Given a budget and a mission, no designer is likely to leave well enough alone, and that's true of the new 2012 Civic lineup.
But this is a more of a challenge than one might think. The eighth-generation Civic has been successful throughout its six-plus years, and its sleek lines still look good.
On the other hand, success notwithstanding, no automotive design lasts indefinitely. So the design leader has to find a way to retain the successful elements and still imbue the product with a sense of newness.
The new cars sport redesigned fascias, updated rear ends, and new character lines, but the basic shape, which lead designer Toshiyuki Okumoto calls a "one motion form," has the same flowing aero look. Although the wheelbase is slightly shorter, body dimensions are essentially identical, and it takes a practiced eye to tell new from old at a glance.
Although the sheetmetal is basically all new, Honda didn't take any chances here. Whether this will be a plus over the long service life of the design remains to be seen.
The distinction between Civic generation eight and nine isn't as dramatic as the change from seven to eight, when the slick aero shape first emerged. Honda has chosen to spread its development budget over refinements and a broader model range.
Quality materials, attractive design, and colorful instrument lighting give the Civic interiors a look that's a notch or two above compact norms. The seats are well shaped, nicely bolstered (by family sedan standards), widely adjustable, with a probability of all-day drive comfort and very good upholstery wear characteristics.
Though the instrument display has been invigorated with new colored backlighting, it will look familiar to those who have had some experience with the generation eight layout. The bi-plane look continues in the new car, with important info repeated at the top of the dash, allowing the driver to scan with minimum visual redirection.
Forward sightlines, always the driver's first line of defense, were good in the previous generation, but even better here. We appreciated the thinner windshield pillars and mini-window set in the angle where the windshield pillar intersects the car's hood. A lot of new cars have thick A-pillars that can obstruct the driver's view of pedestrians and other vehicles, but not here.
The biggest change inside the car, though is the new I-MID, or Intelligent Multi-Information Display. A toggle on the left-hand steering wheel spoke allows the driver to sift through a wide variety of vehicle info, and the optional satellite navigation system includes a voice recognition function.
Other electronic elements include Bluetooth hands-free phone capability and a very good 160-watt audio system.
All of this, of course, is in addition to the more common comfort/convenience features we've come to expect: power everything, including a moonroof; cruise control; a tilt/telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel; a 12-volt outlet; and a 60/40 split-folding rear seatback that expands cargo capacity.