Here we are on the cusp of 2013, and a preemptive evolution of Honda’s ninth-generation Civic is already upon us—a whole year or two early if we’re to consider Civics of the past. Blame the journalists and the enthusiasts for the premature makeover, though—neither of whom are likely to buy Honda’s ninth-generation subcompact in large numbers, even after its face-lift. The automotive press, curiously and in a contradictory sort of way, lambasted the 2012 for being too much like the ’06–’11 body style, a car that they’ve, by and large, proclaimed to be Honda’s best Civic ever. Enthusiasts derided the ninth-gen for its husky size and environmentally friendly version of Honda’s otherwise well-received K-series engine, neither of which, incidentally, the company’s 2013 refresh addresses. No, the updated model’s supposed saviors are an overhauled front grille, new taillights and bumpers, a reshaped trunk, and a spiffed-up interior. To satiate enthusiasts who likely won’t buy the Civic anyway because of the Si’s Accord-like, single-exhaust-port 2.4L engine that features VTEC on only half its valvetrain, the subcompact’s suspension was stiffened a smidge and its steering tightened up. Noble efforts, all of them, but a far cry from Honda’s Si of years past.
Honda, like many automakers, isn’t one to shy away from the mid-model refresh, one in which subtle body, interior, and engine tweaks are made in an effort to persuade sales before moving on to an entirely new model. But to do so after only 12 months of production, for the Civic, is quite unprecedented. Despite whether or not Honda’s ninth-and-a-half-generation Civic is any better than 2012’s, its restyling wasn’t just carried out for the wrong people, it was done so unnecessarily. None of that really matters, though. For as much grief as the 2012 Civic has been given, its sales haven’t faltered, and its successor’s likely won’t either. It’s often said that Honda’s lost its way, but maybe it has found its way more than ever.
In 1992, we thought it lost its way when the fourth-generation Civic—one that didn’t epitomize the quintessential sport compact car but defined it—was replaced with the futuristic-looking fifth-gen with its spaceship-like rounded lines, OBD electronics that seemingly doomed the aftermarket, and a hydraulic-operated gearbox that couldn’t possibly be as sure-footed as Honda’s cable version. Almost 23 years later and enthusiasts, along with the aftermarket, remain smitten with the fifth-generation’s curves and superior hardware.
In 1996, we thought it lost its way when the sixth-generation Civic emerged without an Si and with a distinctly rounded shape and awkwardly tall roof line. OBD-II electronics were also introduced, which, like OBD-I, also meant certain destruction for the aftermarket. Just in time for its mid-model refresh, and the world’s greatest Si to date introduced itself, this time with North America’s first-ever DOHC VTEC powertrain for a Civic and a chassis that lent itself exceptionally well to nearly all types of modifications, OBD-II and all.
In 2001, we thought it lost its way when, once again, Honda revealed its latest Civic without an Si. A year later and the company released what enthusiasts had been waiting for—sort of. The first North American Civic ever with the company’s all-new K-series engine. Although repeatedly brutalized by the enthusiast populace for its MacPherson strut suspension and economy-minded K20A3 engine, comparatively, the seventh-generation Si still offered respectable power and handling, on par with anything else of the Si pedigree to date.
In 2006, we thought it lost its way when Honda unveiled its all-new Civic that wasn’t just heavier but larger than Accords of only a couple of generations prior. Its refined MacPherson strut suspension, which rivals its predecessors’ glorified double-wishbone configurations, and lauded K20Z3 engine was, in large part, the eighth-gen’s saving grace. An Si enthusiast following such as the eighth-generation Civic has commanded hasn’t been rivaled since the company’s ’99–’00 model.
As it turns out, despite a critical press and malcontent enthusiasts, 2012 Civic sales were respectable, and steadfast Honda customers who wanted Civics did a funny thing last year: They bought Civics—and they’ll continue to do so even once the all-new, completely redesigned 2012 Civic is replaced with the all-new, completely redesigned 2013 Civic—new grille, taillights, and all.