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Whenever someone asks me for a list of some the best cars in the world, the Honda Civic has always been on it. Since it was first launched in 1972 as an early '73 model, the Civic has been a staple for reliability, handling, and even performance. Never considered to be stylish, this changed in 2006 with the eighth generation. While it aged well, Honda has now launched an all-new Civic for 2012. Possibly being mistaken as a refresh rather than a complete redesign, the new Civic bears a striking resemblance to the older car.
Considering it was such a huge leap forward in both interior and exterior design, it was a challenge to duplicate that level of revolution. Instead, designers and engineers went for a more evolutionary look, taking inspiration from the "one motion" concept from 2006. Available in both two and four-door configurations (again, no five-door hatchback will be offered in the U.S.), the ninth-generation Civic has restyled bodywork featuring a new front fascia and headlights combined with a mesh grille. Out back, there are large taillights that have more of an elegant look as they flow into the rear bumper.
When looking at the coupe, we couldn't help but notice similarities to the Accord Coupe, which is no bad thing. As a whole, the Civic's updated look is a very well done natural progression from the previous model. Stepping inside, you'll also find a similar wraparound dash design, now more angled more towards the driver. In fact, it's a bit more radical than before, something which Honda isn't afraid of doing. Again going with the two layer approach, the upper screen section houses Honda's new i-MID system (intelligent Multi-Information Display), which has a five-inch LCD screen for navigation and other information.
Fit and finish is of the typical caliber that Honda never fails to deliver on, however, material quality is a bit disappointing. Instead of using soft-touch materials throughout, Honda went with harder plastics for supposed improved durability. Compared to new competitors such as the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra, the Civic's cabin has an overall less up-scale feel. While it's far from poor quality, it is a little surprising that Honda opted for the slight downgrade. Sizing up the new model, Honda has shortened the sedan's wheelbase by 1.2 inches and the coupe's by 1.1 inches, yet still managed to increase interior space.
There's more rear legroom than the Focus, Elantra, and Cruze. Standard power comes from the same 1.8-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder with 140 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque in the previous generation. Transmission options also continue to be a five-speed manual or an optional five-speed automatic. Honda still updated things by adding full electronic power-steering, aerodynamic improvements, and some friction reduction in the engine. This has resulted in an improved EPA rated fuel economy of 28/39 mpg city/highway, an increase of 3 mpg for both city and highway over the 2011 model.
In order to improve fuel economy, Honda has also added their Eco Assist system on all trims, except for the Si. Previously reserved only for the Insight and CR-Z, it features bars to the left and right of the speedometer that change from blue to green whenever the car is driven more efficiently. Honda also added a new Econ mode button that will automatically adjust the car's throttle-by-wire, transmission shifting, and the air conditioning for even more fuel saving. Pricing starts at $15,605 for the coupe and $15,805 for the sedan.
Hybrid, Natural Gas, and HF models are also offered along with the Si coupe and sedan, which are now powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder instead of the old 2.0-liter unit, and produce 201 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. Honda has fired back at the competition with a new and improved Civic that remains as solid as ever. While some new players have been thrown into the ring, the Civic is more than prepared to stand its ground as one of the best cars ever built.