LOS ANGELES -- Honda's redesigned 2012 Civic was much maligned, but it's hard to call it a flop. Though slammed for a cheap-looking interior, bland exterior styling and a carryover base engine, the Civic sold so well last year that many dealers weren't sure the decision to fast-track a major midcycle change was such a great idea.
The Civic outsold the Toyota Corolla for the first time since 2002, but it needed an assist from some big, un-Hondalike incentives.
Honda has turned off the incentive spigot for the 2013 Civic that arrived in January -- and so far, so good. The revamped car is winning over consumers who are looking for more than just the deal of the week.
Transaction prices on the 2013 model are way up compared with prices of the outgoing 2012 Civic, according to TrueCar Inc.
"It's not time for a victory cigar just yet, but we're pleased with the market acceptance," said Mike Accavitti, American Honda's head of automobile operations.
Critics say the 2012 Civic's interior was a collision of angles, mismatched colors and low-grade plastic, developed in a recession when Honda planners figured car shoppers would want a cheaper economy car.
Honda guessed wrong. The Civic was so stripped of content that Consumer Reports took it off its "recommended" list.
Despite the bad reviews, Civic sales last year surged 44 percent to 317,909 units, outpacing the Toyota Corolla, even though the Civic had no fleet sales and the Corolla did. But most of the Civic sales did come with major incentives on the hood.
"Nobody in their right mind enjoys incentivizing a vehicle," Accavitti said. "We have been able to drastically reduce incentives but maintain our [sales] leadership, because the product is that good."
Dan Robertson, general manager at Smail Honda Village in Greensburg, Pa., says the 2013 Civic is doing better at winning converts from rival brands. His store sells about 30 Civics a month, and grosses are up about $300 in the first quarter compared with last year, he said.
"Interest is way up," Robertson said. "We've actually had people trade '12s for '13s."
In addition to fixing the interior layout, upgrading its materials and modifying the front and rear fascias, Honda included standard Bluetooth, Pandora Internet radio, SMS text messaging and a rear backup camera on the 2013 Civic, and bumped up the starting price by just $160.
"Civic is doing phenomenal in its refreshed state," Accavitti said. "It continues to bring young customers to our brand."
Dave Conant, whose Conant Auto Retail Group in Los Angeles includes the biggest Honda store in the country, was among those who said buyers loved the 2012 Civic. A few months ago he suggested that dealers would have done fine with no change at all.
But last week Conant said: "This Civic has restored my confidence in Honda's ability to compete. The Civic is the real deal, the strongest car in the segment."