2013 Honda Civic Review

From hero to zero, at least it’s now back in the game

By Shahzad Sheikh

2013 Honda Civic

The 2006-2011 Honda Civic was always going to be tough act to follow. Rakish and striking style, sci-fi cabin, combined with keen dynamics, affordable running costs and perfect compact saloon practicality. It was a tad more expensive than most of the other Japanese cars in this segment, but buyers didn’t seem to mind, because it really was that good.

2013 Honda Civic

The much-anticipated 2012 Civic arrived to… well… universal condemnation. The ‘couldn’t-really-be-bothered’ styling was bad enough, but things got even worst when it came to the cabin. There had been cost-cutting on a blatant scale, and buyers were not amused.

2013 Honda Civic

Honda claims it gambled on the recession having chastised drivers into seeking out simpler cars – well that’s fine, but it’s not like the price was drastically cut. Admittedly, despite the criticism, sales in the all-important US market remained buoyant for the Civic.

2013 Honda Civic

But the Japanese car maker was clearly stung by the feedback, and in an unprecedented move – especially considering the previous Civic lasted a longer-than-normal six years – Honda has rushed out a heavily revised version in just one year.

So welcome the 2013 Honda Civic. The question is – have they fixed it then?

2013 Honda Civic

This was worthy of some investigation, so I drove the our test car – a top-spec VTI edition – all across the UAE over eight hours – in town, on motorways, on challenging mountain passes, over gravel and even a bit of sand – covering 500km in day.

2013 Honda Civic

Styling

Well there was no way they were going to chuck another couple of hundred million dollars or so to completely redesign the car in this space of time for ninth generation car. So it fundamentally remains the same. And yet, it’s so much better now.

2013 Honda Civic

It gets a much bolder and deeper Accord-style grille with a strong chrome underline, plus a completely new bumper with more chrome and black stretching between the foglights and giving far more character compared to the previous painting-by-numbers effort.

2013 Honda Civic

At the rear the 2012 car had cheapened out with corner-only taillights and what appeared to be a couple of inexpensive white reflectors on special offer at the bike accessories store stuck onto the boot panel. Thankfully they’re gone and instead there are properly style lamps continuing into the bootlid accented with a chrome strip.

2013 Honda Civic

It makes it look lower and wider at the rear and lower bumper has also been totally restyled – the whole back of the car now looks much more upmarket and classier.

2013 Honda Civic

Other changes

Whilst the engine and gearbox have not been touched – the suspension has been beefed up with thicker anti-roll bars, stiffer springs and revisions to the dampers. The steering too has been quickened.

2013 Honda Civic

There’s also a stronger front structure to meet harder front offset crash tests, there’s also thicker glass and more sound insulation materials. Inside the dashboard has been improved, most crucially the materials used are improved. They’re still plasticky and hard, but now they have graining on them to improve the look and feel. The quality of the buttons and switchgear has been improved.

2013 Honda Civic

So has the upholstery – basically anything that you would see, touch, feel or put your bum on has been tweaked for the better.

2013 Honda Civic

Performance

As mentioned the engine/transmission remains essentially unchanged, so you have a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine producing 139bhp at 6500rpm and 128lb ft torque at 4300rpm mated to a five-speed transmission. This gives a 0-100kph time of around 9.5 seconds and a top speed of around 190kph.

2013 Honda Civic

Now that’s all fine… if it was 2005! These days Volvo gets 200bhp out of a 1.6, and Alfa Romeo gets 170bhp out of a 1.4! Granted they’re both Turbos, but hey that seems to be the way to go these days.

2013 Honda Civic

Nor is much of the traditional high-revving, VTEC-kicking, wanna-go-screaming nature of Honda power plants of old still to be found. Despite the high peak-power rev band, there doesn’t seem to be much to gain near the red line, should you even be able to get close to it.

2013 Honda Civic

Having said that, around town and in traffic, the Civic feels perfectly adequate and even peppy at lower speeds and handling the cut-and-thrust of traffic won’t be a problem. Cruising is okay, but you won’t be spending the journey in the fast lane flashing others out of the way, but the engine remains unstressed.

2013 Honda Civic

At normal speeds I never found the car wanting. It was only when I got to the more challenging roads where I missed the oomph, and with the rather reticent gearbox (seriously – only FIVE gears?), and since there are no paddleshifts, you couldn’t work the transmission either. Not that that did much good when using the lever to try and hold the ratios – it just felt very unhappy.

2013 Honda Civic

Driving

So the ricers aren’t going to be jumping back on the Civic bandwagon looking for they’re next tuner special, at least not in this guise. And even once you get it up to speed on a nice bit of twisty road, it’s hard to maintain momentum because there is zero feel and feedback from the admittedly light steering.

Which is a shame because it’s one of the smallest steering wheels you can get, and feels nice and sporty to hold, even though it is surprisingly well loaded with buttons for this VTI spec car.

2013 Honda Civic

It’s certainly responsive, quick and accurate enough, but the scourge of the electronic steering sweeping the industry and replacing hydraulic systems, continues to leave its bitter taste here with Civic. Bitter because you get the sense that thanks to the improved suspension, and inherent goodness of the chassis, the there’s some small part of this little Honda deep down, that really would like to go play.

Grip is fantastic and understeer hardly apparent, poise and road holding is spot on, it’s just that there’s neither the power to exploit the hidden talent, nor is the helm tactile enough to extract that goodness in a satisfying manner.

2013 Honda Civic

Oh well, perhaps another time, maybe another day, hopefully another Type…?

Comfort

At least it rides remarkable well for a small car, the refinement is right up there and wind and road noise is quashed right down, which is where you feel the premium commanded by the Civic at point of purchase is finally justified.

2013 Honda Civic

Despite what I said about the apparently antiquated style of powertrain, overall the compact Honda feels a sophisticated and satisfying proposition.

It helps that it’s spacious and even a six-footer like me, having spent all day in the driver’s seat emerged with barely a complaint and never really felt the need to take a break. Adjustability and ergonomics is good.
All the controls are intuitive and familiar and that two-tier instrument panel display is another one of those (now rare) Honda ideas that you wonder why other manufacturers aren’t adopting wholesale.

2013 Honda Civic

The advantage of the digital display placed above alongside the info-display screen (which works very well and easily enough through the steering-wheel mounted control) works because there’s less need to refocus your eyes from the road. It’s akin to having heads-up display without the expensive projector set-up.

The Civic remains a practical and useful size with good visibility and easy to park and manoeuvre around parking lots, particularly with the reversing camera on this top-spec car.

2013 Honda Civic

Verdict

From being one of, if not the most desirable car in the segment, Honda slipped a long way with the 2011 model and was in danger of becoming ancient history, if not for its fast reaction, which is totally commendable considering good sales in the US market could easily have been lauded as justification for the unacclaimed Civic.

Just for admitting that they got it wrong and acting quickly to address the criticism, Honda’s effort has to be appreciated.

2013 Honda Civic

But it doesn’t mean that in one short jump the Civic has instantly reclaimed its mantle. It patently has not. There’s an all-new Corolla on its way, the Koreans are going great guns, and a strong contender in this segment in my view now is the Ford Focus. The Civic doesn’t trump that one.

2013 Honda Civic

What it does do, and this will come as a big relief to the haggard Honda engineers, is put itself back in contention. The Civic should definitely be put back on to shortlists. You simply should not buy a new car in this category in this price bracket without at least checking out the new Civic, because it may just win you back.

Roll on 2016 when we’d expect to see the 10th generation Civic.

Specs

2013 Honda Civic
How much?
Civic 1.8 LXi – AED74,999 ($20,400)
Civic 1.8 EXi – AED79,999 ($21,800)
Civic 1.8 EXi high-spec – AED84,999 ($23,100)
Civic 1.8 VTi – AED89,999 ($24,500)
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder, 139bhp @ 6500rpm, 128lb ft @ 4300rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 7.5L/100km
Performance: 0-100kph 9.5 seconds, Top speed 190kph
Weight: 1305kg

Let us know what you think of the new Civic below

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