Pros: Plentiful model variations; good fuel economy

Cons: Drab interior; uninspired driving experience

The Honda Civic made its original U.S. debut in the 1973 model year, and with its power front disc brakes, the Civic was immediately ahead of the curve of other subcompact cars of the era. Over the years, the Civic's popularity has grown until it has become one of the most solid citizens on the small-car market. For 2012, customers have more variations of the Civic to choose from than ever before: Civic, Civic Natural Gas, Civic Hybrid, Civic Si and the high-efficiency Civic HF.

Comfort & Utility

The best way to describe the Civic is interior to say that it's "regular." We mean that in the best possible way. All too often, automakers get caught up in overwhelming interiors packed with advanced technology, carbon fiber trim and excessive numbers of buttons. Many modern automotive interiors can make drivers feel claustrophobic. The Civic interior is anything but.

Well, perhaps it's overly gray, but the Civic's interior is simple, sturdy, no-frills and serves its purpose. All the bits are robust and well built, with no extraneous items to worry about ruining or breaking; in short, the kind of interior found in vehicles of yesteryear. The interior is one that, if left in the care of a rambunctious labradoodle, would come through virtually unscathed.

The Civic isn't a big car, but delightfully the interior isn't small. Even tall drivers will find it roomy and comfortable in every direction, which is truly rare in small, fuel-efficient vehicles of any kind.

Technology

The latest generation of the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System is available on Civic EX, Civic EX-L, Civic Si, Civic Natural Gas and Civic Hybrid models and features a 6.5-inch display and a fast 16-GB flash memory in place of the DVD-based system used on previous Civics. Turn-by-turn driving directions appear on both the navigation screen and on the new color i-MID display, which is positioned high in the instrument panel close to the driver's line of sight.

The Bluetooth HandsFreeLink interface is designed to offer hands-free operation for many Bluetooth-enabled mobile telephones. Standard on Civic EX, Civic EX-L, Civic Si, Civic Natural Gas and Civic Hybrid, the system wirelessly connects the driver's cell phone to the vehicle's audio system. This allows the driver to make or answer cell phone calls without removing hands from the steering wheel.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Honda's 2012 Civic comes with a choice of gasoline, hybrid and compressed natural gas powertrains. At the top end in the Si Coupe and Sedan is the 2.4-liter i-VTEC 4 that makes 201 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, mated to a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission.

The Civic Hybrid has an ultra-efficient 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine with Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) that makes 110 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque, along with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), resulting in 44 mpg in both city and highway driving.

The standard Civic sedan, coupe and HF models are powered by a 140-hp 1.8-liter i-VTEC 4 engine that makes 128 lb-ft of torque. Civic Sedan and Coupe models offer a choice of a standard five-speed manual transmission or an available five-speed automatic transmission. The Civic HF comes with a standard automatic transmission. The Sedan and Coupe achieve 28/31 mpg with the five-speed manual and 28/32 mpg with the five-speed automatic transmission. The HF, true to its High Efficiency moniker, gets 29/41 mpg.

The Civic Natural Gas, powered, as its name suggests, by compressed natural gas (CNG), gets a variant of the standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 110 hp and 106 lb-ft of torque and comes with a standard five-speed automatic transmission. It's good for 27/38 mpg.

Safety

The 2012 Civic exemplifies Honda's dedication to safety. The Civic incorporates the newest generation of Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), ABS with Brake Assist, side curtain airbags, front side airbags with a passenger's side Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS) and a front seat design that can help reduce the severity of neck injury in the event of a rear collision.

Similar to the previous generation of Civic, an Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure in the front of the vehicle helps make the vehicle absorb and disburse energy in case of a front-end crash.

Additional standard safety features include dual-stage, multiple-threshold front airbags, front seatbelts with automatic tensioning system and load limiter and front-end pedestrian injury mitigation.

Driving Impressions

The simplicity of the Civic is palpable, and it has a wonderfully effortless driving feel. There are no satellite navigation systems, flashy screens or hands-free Bluetooth setups to distract.

Braking is forgiving but firm. The steering is light but exact. The climate control is laid out in a highly intuitive fashion. The drivetrain barely makes noise. And, although it's a very fuel-frugal vehicle, it's got power to get up and go if you need it. Viewed with a positive attitude, this is a Zen-like driving experience.

Other Cars to Consider

Subaru Impreza - Starting at $17,495, the base Impreza costs a couple thousand more than the $15,755 for the base Civic Coupe, but for that extra cash investment, customers get all-wheel drive and a significantly nicer interior complete with soft-touch dash.

Hyundai Elantra - Starting at $15,345, the Elantra is cheaper than the Civic, too, which is good. What's even better, the Elantra just won the 2012 North American Car of the Year award. What's best, for the money, the Elantra includes a 100,000-mile warranty.

Volkswagen Jetta - Starting at $15,515, the Jetta is shockingly cheap. For this newest generation, VW has pared the Jetta down to its bare bones to attract entry-level shoppers. For folks wanting to join the German motoring world without breaking the bank, the Jetta is a great place to start.

AutoTrader Recommends

We recommend buyers look past the base model to the HF, which starts at $19,605. The HF looks sleeker than the standard Civic because it shares its body panels with the Civic Hybrid. It also offers 41 mpg on the highway without adding thousand of pounds of hybrid components and batteries, proving that simple is indeed best.

author photo

Nick Jaynes developed a passion for writing about cars working his way through Journalism School as a Volvo mechanic. When he's not writing, Nick can be seen hosting the popular automotive web-show DownForce Motoring. In his free-time, Nick collects vintage cars, trucks, and motorcycles.

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