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Test Drive: 2013 Honda Civic Sedan

 

Using time travel to solve problems is a recurring theme in science fiction.

Journey to the past, eliminate the source of the problem and, as long as you don’t step on a bug or marry your mother while you’re there, problem solved.

The folks at Honda must have a subscription to Syfy, because they appear to have tapped into the space-time continuum to fix the much criticized ninth-generation Civic. Just one thing: They did it in reverse, taking a trip into the not-so-distant future to find the solution.

When the 2012 Civic was introduced, it was met with a collective yawn from many reviewers who said it wasn’t that much better than the car it replaced, even as its compact competitors moved the bar forward, catching up if not surpassing the class leader in many areas. Consumer Reports even took the drastic step of removing it from its list of recommended cars to drive the point home. That had to hurt.

Perhaps surprisingly, Honda honorably admitted that it cut a few corners in the development of the car, not expecting other automakers to bring their A game during a historic downturn in the industry. But, instead of sucking it up and waiting the traditional three years before giving the Civic a mid-cycle refresh, Honda accelerated the development of the planned 2015 overhaul, getting the job done in just 18 months and the car into showrooms for the 2013 model year.

The focus of the work was on improving refinement, one of the major gripes heard about the 2012 model. In my own review of that car I noted “a fair bit of wind and road noise,” and that it “doesn’t feel very plush inside,” with an abundance of hard plastic not helping the situation.

Well, some extra stuffing behind the dashboard, floor and rear deck, along with thicker, laminated front glass has quelled much of the ruckus, while soft materials, shiny silver trim and improved upholstery have brought the cabin closer to what passes for snuff these days. Honda even went a little further and added standard Pandora integration, Bluetooth, text message reader and a backup camera across the lineup.

The powertrain is the same as the old car’s, but there wasn’t too much whining going on about it. The 140 hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine carries over largely intact, as does the very unfuturistic choice of five-speed manual or automatic transmissions (hybrid, natural gas-powered and high performance Si models are also available.)

Nevertheless, the automatic is still good for up to 39 mph highway, or 41 mpg in the high mileage HF model, both solidly near the top of the class. That’s despite the fact that the Civic put on a few extra pounds in its transformation, requiring the addition of slightly bigger brakes to compensate. The suspension has also been beefed up and returned to improve ride and handling, which hits a very happy medium between comfort and responsiveness.

As icing on the cake, Honda updated the front and rear ends, giving them a more upscale look inspired by the all-new 2013 Accord. You wouldn’t want your friends to think you were driving the “bad” Civic, now would you?

The result of all of the changes is yet another in a long line of no-complaints cars from Honda. Exciting? No, but competent to a fault. My only continued nitpick is that the front seat still doesn’t go back far enough for my liking, even though there’s plenty of room behind it. Anyone under 6-foot,1-inch tall likely won’t agree.

The previously available stripped $16,355 DX trim level has been discontinued due to lack of interest, but the base price of the now entry-level Civic LX has only increased $160 to $18,755 for the coupe and $18,955 for the sedan, which certainly doesn’t reflect the true cost of the upgrades made to the car.

Funny thing is, while all of the squeaky wheels were going on about the 2012 Civic, Honda was moving them like hotcakes. It was by far the best-selling compact in the U.S. last year, with 317,909 finding their way into driveways near you.

If I were Honda, I’d watch my back. One of the other car companies may send someone back from the future to keep it from traveling to the future to bring this Civic back to the present, or something like that.

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2013 Honda Civic Sedan

Base Price: $18,955

As tested: $24,555

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

Engine: 1.8L inline-4-cylinder

Power: 140 hp, 128 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

MPG: 28 city/39 hwy