The Honda Civic has been the best-selling car in Canada for 15 consecutive years. But that position has been threatened recently by a certain upstart from South Korea whose name also begins with the letter ‘H’.
The Elantra is leading the Civic in sales through the first four months of 2013.
But Honda is not going down without a fight. Barely 18 months after introducing the redesigned 2012 Civic, Honda unveiled further design and content changes for the 2013 model.
The compact segment accounts for almost half of all new car sales in Canada, with more than 20 vehicles slugging it out for a slice of the pie. Virtually every major manufacturer has at least one player in this game.
Ford, GM, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Mazda, Toyota and VW have all in introduced new or vastly improved entries in the segment over the past two years.
Civic hangs on
Despite a pair of horrific tragedies – a Tsunami in Japan and floods in Thailand – which severely hampered supplies, Honda held on to its perennial sales lead. The then-new 2012 Civic was a welcome sight at Honda stores, but the media, specifically the American media, wasn’t as enthralled.
Consumer Reports dropped the Civic from its favored list and criticism focused on the lack of change at a time when the competition was breaking new ground in terms of style and content.
Honda faced the situation head on. I was in attendance when company chairman and CEO, Takanobu Ito, expressed his disappointment at the reception of the new Civic and his directive to fix the problem. “To be very honest, I’m not satisfied,” he told a small group of us in Tokyo. He had ordered a facelift inside and out for 2013.
The majority of the changes addressed criticisms about the car's design. While the changes are subtle, as is the Honda way, the 2013 exterior is more stylish or edgy with a sculpted and more aggressive frontal appearance.
The bigger grille opening bears a strong resemblance to that of big brother Accord. The rear clip has also been redone and there are new 15-17-in wheels across the trim range.
Inside, the changes are more extensive. Hard plastics have been replaced by textured soft touch materials.
The instrument panel, centre console, air-conditioning and audio controls are new as are seat coverings. Satin silver trim, touches of chrome, textured surfaces on control knobs, additional sound insulation and thicker glass in the windshield and side windows have all contributed to a more refined ambiance.
Honda has also addressed the stiff competition from South Korean by increasing the standard content of the 2013 Civic at each step of the trim ladder. A rear view camera and automatic climate control are now standard in the top three trims and heated seats in all but the base model.
The 2013 Civic is also a more sporty conveyance thanks to stiffer springs and bushings and a quicker steering gear ratio. The engineers took advantage of the redo to add a number of reinforcements to the structure allowing it to meet or exceed new crash standards and achieve a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Areas that could stand still further improvement in the face of new competition include the engine and transmission.
Room for improvement
While the 1.8-litre four is silky smooth and quiet, it produces only 140 horsepower and a measly 128 lb-ft of torque. Those figures compare to 160/140 for the Ford Focus, 148/131 for the Hyundai Elantra and 155/148 for the new Mazda3, just to name three competitors.
The extra 45 kilos from the additional sound insulation and structural additions take their toll on the Civic's performance as well.
The automatic transmission is short one gear of the new norm, having just five while the rest of the pack boasts six. Combine that deficiency in gears with a torque peak at a lofty 4,600 rpm and you have a situation that requires lots of throttle and revs to wring out decent performance.
The good news is that the engine is made by Honda, which means it provides silky-smooth power delivery and fuel-consumption numbers right down there with the hybrids.
A six-speed transmission and direct injection would solve its performance shortcomings. Better yet, why not the 201-hp, 2.4-litre engine available in the coupe?
Overall, the ninth-generation Civic has addressed many of the shortcomings of the previous model, both real and perceived. And of course, it continues to boast quality, reliability and resale value that are the envy of most competitors.