic surfaces have been covered with richer-looking soft-touch materials.
If it wasn't for its carryover powertrains, the 2013 Civic might have earned itself totally new-model status.
Back again is the standard 140 horsepower 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine with the optional 201 h.p. 2.4-litre four-cylinder repeating in the performance-oriented Si. The gas-electric Civic Hybrid's powertrain, which is rated at 110 h.p., is unaltered.
As before, the base powerplant can be mated to a five-speed manual transmission or optional five-speed automatic. A six-speed manual gearbox is used exclusively for the Si while a continuously variable unit transmits the Hybrid's torque to the front wheels.
Fuel economy stats remain at 7.1 litres/100 kilometres in the city and 5.0 on the highway for automatic-transmission models (7.2/5.4 for manual-gearbox Civics and 4.4/4.2 for the fuel-efficient Hybrid). The more potent Si is rated at 10.0 l/100 km in the city and 6.4 highway.
The starting-point Civic DX lists for $16,900, including destination charges, and is particularly light on content (it only comes with a manual transmission). The $19,750 LX gets you air conditioning, heated outside mirrors plus heated front seats. The EX adds climate control, premium audio system and a power moonroof while the Touring offers leather seats (heated in front), navigation system and a rearview camera.
It could be argued that the newly energized Civic sedan is the car that Honda should have introduced for 2012, but at least the quick response in addressing concerns will impress the legions of Civic supporters and prove the automaker's ability to make rapid change.
The specs: 2013 Honda Civic sedan Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan Engines: 1.8-litre SOHC I4 (140 h.p.); 2.4-litre DOHC I4 (201 h.p.) Transmissions: Five-speed manual; five-speed automatic (optional) Fuel efficiency l/100 km (city/highway): 7.1/5.0 (automatic transmission). Base price (including destination): $16,900.
Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
The Civic remains a top-ranked vehicle in a highly competitive market. In this league, content is becoming as important as fuel economy since many buyers are downsizing out of larger cars with abundant features.
Rapid makeover yields a more desirable car; civic now positioned as premium compact model with higher base price than most competitors; suspension improvements should increase overall sportiness; high-output Si model should offer an automatic-transmission; look for competitors to match Honda's fast-fix strategy.
The competition Hyundai Elantra
Base price: $17,450 Stylish sedan can also be had in coupe and hatchback formats.
Base price: $17,600 All-new model offers lots of room plus choice of three engines.
Base price: $16,400 Compact car makes fuel economy and passenger space major priorities