2012 Honda Civic EX
2012 Honda Civic EX. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Michael Schlee

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2012 Honda Civic

Smell is a curious sense.  Often overlooked, smell can instantly change someone’s mood, disposition or train of thought.  It can be a key trigger of long forgotten memories; a certain perfume, food or outdoor aura can transport our minds back in time.  Steve Pearce, one of the United Kingdom’s premiere experts on smell explains: “It’s the direct extension of the brain. Its direct contact means we get a very quick, very intensive reaction to odours.”

This was the reaction I had upon first taking a seat in the 2012 Honda Civic EX Sedan.  After a few breaths behind the steering wheel, it was like I got an electric shock to my brain and was transported back to 1996, when I was driving to high school in my friend’s then brand-new 1996 Honda Civic.  It was the smell of the cloth seats, plastics or adhesives in this brand new Civic that were identical to those in that car I spent many days and nights in 16 years ago.  After a little more pondering, it occurred to me that all Honda Civics I have been in since the mid-90’s have had that certain aroma.

Maybe that smell contains a magical formula for sales success.  For 14 consecutive years, the Honda Civic has been the number one selling car in Canada.  Or maybe, the Civic has always just been that good.  However, in 2011, the Civic almost lost its sales crown to the Hyundai Elantra, and the recently-introduced all-new 2012 Civic has received luke-warm reviews from critics.  So the question is; has the Civic still got it?

2012 Honda Civic EX
2012 Honda Civic EX
2012 Honda Civic EX. Click image to enlarge

Rather than test a fully loaded edition of the Civic, we opted for a mid-level trim that would better reflect how many Canadians would option this car out.  The vehicle chosen was the 2012 Honda Civic EX automatic.  Although this trim may have a few features potential buyers in the compact car segment do not care about, like a power moonroof or six-speaker stereo, there are some glaring omissions on the one step lower LX package.  Only in the EX (or higher) do you get an exterior temperature indicator, variable intermittent wipers, auto-up/down driver’s window and rear disc brakes (opposed to the standard drums).

All of this gear leads to an as tested MSRP of $20,940, which puts it on par, price-wise, with its number one competitor, the similarly equipped Hyundai Elantra GLS automatic. Even with the Elantra adding four heated seats at this price point, the Civic is still a bargain.  This pricing strategy in no small part helped the Civic remain Canada’s best seller last year.  So how has Honda kept the price so low on a vehicle with such a great reliability track record?  Simple, as in ‘keep it simple’.

While most competitors have upgraded to a six-speed automatic or gone the CVT route, the 2012 Civic makes do with a five-speed automatic.  The 1.8-litre engine is a carryover single overhead cam unit which produces 140 hp.  Although these specifications may not overly impress, power delivery is immediate and propels the 1,255 kg Civic adequately.  The transmission delivers good initial grunt but by the time it reaches highway speeds it begins to fall a little flat as it walks the line between fuel efficiency and staying in the power band.  Bottom line, the Civic could greatly benefit from a sixth gear.  That said, the Civic can more than get out of its own way at any legal speed.

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