2013 Honda Civic Road Test and Review: Introduction
Honda is unaccustomed to fumbling the ball, but has handled a botched redesign of the 2012 Civic with impressive speed and grace. The new-and-improved 2013 Civic is the car that should have debuted last year, and its arrival renders the 2012 version an orphan within Civic history.
Not that consumers took any notice. Despite its lackluster redesign, one clearly reflecting budget cuts made during the new model’s gestation during global economic difficulties, the Civic remained the most popular compact car in the country, the third best-selling model of 2012 after the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Nearly 310,000 new Civics found homes in American driveways last year, despite near universal criticism for the new model. That’s the power of a good reputation in action.
Nevertheless, Honda didn’t want critics to spend the next half-decade bashing the Civic for its cheap interior materials, loud cabin, and uncharacteristically dull driving dynamics, so it performed the equivalent of emergency surgery on one of the most important cars it manufactures, fixing what was wrong and transforming the car into something that bolsters the company’s reputation rather than damages it.
The 2013 Honda Civic is sold as a 2-door coupe or a 4-door sedan. Both are offered in LX, EX, EX-L, and Si trim levels. Additionally, the Civic Sedan is available in HF, Hybrid, and Natural Gas derivatives. Prices range from $18,755 for a Honda Civic LX Coupe to $27,850 for a Honda Civic Hybrid equipped with leather and a navigation system. As this review is written, Honda has not priced the 2013 Civic Natural Gas, which in 2012 was the most expensive variant at $28,595 with the optional navigation system.
All 2013 Honda Civic models are equipped with Bluetooth hands-free connectivity with streaming music and hands-free text-messaging capability, an Eco Assist system, SmartVent side-impact airbags, a single-angle reversing camera, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and a 160-watt audio system with Pandora Internet radio, a USB port, and an auxiliary audio input jack.
My test car is the Civic EX Sedan wearing a window sticker of $21,605. Compared to the LX model, the EX adds two additional speakers, variable intermittent wipers, a 60/40-split folding rear seat with a center armrest and cupholders, a single-zone automatic climate control system, and a power sunroof. An automatic transmission is also standard, along with rear disc brakes and 16-inch aluminum wheels.2013 Honda Civic Road Test and Review: Design
- Strengthened body structure
- Front and rear styling
- New wheel designs
- New exterior colors
- New black interior color
- Standard black carpeting
- Upgraded interior materials
When the 2006 Honda Civic went on sale, it was radical in appearance, a car that looked like it had been teleported from the future. Even today, and despite its ubiquity, the 2006-2011 Civic looks modern rather than mainstream. It is a tough act to follow, and the new 2012 Civic Sedan looked downright dowdy by comparison.
For 2013, the Civic Sedan gets new front and rear bumpers, new headlights and taillights, a new grille, a new hood, a new trunk lid, and new wheels. Usually, Honda reserves such changes for a mid-cycle refresh. But something drastic needed to be done, and fast. The revised styling gives the 2013 Civic Sedan a more refined and upscale appearance. I’m not a fan of the pinwheel-design rims with their black-painted pockets, though.
Inside, a similar transformation has occurred. The familiar two-tiered dashboard design remains, now exhibiting improved tones, textures, trim, and materials combined with a reduction in jarring seams. Honda has upgraded the seat fabrics and headliner material, installed standard black carpeting, and offers a new Black interior color in addition to the existing Gray and Beige selections.
The overall effect of these changes cannot be understated. The 2012 Civic’s interior looked old, almost as though it could be hosed out on cleaning day. The 2013 Civic’s cabin looks upscale and technical, sophisticated, giving the impression that you’re getting more than you paid for.2013 Honda Civic Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- New seat fabrics
- Additional soundproofing material
- Thicker windshield and side window glass
The 2013 Honda Civic is a comfortable car, front and rear, providing occupants with tall seating positions, good thigh support, and excellent outward visibility. Even with tall people riding in the front seats, rear occupants enjoy plenty of foot room and decent legroom. Plus, the Civic is fairly easy to get into and out of, even in tight parking spaces. If I have any quibble with the Civic comfort levels, it’s that the driver’s seat doesn’t slide far enough back to accommodate my 33-inch inseam legs.
Thanks to additional sound insulation and thicker side glass, the 2013 Civic is almost silent inside, especially at lower driving speeds. Even on the highway, the constant tire sizzle and road boom typical of less expensive Honda products is largely absent. You know what? I didn’t miss it one bit.
The Civic’s interior provides numerous spots to stash stuff. The 12.5 cu.-ft. trunk is big enough for a compact car, but nothing extraordinary; EX models are equipped with a 60/40-split folding rear seat, which helps. The Civic does not, however, have a trunk closing assist grip, which would also help.2013 Honda Civic Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Civic DX cancelled
- Standard Bluetooth hands-free connectivity
- Standard Bluetooth streaming audio
- Standard Pandora Internet radio capability
- Standard USB port/iPod connection
- Standard SMS text messaging
One of the more radical elements of the 2006-2011 Civic was its 2-tiered dashboard design and mix of analog and digital instrumentation. This approach defines the inside of the 2013 Civic as well, the displays rendered with crisp, clean, and colorful graphics accompanied by a standard multi-information display that doubles as a reversing camera screen. The center control panel is canted toward the driver, positioned high and equipped with big knobs and buttons with clear markings.
Generally speaking, I’m a fan of this approach, even if it looks strange. The design helps to keep the driver’s line of sight high when referencing information, and the controls are easy to find and intuitive to use. This is also the first Civic I’ve driven in a long time that hasn’t had an optional navigation system; I much prefer the standard array of stereo buttons and knobs seen here.
Wisely, given how important Generation Y is to the Civic’s success, the car is equipped with Bluetooth hands-free calling and music streaming as standard equipment for 2013. The new Civic also provides a standard USB port for iPod connectivity, Pandora Internet radio capability, and to help ensure younger buyers remain alive to buy more Hondas in the future, SMS text messaging capability.2013 Honda Civic Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- Advanced Compatibility Engineering II body structure
- Standard SmartVent side-impact airbags
- Standard reversing camera
- Optional Lane Departure Warning system (Hybrid)
- Optional Forward Collision Warning system (Hybrid)
Speaking of staying alive, the Civic benefits from three key safety advancements for 2013, in addition to standard SMS text messaging capability.
The car’s underlying structure is upgraded to Advanced Compatibility Engineering II standards employing a greater amount of high-strength steel, which is expected to help the Civic perform well in the new small overlap offset frontal-impact test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Honda also installs new SmartVent side-impact airbags for the front seat occupants, and adds a standard reversing camera.
Additionally, Honda announced that the Civic Hybrid would be offered with a Lane Departure Warning system and a Forward Collision Warning system. Unfortunately, at this time, there are no plans to offer these features on the mainstream models, a questionable approach.
2013 Honda Civic Sedan Crash-Test Ratings:
As this review is written, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not rate the 2013 Civic for crash-test performance. That’s because the car requires new tests given its structural changes. Last year’s Civic received a 5-star overall rating, so it’s a good bet that the upgraded 2013 model will match it.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2013 Civic is a “Top Safety Pick.” Note, however, that the Civic has not been subjected to the small overlap frontal-impact test as this review is written, so the car’s new structural elements have not been tested yet.2013 Honda Civic Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- Re-tuned suspension
- Revised steering
The 2013 Honda Civic Sedan is offered with a choice of engines and transmissions. Civic LX, EX, EX-L, and HF models have a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder with a 5-speed automatic transmission. The LX model can also be sold with a 5-speed manual transmission, while the HF model is calibrated to get better fuel economy. A gas-electric Civic Hybrid model is also available, and in some states Honda sells a Civic Natural Gas model that runs on natural gas, naturally. Finally, there is the performance-tuned Civic Si model, which is equipped with a more powerful 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine paired exclusively with a 6-speed manual gearbox.
My Civic EX Sedan test car had the most common Civic powertrain, a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 5-speed automatic transmission. The engine makes 140 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 128 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,300 rpm, adequate for the 2,855-lb. Civic EX Sedan. An Eco Assist system is standard, and modifies transmission shifting to help conserve fuel.
According to Honda, the EPA rates the Civic at 28 mpg in the city, 39 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg in combined driving. During my time with the Civic EX, in a mix of city and highway driving, half covered with the Eco Assist system engaged, the Civic averaged 29.9 mpg.2013 Honda Civic Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
Pushing the Honda Civic’s “Econ” button noticeably alters the car’s driving character. If you want a Civic to feel zippy, energetic, like a new puppy tearing around the house, push the Econ button until the Eco Assist system is turned off. If you want a Civic that feels a little slow, a little hazy, like a person who just did a shot of Nyquil before bedtime, push the Econ button until the Eco Assist system is turned on.
With the Eco Assist system engaged, the Civic’s transmission upshifts to higher gears as soon as is practical, and is unwilling to downshift for passing or hill climbing unless the driver makes it really, really, really clear that extra oomph would be desirable. Most of the time, this behavior is an acceptable trade for the promise of improved fuel economy.
If you’re a fan of Civics of old, you’ll prefer driving this car with the Eco Assist system disengaged. The car feels sharper, livelier, and more responsive that way, holding gears longer, downshifting faster, and easily maintaining speed on hills. During my weeklong test drive, we covered half the miles with the Econ mode engaged, and half with it switched off. The result was an average of 29.9 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.
Equipped with Grade Logic Control, the Civic’s transmission is one smart cookie. In Econ mode, it always tries to maximize fuel economy unless the driver really dips into the throttle. Out of Econ mode, the transmission is almost clairvoyant, always knowing the right gear to select at the right time, and the driver rarely wants for manual control. Not that Honda offers it – conveniently, anyway.
Electric steering is the name of game here, managed using a small-diameter steering wheel with proper thickness, radius, response, and thumb rests. Accurate but not necessarily quick, the steering supplies consistent feel throughout the range of motion and the Civic is easy to maneuver at low speeds. No complaints here. Likewise, the Civic EX’s 4-wheel-disc brakes are effective, and proved fade-free under abusive circumstances. In particular, the pedal feels excellent underfoot, offering easy, precise, refined modulation.
Speaking of refined, that perfectly describes the Civic’s ride quality. The MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension is tuned to provide a comfortable ride without filtering too much in the way of communication, and without eradicating the ability to toss the Civic hard into a set of twisties if so inclined. This car is equipped with a sophisticated set of underpinnings, and while nobody is likely to characterize a Civic as fun to drive in the manner of a Ford Focus or Mazda 3, neither is it a party pooper like a Nissan Sentra.
The P205/55R16 Continental ContiProContact all-season tires are quiet, yet provide decent grip without yowling-rubber accompaniment if the driver gets into a turn with too much speed. Driven vigorously, the Civic’s absolute adhesion limits are average, with the tires supplying plenty of advance warning through progressive levels of scrub.
Is the Honda Civic the car to buy if you’re seeking driver engagement with the pavement? Not this model. The more raucous Civic Si is the right choice for that sort of driving. The beauty of mainstream Hondas is that you buy them for practical reasons, and then are pleasantly surprised by their sheer dynamic competence.2013 Honda Civic Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
The 2013 Honda Civic is essentially the same car that it was in 2012, yet the collective modifications made for 2013 add up to dramatic improvement. As a result, the new Civic looks and drives like a completely different car. Last year, I would have recommended that people considering a Honda Civic shop around a bit before pulling the trigger. This year, by all means, get a 2013 Honda Civic. You likely won’t be sorry.2013 Honda Civic Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- More attractive
- More refined
- More standard equipment
- More safety features
- Observed fuel economy didn’t match EPA claim
- Driver’s seat needs more travel for taller people
- New safety options limited to Civic Hybrid
- Not a fan of the new wheel designs
Honda supplied the vehicle for this review
2013 Honda Civic EX Sedan photos by Christian Wardlaw