2013 Honda Civic nipped, tucked and ready for its closeup

·Associate Editor

Mid-model refreshes from Honda usually don't make headlines because of their formulaic predictability: touch up the bumpers and slap on a handful of features in its third model year and call it a day. Hence, an emergency refresh of the heavily criticized Honda Civic — only a year after its debut — was the company's tacit admission of "we screwed up." One Honda executive ominously warned dealers to clear out the 2012 models because of "dramatic improvements" to the 2013 edition, and from what was unveiled at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show, he was right — the old Civic can't exit the stage soon enough.

Teaser shots have already shown the Clarity FCX-esque changes to the front and rear, but the biggest changes happen inside. The dash sees a major overhaul: Playskool plastics are replaced with finer grain panels and chrome touches, and soft touch materials adorn the dash and front door. The headliner no longer looks pulled out of a Toyota Yaris, and the HVAC vents aren't nonsensically shaped. Plenty of amenities now come standard, including a rear backup camera, Bluetooth HandsFreeLink/Audio and Pandora. At cost of an additional 50 pounds, it'll also be the safest Civic; the revised body structure meets stringent requirements for the Institute for Highway Safety's new small-offset crash test, and the car has optional collision detection technology, a first for its class.

Although we haven't driven it yet to confirm, Honda also promises improved steering feel and ride quality, as well as reduced road noise. Coming from a company conservative with its mid-model changes, this is significant overhaul; but some issues remain, including the aging engine line-up that doesn't incorporate direct injection.

The most pleasant surprise is that the refreshed Civic sees only a $160 increase in price over the previous year. No mention was made of the coupe version getting refreshed, but according to Honda's PR head Sage Marie, the two-door gets the same interior and feature improvements as the sedan; the wedge-shaped exterior remains the same.

Honda also gave the prices and estimated fuel economy of the "uniquely" styled Accord Plug-in, which will be sold for $39,780 and have the highest efficiency rating in its class — 115 miles per imaginary gallon of gasoline (47/46 city/hwy mpg). More image-conscious drivers may want to opt for the neon-free design of the regular Accord Hybrid, which debuts next summer with an estimated 49/45 city/hwy mpg.

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