Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Globe and Mail: Honda unveils 2012 Civic

New model will start rolling off the assembly line in April;

Just as the Honda Civic Coupe “concept” was making its Canadian premiere at the Canadian International Auto Show last week, the company released details and photos of the actual production coupe, sedan and hybrid versions, scheduled to arrive this spring in Canada.

The 2012 Civic is to start rolling off assembly lines in Alliston, Ont., and Greensburg, Indiana, in April, and it’s obvious that fuel economy will remain a calling card of this Civic, even in non-hybrid versions. Its base 1.8-litre engine will produce 140 hp, as well as fuel efficiency ratings of 7.2 litres/100 km city/5.0 highway, a 12 per cent improvement over the miserly current Civic four-door.

But Honda is also dropping a notably larger 2.4-litre engine into the Si versions of the Civic, both sedan and coupe (no hatchback yet, unfortunately). Top-end power is not much changed, at 200 hp versus 197, though the driver is most likely to feel the added torque, which is bumped up to a peak of 170 lb-ft versus the current model’s 139 lb-ft.

So the top-line performance Civic will not require as much redline-screaming for quick passing, although a new six-speed transmission for Si models may still encourage such shenanigans for fun. Even with the increased displacement and torque, fuel economy is said to be increased by 2 per cent.

For those enamoured with the rakish Ford Focus sedan or hatchback, or the similarly eye-catching Hyundai Elantra, the Civic is not going to come close to generating the style points of those two, or of the current-generation Mazda3. Redesigned for 2010, the Mazda3 was the vehicle that came closest to knocking the Civic off of its 13-year perch at the top of the Canadian car sales charts. In the long tradition of the Civic and Toyota Corolla, it's steady as she goes on the design front, lest some wayward curve offend any particular aesthetic sense anywhere in the world.

Granted, this is no major surprise, since the “concept” versions of the Civic coupe and sedans shown at the Detroit, Montreal and Toronto auto shows were clearly very near production models. Still, some may lament the loss of the concept’s striking centre-mounted exhaust, smoked grey wheels and LED fog lights didn’t make it to production.

During a visit to the Alliston plant last fall, Honda executives said the delay in rolling out a new Civic was because spiking fuel prices in 2008 convinced the company that the ’12 Civic had grown too heavy, and that it had to focus on fuel economy and stop the perpetual enlargements that have come with every new Civic generation. But other accounts say the delay was a result of a spending freeze prompted by the global financial crisis, while some reports say Honda execs saw what was coming down the pipe from other auto makers, Ford and Hyundai especially, and simply knew they had to do better.

No fuel economy estimates were released for the Civic hybrid sedan, but it will be powered by a 110 hp 1.5-litre four and a CVT, similar to the CR-Z, though with no manual option.

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