WASHINGTON -- Honda expects the redesigned 2012 Civic, reworked for high fuel economy, to continue as the top-selling compact car for retail customers.
The basics: Coupe and sedan models will be sold with base and Si powertrains. Honda will also sell a hybrid version of the sedan and an HF high-mpg model.
The base engine is a carryover 1.8-liter mill with better fuel economy. The base model is EPA-rated at 28 mpg city and 39 highway. The Si model has a modified 2.4-liter Accord engine with more horsepower (201) and torque (170) than the current Si model's 2.0-liter engine.
The standard Civic gets either a five-speed manual or an automatic transmission while the Si model comes only with a six-speed manual.
While the 2012 Civic's overall length and width remain the same, the wheelbase is shorter by 1.2 inches. Honda says there is more shoulder room and rear-seat legroom.
The suspension retains MacPherson struts in front and a multilink setup in the rear. The Si model features stiffer suspension settings and a limited-slip differential.
The styling is not as swoopy as the Hyundai Elantra's nor as angular as that of the Ford Focus. Think of it as a jelly bean with creases.
Notable features: All models have a two-tiered instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. The upper cluster includes a 5-inch color screen with audio, fuel economy and clock readouts. The screen can also show navigation instructions and incoming phone calls.
More high-strength steel reduced 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 1.3 liters. The battery has been changed from nickel-metal hydride to lithium ion while the electric motor generates slightly more horsepower and torque.
The hybrid gets 44 mpg in the EPA combined city-highway test cycle. It features stop-start and runs in battery-only mode at low speeds.
The HF version starts with the base model and adds aerodynamic improvements and low rolling resistance tires. But Honda did not include stop-start with the HF because it would have added complexity and cost. The HF is rated at 29 mpg city and 41 highway.
All models feature an econ button that smoothes throttle openings during acceleration and turns on a display on the instrument panel to encourage efficient operation.
Standard features on the base model include 15-inch wheels, stability control, side-curtain airbags, antilock brakes, power windows and auto-off headlights.
What Honda says: "Our mileage could be even better because the EPA tests are with the econ button turned off," Mitsuru Horikoshi, Civic project leader, said at the press launch here. "Personally, I think I can beat the EPA numbers."
Compromises and shortcomings: The base DX model is very basic, lacking a radio head unit, air conditioning and power mirrors and door locks -- standard features in many competing base models.
The plastic used in the instrument panel's center stack looks cheap, especially compared with materials used in the Hyundai Elantra and Mazda3. Other compact cars feature a six-speed automatic; the Civic has a five-speed. Honda says this saves weight and complexity.
The market: The base Civic sedan and coupe went on sale April 20, as did the hybrid. The HF model arrives May 10, and the Si models hit showrooms on May 24. A natural gas version will arrive in the fall. Honda hopes to sell at an annual rate of 260,000 units but hopes for stronger sales when the market recovers.
The expected model mix is 73 percent sedan, 21 percent coupe and 6 percent hybrid.
The base Civic DX sedan starts at $16,555, including destination.
The skinny: The Civic's driving dynamics are more rewarding than those of the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra. Despite the two-tier instrument panel, the Civic's interior materials feel decontented. The Civic's styling is evolutionary compared with the more aggressive looks of the Elantra and Focus.