It's rather unprecedented for a car company to launch a mid-cycle freshening after merely 18 months on the market. But that's exactly what Honda did after our criticism of the 2012 Civic.
Shortly after Honda launched the 2012 Civic, we tested it. The resulting overall test score, based on more than 50 individual tests, was too low to meet the threshold for being recommended. The 2012 redesign was a measured step back, and, unfortunately came at a time when many competitors stepped up their game. (And we weren't the only media outlet to notice.) We've now driven the freshened model back to back with the 2012 one and can say that it's a marked improvement.
What bugged us about the 2012 Civic? Here are a few criticisms:
Choppy ride made the car jumpy and nervous.
Lackluster handling produced reluctant response in corners.
Vague steering, especially when Hondas used to have such good feedback.
Elevated road noise created a loud, fatiguing cabin environment.
Low-rent interior with drab materials and cheap plastics.
Normally, a model gets a freshening about halfway into its life cycle, typically four to six years. The Civic's freshening and the prominent announcement at a major auto show indicates how critical the Civic is for Honda. More motivating for the company, we think, is the fact that the Civic didn't qualify as being a recommended model by Consumer Reports.
We just experienced the new Civic, borrowed from Honda. At first, it feels very familiar and you might think this is just a cosmetic job, but as the miles rolled on it became clear the ride is no longer choppy. In fact it's quite good for the class. While road noise is not eradicated, it is considerably reduced—you no longer get that loud drumming every time you hit coarse pavement or concrete.
Handling is more responsive, too, with more prompt turn-in and less body lean. Also, the steering now has a modicum of feedback and decent weighting.
The interior is richer with some chrome accents and a soft dash top in front of the passenger. Elbow touch-points have soft padding on the front doors. An automatic climate control is a nice surprise for the EX version and a rear-view camera is standard across the board. Price goes up $160 for all versions.
It's always good to see a high-volume car getting better, and we're glad our constructive criticism helped bringing about such an improvement. We're going to buy our own 2013 model soon to test, and we think it will rank higher among its peers. Ultimately, this is the car Honda should have launched in the first place.