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2013 HONDA CIVIC: Civic re-booted

Honda buys itself another year or two at top of family-sedan heap

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2013 Honda Civic

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The dials, chrome trim pieces and textured soft-touch materials make a world of difference, as do the new Civic's heated seats, standard across the lineup except for the base DX. And with added sound-deadening material, the cabin is far quieter.

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2011 Honda Civic DX-G for $13,495

2011 Honda Civic DX-G

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Senior Postmedia auto writers David Booth and Brian Harper give their take on the new 2013 Honda Civic.

BRIAN HARPER: "Canada's favourite car just got better." That's the tagline Honda Canada is using for its 2013 Civic Sedan, which goes on sale across the country Dec. 10.

If you follow the Honda party line, the changes to the 2013 model are essentially the result of a mid-cycle refreshening, since the then-new 2012 model debuted in April 2011.

But there's also a backstory: Hurt by criticism of the 2012 model -- notably uninspired exterior styling that was too derivative and a cheap, plasticky interior -- Honda has responded with a host of small but cumulatively important enhancements that should, it feels, safeguard the four-door Civic's long-standing status as the best-selling car in Canada.

So, what do you think?

DAVID BOOTH: It had to get better, although the biggest story is not the car, but the seeming lack of influence from the media -- the Civic's sales continued apace, increasing in the United States even, despite being universally panned.

Still, the Civic very much needed this redesign. Honda president and CEO Takanobu Ito fell on his sword admitting he de-contented the 2012 model in response to the Great Recession. It turns out it was unnecessary. Throw in controversial styling and you have a Civic that was selling because it was a Honda, not because it was an attractive car.

BH: I don't know if I would call the 2013 sedan attractive, but I will acknowledge that the exterior tweakings have made it a more stylish player within the compact four-door segment. The sculpted front end showcases the biggest improvement -- especially the stronger hood lines, the new open-mouth bumper with integrated foglights (on higher trim lines) and the black honeycomb mesh grille. The new wheels are killer, too. Walking up to it doesn't evoke the feelings of disappointment last year's model did.

DB: I think we can go whole hog and firmly state that the 2013 model is prettier than the 2012 one. By incorporating more styling cues from the new Accord, the upgraded Civic is much more typically Honda, which, in this case, is a massive improvement.

Often justifiably accused of penning boring designs, Honda is trying to awaken its inner playboy, only -- in the case of the 2012 -- it may have gotten a little too avant-garde. I think this current one, though not radically different, no longer looks like a prop from My Favorite Martian.

Combined with a thoroughly upgraded interior, the new Civic is a much more attractive package.

BH: Agreed, the interior upgrades are nice. The brief test drive was in the higher-end Touring model ($24,840) and not the base DX ($15,440), but the dials, the chrome trim pieces and the textured soft-touch materials make a world of difference. So do the heated seats, standard across the lineup (except for the base DX). And the added sound deadening throughout the car pays dividends -- the cabin is far quieter.

Again, instead of disappointment, there's almost a feeling of anticipation in getting behind the wheel.

DB: Anticipation? Is that anything like anticipating acceleration? The one disappointment still remaining is that it would be nice to have a bit more power than what the current 1.8-litre four-cylinder provides. More specifically, its 140 horsepower is sufficient, but I'd like a bit more than 128 pound-feet of low-end torque, especially when it's mated to the Touring's five-speed automatic transmission.

(It's worth noting that the base transmission is a five-speed manual. Who knew they still made manuals with five speeds?)

To move up, you have to order the top-of-the-line Si to get the 201-hp 2.4L four. That said, there's more noise insulation than ever, so the engine sounds more sophisticated.

BH: Actually, I don't think it's the 140 hp that's disappointing -- the power is competitive if not class-leading in the compact segment. Honda has stiffened up the front and rear suspension as well as made the steering ratio quicker. The Civic now has a sportier attitude to it, which I noticed when you took the ramp on to the highway with your customary aggressiveness.

But the car feels as though it could use more ponies to match the handling. Along with that, the ride quality seems a little better than before.

DB: The suspension has been slightly re-calibrated indeed, and it might be slightly firmer, although ride and handling has never been the Civic's problem, at least not against its immediate competition.

So, while these improvements are welcomed, what's really important are the stylistic changes inside and out that make the 2013 Civic much more appealing than the ill-fated 2012 version. Whether it's enough to keep the Honda at the top of the sales chart for the next three years, however, remains to be seen.

BH: I have to concur. If Honda's goal is to have the best-selling car, it has bought itself another year or two at the top of the heap. If its quest is to be the best -- a goal reportedly attributed to the company's president and CEO -- it has a much tougher fight on its hands.

-- Postmedia News

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