Stung by criticism from consumers, its own dealers and auto reviewers, Honda Motor Co. is about to begin selling a significantly redesigned Civic.
The changes come after only a year of the current-generation model. Automakers rarely rush to remake a vehicle so new to the market.
Honda is making changes to the sheet metal on the vehicle to give it a more aggressive, sportier look. Inside, it is improving comfort, changing the much-criticized interior and is revamping the sedan’s driving characteristics.
"Our customers frankly had higher expectations of us," said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co.
Most of the changes will be unveiled when the car both is debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show and goes on sale later this month.
"It is unparalleled," said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at auto price information company TrueCar Inc. "I don’t remember them ever doing it before, but the last redesign was seen as lukewarm at best and negative in general. I give them credit. They accelerated the cycle."
People looking at the 2013 Civic next to the current vehicle will notice the changes.
The new model has a more aggressive bumper and grill. The new hood has a pronounced domed center. The car will come with bent-spoke wheels that convey a sense of movement. The polished alloy portions of the wheels will be set off by black inserts.
The car has a new tail with rear lights that flow into the trunk lid. There are more chrome accents throughout the body.
"It appears they heard the criticism about the current model being too ’safe’ in styling. The new one will be competitive in what is now a very crowded segment," Toprak said.
Mendel has a sober assessment of what went wrong.
"We underestimated the level of competition," he said "We greatly underestimated the expectations of customers."
Nonetheless, one thing the current Civic has done well is sell.
Honda has sold 255,000 in the U.S. through the first 10 months of this year, a 39 percent gain compared to the same period last year. It’s among the top-selling passenger cars in America and well ahead of rivals, including the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus.
Low-priced leases, which Honda can offer because the car historically has had a fairly strong resale value and attractive financing deals, have helped keep sales high.
The Civic had been Consumer Reports’ highest-rated small sedan as well as a "top pick" in five of the past 10 years. But the influential magazine said it could not recommend the current model.
"It scored second to last in CR’s ratings of 12 small sedans, followed only by the recently redesigned Volkswagen Jetta," the magazine said.
Consumer Reports found the 2012 Civic to be less agile and with lower interior quality than its predecessor.
"It also suffers from a choppy ride, long stopping distances and pronounced road noise."