Recently, Consumer Reports gave the 2012 Honda Civic sedan a "not recommended" rating — a first for the popular compact. In the automotive world, that's equivalent to S&P lowering the U.S. debt rating. Our tester was the coupe version. We don't have a test track like CR, but we didn't see any substantial issues.
Appearance: The aerodynamic design is more of a tweak than an overhaul. There are a few more body creases but it keeps the familiar Civic coupe profile. (If it ain't broke . . .) The grille is smaller and sleeker, which struck Peter as less of an improvement than change for change's sake. In the rear, there's more design interest, thanks to an integrated spoiler on the trunk lid.
Performance: While CR faulted the Civic's braking distance, we had no problems in city driving. While the brakes were responsive, the steering feel — another CR criticism — is indeed light; Lyra found it much too sensitive. The 2,778-pound car can be skittish on highway bumps and you'll feel the wind on stormy days. The Civic borrows some of Honda's hybrid vehicle ideas: As in the Insight, there's an Econ mode for more fuel-efficient driving. Just push the green button on the dash; the acceleration in this mode is sluggish. Another hybridlike feature: The digital speedometer, part of the dash's Insight-like display, turns green when driving conservatively. If you have a heavy foot, it turns blue. In either mode, the five-speed automatic shifts smoothly.
Interior: The first thing we noticed is the easy-entry passenger seat for rear access; even Lyra's 8-year-old son could get in and out by himself. And the door is light, so he could close it. If you have young kids, this is important in a two-door car. Yes, CR, the interior noise is noticeable, but we didn't find it any more pronounced than in other compacts we've driven. Materials? The thing that jumped out at us were the AC and temperature dials, which seemed a bit cheap. The seats are comfortable, although Lyra would like a bit more bolstering. The futuristic, split-level dashboard panel takes some adjustment for the driver, but the key gauges — speedo and fuel — sit high and are easy to read at a glance. We also like the gauge's 3-D appearances. Some other things we liked: the big nook in front of the shifter for gadgets and coins; an ergonomically friendly steering wheel with phone and voice recognition buttons that can be pressed from the back; and a quick-cooling AC. For a compact car, the Civic coupe has great trunk space (11.7 cubic feet).
Our 3 favorites
Econ mode: I appreciate the hybrid influence.
Gauges: Like Lyra, I think the futuristic look is appealing.
Looks: There's no wow factor, it's just a sleek and attractive little coupe.
Voice recognition: System understood commands well.
Design update: More curves and details, but not a far departure from previous model.
Gauges: Crisp two-tiered, easy-to-read instrument panel.
The bottom line: An argument can be made that the new Civic isn't as good as previous generations, but that's only because the competition keeps getting better and better. With its history of reliability, we still think it's a safe bet.