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Lather, Rinse, Repeat

On some level, it's hard to blame Honda for the strategy it took with its new-for-2012 Civic. Executives looked at the key players on the market as the model was being developed, soaked in the growing global economic malaise, and decided that if they wanted to make decent money on their small car, they'd have to find creative ways to take cost out of its build. In light of the financial crisis, consumers and critics would surely understand some belt-tightening in order to secure the company's legendary reliability, resale value and ease-of-use, right?

So Honda took a pass on expensive new technology - more complex transmissions, forced induction, active aero, and so on. And it also substituted in some cheaper interior materials, skimped on sound deadening, creature comforts and found lots of little ways to save money. Surely in a segment where the frankly ancient and moth-eaten Toyota Corolla has consistently ranked among the sales leaders, nobody would care, eh?

Well, Honda was half right. After an unusually long product cycle with the eighth-generation Civic, loyal customers were all too eager to plunk down their hard-earned cash for a new model, with 2012 sales totaling well over 300,000 units. But the model's long-term prospects were less certain. That's because Honda miscalculated the strategies of its rivals, playing things close to the vest when others chose to double-down in the segment.

Between the time the 2012 Civic's design was locked in and the moment it hit the market, the compact car fray became exponentially more competitive. Ford took the wraps off of its sophisticated and tech-rich Focus. Hyundai rolled out its audaciously styled and value-laden Elantra. Mazda took its already great-driving Mazda3 and elevated its fuel economy with Skyactiv engineering. Even perennial small car backmarker General Motors put forth a high-quality effort with its mature new Chevrolet Cruze. Critics' reaction was no less swift and stern: Not only was the 2012 Civic a galactic comedown in terms of interior appointments and design, it wasn't as much fun to drive as its predecessor, nor was it the least bit innovative. For a company that made its nut - and its reputation - on the back of its engineering prowess, all of this was bitterly disappointing.

We're not sure whether it was enduring the media drubbing (that Consumer Reports fall-from-grace had to sting), looking around at its suddenly fierce competition, fielding embittered calls from its dealers or just a simple bit of soul searching that spurred Honda to react so quickly, but here we are, just one model year later and there's a surprisingly comprehensive update on sale. But is it an impressive about-face for Honda or just a bit of apple-polishing and slight-of-hand? We spent a week with a loaded EX-L to find out.Continue reading 2013 Honda Civic

2013 Honda Civic originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 21 Feb 2013 12:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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