$6,625 - $12,032

2012 Honda Civic Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 Honda Civic was new.


Performance: 8.2

When test drivers discuss the 2012 Honda Civic’s performance, they always compare the Civic to its competition. The Civic has a strong engine, but the Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, and Ford Focus are just as good and have comparable prices. The Civic has a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission on all but the Si, the high performance version, but competitors have six-speed transmissions, which are better because they enhance performance. Fuel economy ratings on the Civic are good, and the Civic HF (high fuel-efficiency) is a nice addition to the lineup, but the Elantra and Cruze’s ratings are just as good, and they aren’t as expensive as the Civic.

These comments point to a common statement among reviewers. The 2012 Honda Civic is good, but it’s not great, so if you’re looking for an alternative, there are plenty out there.

  • "At a press event in Washington, D.C., I test-drove the new Civic sedan back-to-back with the 2011 Civic, a 2011 Elantra, and a 2011 Corolla (but unfortunately not the new Focus and Cruze). What that experience made abundantly clear is that the new Civic handles better than the old one, and the Hyundai offers very tough competition when it comes to quickness and handling. The Corolla doesn't come close." -- BusinessWeek
  • "Though you do hear the engine, at least it's a smooth one. The car does a good job of blocking the whooshing noise of tires on wet pavement, which typically comes from the rear wheels." -- Cars.com
  • "Essentially a carry-over from the previous generation, the engine does enjoy a few changes that add a bit more torque down low and reduce internal friction. The four-cylinder stills spins happily, but less of the noise enters the cabin. Without that noise, the engine doesn’t seem to be working as hard as it did in the ‘11 Civic." -- Car and Driver

Acceleration and Power

The industry is most excited about the Civic’s improved fuel economy ratings. Honda says the entire Civic line has better fuel economy than the previous generation. There’s even a new High Fuel-Efficiency (HF) model.

The Civic HF, natural gas and base sedan and coupe models get the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine found in the 2011 model. As for power, don’t get excited. Honda says this engine only makes 140 horsepower, which is also what the 2011 model makes. The HF is only available with a five-speed automatic transmission, but the base DX trim comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. An automatic is optional on the DX and LX trims, but when you upgrade to the EX trim, the automatic is standard. Reviewers wish Honda offered six-speed automatic and manual transmissions because that’s what the competition has.

Reviewers are enthusiastic about the Civic’s expected fuel economy ratings. The EPA says the Civic HF will get 29/41 mpg city/highway, and the base sedan and coupe will get up to 28/39 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission, which is up from the 36 mpg the 2011 sedan and coupe averaged.

If you like the Civic, but want something with better performance, the Honda Civic Si is a good alternative. It has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that’s mated to a six-speed manual transmission. This engine is more powerful than the 2011 model. It makes 200 horsepower and 170 pound feet of torque, up from the 2011 Si’s 197 horsepower and 139 pound feet of torque. Honda says the 2012 Si is also more fuel efficient, and should get 31 mpg on the highway, an increase of two mpg compared to last year.

The Civic Si may boast impressive fuel economy, but some test drivers think that in terms of performance, it can’t compete with the MazdaSpeed3 and the Volkswagen GTI. The GTI, for example, starts at about $23,700 for the two-door and makes 200 horsepower, which is just as much as the Si that has a 2.0-liter TSI engine. Reviewers call it one of the best performing small cars on the market, which is praise they don’t give the Si. The MazdaSpeed3 has the most power, making 263 horsepower with a 2.3-liter DOCH DISI turbo four-cylinder engine. The MazdaSpeed3 is priced at $23,700. The Si is about $1,500 less than the GTI and MazdaSpeed3, but if you’re after top-notch performance, spending more for the GTI or MazdaSpeed3 may be worth it.

The same goes for the base Civic. Reviewers have noticed that its performance is good, but not great. There’s more body lean than there used to be, and the steering isn’t precise. Their recommendations remain the same. Try the Hyundai Elantra or Chevrolet Cruze before buying a Honda Civic.

  • "The 2012 Civic Hybrid benefits from a larger gas engine, a 1.5-liter four-cylinder replacing a 1.3-liter. It combines with a more powerful electric motor for quicker acceleration yet improves mileage from 40/43 mpg in the 2011 to 44/44 mpg. You can feel the difference off the line, and though there's still some delay as the continuously variable automatic transmission whirs away, it's more responsive than before and more linear than the Toyota Prius." -- Cars.com
  • "However, the Civic's small size and nimble suspension make it feel relatively sporty. The car's appeal has always been its quickness once it's rolling, from about 25 mph to 65 mph. In that speed range the Civic really jumps when you give it gas." -- BusinessWeek
  • "On the power side of the equation, the new Si’s around-town response seems a little more vigorous, delivering more thrust at lower rpm. And, although we miss the high-rpm scream of the 2.0, the 2.4-liter’s exhaust note has an authoritative tenor snarl. The question remains, however, whether the Si’s tiny horsepower increase will put it any closer to its hot-hatch rivals from Mazda and VW in a straight line. And we have yet to experience the hot ST version of the new Ford Focus." -- Car and Driver
  • "The Civic soldiers on with a five-speed automatic at a time when most of its competitors are packing six ratios." -- AutoblogGreen

Fuel Economy: Hybrid and High Fuel-Efficiency Models

Honda already makes the Civic Hybrid, but this year, the automaker adds a new fuel-efficient option to the list, the High Fuel-Efficiency (HF) model. Only available as a sedan, the nearly $19,500 HF gets 41 mpg on the highway with a 1.8-liter in-line four-cylinder engine, which in terms of ratings, is great for the class. However, at this price, there are better options.

The nearly $15,000 Hyundai Elantra gets an EPA-estimated 29/40 mpg city/highway, and that’s for the base model with either a manual or automatic transmission. Sure, you’ll get one less mpg on the highway, but you’ll save about $4,000. The Chevrolet Cruze also has an ECO trim, which costs about $18,500, slotting it between the Elantra and the HF. According to the EPA, the Cruze averages 26/37 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission, which is less than what the Elantra and HF get. Cruze ECOs with a manual transmission have higher ratings at 28/42 mpg city/highway.

Handling and Braking

This year, Honda made vehicle stability control a standard feature on the 2012 Civic, and journalists say this system works. Other than that, reviewers think the Civic’s handling abilities are just OK. One says the 2012 Civic drives larger than the 2011 model, which is not a good thing, and there’s less steering feedback. Others say there’s more body roll and understeer than they expected.

  • "Modifications to the electric power steering include a slower ratio and a rack that is more rigidly mounted. Compared to its predecessor, the new Civic turns into corners with less authority, which adds to the car’s larger feel. The electric power steering is very numb, providing less feedback than before. Overall, the car’s stiffer body, increased sound deadening, and sleepier steering are more about maturity than playfulness." -- Car and Driver
  • "The Civic has more body roll than I'd expect, though, and nowhere is it more surprising than in the sporty Si, a coupe version of which I tossed around an autocross course. The shifting weight doesn't help the car's grip when making quick directional changes. I watched the cars going around the course, and the body roll was equally clear from the outside." -- Cars.com 
  • "Still, we can't help but feel that the springs and dampers are a little on the soft side in sedan guise. In more aggressive driving, the four door serves up characteristic understeer with a good amount of body roll for the class. Fortunately, hopping into the coupe alleviates most of that feeling." -- Autoblog

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