WASHINGTON -- Frugality -- both in the pocketbook and at the gas pump -- is becoming more important to American consumers.
Honda is arriving with six versions of a frugal, redesigned Civic that the automaker hopes will keep it the top-selling compact car among retail consumers.
The basics: There will be base and Si powertrains for coupe and sedan models, a hybrid version of the sedan, and an HF fuel-efficient model.
The base engine is a carryover 1.8-liter mill, though it sees an improvement in fuel economy. The Si engine is now a modified version of the 2.4-liter Accord engine, gaining a few horsepower -- to 201 -- and more than 30 pounds-feet of torque -- to 170 -- over the old Si model's 2.0-liter engine.
The standard Civic will be offered with a five-speed manual or automatic transmission, while the Si model comes only with a six-speed manual.
While the 2012 Civic's overall length and width remains the same, the wheelbase is shorter by 1.2 inches. Honda claims there is more shoulder room and rear-seat legroom.
The suspension is the same MacPherson strut front and multilink rear of the previous generation. While not the elegant double-wishbone setup of the '90s-era Civics, the multilink rear is still a step above the torsion beam suspension of many competitors. The Si model features stiffer suspension settings and a limited-slip differential.
The styling is not as swoopy as the Elantra's nor as angular as the Focus'. Think of it as a jellybean with creases.
Notable features: All models will get a two-tiered instrument cluster. The upper cluster includes a 5-inch color LCD information screen, with audio, fuel economy and clock readouts. The screen shows navigation instructions if the model has an optional NAV system in the center stack and lists incoming-call data if the car comes with Bluetooth.
Honda increased the Civic's ratio of high-strength steel from 50 to 55 percent while reducing the car's weight by 44 pounds. Honda expects the car to get five-star crash ratings.
The hybrid model now uses a 1.5-liter engine, up from a 1.3-liter. The battery has been changed from nickel-metal hydride to lithium ion while the electric motor generates slightly more horsepower and torque. The continuously-variable transmission has been re-engineered with reduced belt friction. It can get 44 mpg in the EPA combined test cycle. It features idle-stop and runs in battery-only mode during low-speed cruising.
The HF model is the same basic car as the base Civic but has aerodynamic improvements and low-rolling-resistance tires that add a few more miles per gallon. But Honda did not include idle-stop technology with the HF because it would have added complexity and cost.
All models feature an ECON button that smoothes throttle openings during acceleration and coaches drivers with colored ambient lighting on the instrument panel to encourage efficient driving habits.
Standard features on the base model include 15-inch wheels, vehicle stability control, side-curtain airbags, antilock brakes, power windows and auto-off headlights.