We have seen a number of redesigned models do worse in our overall road-test score than the ones they replaced. But the 2012 Honda Civic sets a new mark. That highly anticipated redesign dropped a whopping 17 points— from a very good 78 to a mediocre 61. The Civic was once one of our highest-rated small sedans and was our Top Pick in that category as recently as 2007, but it now scores too low to be recommended.
Compared with its predecessor, the 2012 Civic is less agile and has lower interior quality. It also suffers from a choppy ride, long stopping distances, and pronounced road noise. On the positive side the Civic provides decent rear-seat room, and it achieved 30 mpg overall, which gives it the second-best fuel economy in its class—behind only the Toyota Corolla's 32 mpg. We are also testing the Civic Hybrid and will report on it next month.While other models, including the class-leading Hyundai Elantra, have gotten better after being redesigned, the Civic now ranks near the bottom of its category. It's ahead of only the Volkswagen Jetta, which plunged 16 points after its own recent redesign.
The drivetrain is the Civic's high point. The 140-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission return an impressive 30 mpg overall on regular fuel and 47 mpg on the highway. Acceleration is adequate, and the transmission shifts quickly and smoothly. Some complained that the transmission downshifts too eagerly when descending hills. A five-speed manual is available.
Cost-cutting is apparent throughout the Civic's interior, from the cheap headliner and ubiquitous hard plastics to the unlined trunk lid.
New from Ford and Kia
For this issue, we also tested sedan and hatchback versions of the redesigned-for-2012 Ford Focus and the hatchback version of the Kia Forte (both available to subscribers).
We found the Focus to be fun to drive and more polished than its predecessor, with the type of agile handling, supple ride, and solid feel that we'd expect from a compact sports sedan. Both versions also got a commendable 28 mpg overall. But a snug rear seat, complicated controls, and annoying behavior by the transmission took a toll on their overall scores. The more upscale and versatile SEL hatchback earned a very good 74, positioning it just below the class-leading Volkswagen Golf, Mazda3, and Subaru Impreza Outback Sport. The lower-trim SE sedan scored 68, which is slightly better than its predecessor's 65 and about the same as the Chevrolet Cruze.
The 5-Door hatchback is Kia's latest addition to the Forte line, which also includes the four-door sedan and the sportier two-door Koup. The well-equipped, relatively roomy hatchback offers a lot for the money. But its noise isolation, ride, and interior quality are middling, relegating it to a mid-pack score of 71, which is similar to the Toyota Matrix.
The as-tested prices of this month's group range from $19,340 for the Forte EX 5-Door to $22,185 for the Ford Focus SEL hatchback. None of the cars from this group is recommended. Although they scored well enough, the Focus models and the Forte hatchback are too new for us to have reliability data. And while we expect the redesigned Civic to provide better-than-average reliability, it didn't score highly enough in our tests to be recommended.
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