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Honda Civic's rushed redo hits on all the right points

More chrome front and back adds a touch

More chrome front and back adds a touch of class to the 2013 Honda Civic, while the taillights extend onto the trunk lid, just like they did before the redesign back in 2011. Credit: Honda

Well, there's nothing like a verbal poke in the eye to get your undivided attention.

Not all that long ago, Honda announced the mid-2011 arrival of its 2012-model-year Civic. Fans of the brand seemed pleased, as evidenced by the upwardly pointing sales charts. However, the press and a certain advertising-free consumer magazine gave Honda a rough ride, reporting that the Civic had an uninspired look, unexciting handling and plasticky interior.

Now, most automakers would have simply ignored those comments.

Not so, Honda. Whether motivated by its competitive instincts or by a desire to simply do better (or both), it's introducing a heavily revised 2013 Civic sedan well ahead of schedule.

What a difference just a single model year makes. Although the lower-volume Civic coupe has been generally left alone, the sedan's adjustments include completely new front and rear bodywork encompassing a more prominent grille, restyled hood and new fog and corner lights. At the opposite end, a reshaped trunk lid and bumper are flanked by a fresh set of taillights. Additionally, all trim levels feature new wheel designs.

The alterations don't dramatically change the sedan's appearance, but they do give it an unmistakably classier look, which is a good thing when competing for the hearts and wallets of compact car-customers.

Structurally, changes have been initiated to improve the Civic's front-end collision protection, especially at each corner, which should help it meet new partial front-end crash-test standards. There's high-strength steel in the A-pillars (that flank the windshield) and in the side sills below the doors.

Changes have also been made to the suspension, steering and soundproofing materials to improve ride comfort, reduce cabin noise and create a sportier driving experience. Sedans and coupes equipped with the optional automatic transmission have also been fitted with larger front brake rotors.

Honda has addressed concerns regarding the Civic's interior by giving the dashboard a major makeover. There are now fewer visually irritating creases and angles and most plastic surfaces have been covered with richer-looking soft-touch materials.

If it weren't for its carry-over powertrains, the 2013 Civic might have earned itself totally new-model status. Back again is the standard 140-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with the optional 201-horsepower four-cylinder repeating in the performance-oriented Si.

The 110-horse 1.8 continues to power the natural-gas-fueled sedan, while the gas-electric Civic Hybrid's powertrain (also 110 horsepower) is unaltered. That model now comes standard with accident-mitigating forward-collision-warning and accidental-lane-departure warning systems (both are options on other Civic models).

As before, the base powerplant can be mated to a five-speed manual transmission or optional five-speed automatic. A six-speed manual gearbox is used exclusively for the Si while a continuously variable unit transmits the Hybrid's torque to the front wheels.

Fuel economy stats remain at 28 mpg in the city and 39 on the highway for automatic-transmission models (28/36 for manual-gearbox Civics and 29/41 for the extra fuel-efficient HF). The more potent Si is rated at 22 mpg in the city and 31 highway.

One other significant change is the deletion of the price-leading DX from the lineup, which means that least-expensive Civic LX sedan now lists for $19,000, including destination charges, but that includes more content such as air conditioning, rearview camera plus numerous power-operated accessories. The EX adds climate control, premium audio system and a power moonroof while the EX-L offers leather seats (heated in front). Ordering the EX and EX-L also allows you to add voice-activated navigation at extra cost.

It could be argued that the newly energized Civic sedan is the car that Honda should have introduced for 2012, but at least the quick response in addressing concerns will impress the legions of Civic supporters and prove the automaker's ability to make rapid change.

What you should know: 2013 Honda Civic sedan
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan
Engines (hp): 1.8-liter SOHC I4 (140); 2.4-liter DOHC I4 (201)
Transmissions: Five-speed manual; five-speed automatic (opt.)
Market position: The Civic remains a top-ranked vehicle in a highly competitive market. In this league, content is becoming as important as fuel economy since many buyers are downsizing out of larger cars with abundant features.
Points: Rapid makeover yields a more desirable car; Civic now positioned as premium compact model with higher base price than most competitors; Suspension improvements should increase overall sportiness; High-output Si model should offer an automatic-transmission; Look for competitors to match Honda's fast-fix strategy.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 22/39 (AT)
Base price (incl. destination): $19,000


Hyundai Elantra
Base price: $17,800
Stylish sedan can also be had in coupe and hatchback formats.

Dodge Dart
Base price: $16,800
All-new model offers lots of room plus choice of three engines.

Nissan Sentra
Base price: $16,800
Compact car makes fuel economy and passenger space major priorities. 

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