Looking @ the 2012 Honda Civic

Civic exterior designer Tohiyuki Okumoto says a goal was to create a vehicle that is “clean and simple.” Yet the 2012 Civic Si is clearly powerful, as well. (Okumoto also designed the current generation Accord Coupe, which this new vehicle resembles in some ways.)

Because aero efficiency is important, the engineers under-took a variety of measures, including creating an essentially flat bottom for the Civic (this is beneath the Hybrid).

This is the powertrain setup for the Civic Hybrid. That large silver-colored structure in the back is the lithium-ion battery pack.

Tohiyuki Okumoto, who headed up the exterior design of this, the 2012 Honda Civic, the ninth generation of the car that first appeared in the U.S. market in 1972 as a ’73 model and has subsequently (through 2010) gone on to have sales of nearly 9 million units, puts what he was trying to achieve succinctly.

“Clean and simple.”

In an age that is now seeing sheet metal stretched, twisted, and sometimes seemingly tortured, Okumoto was working to achieve something else, something different. He cites the practice of yoga in relation to the design: “Simple, pure movement.”

Nothing extraneous.

It’s a smooth monoform, front to rear.

“Clean and energetic.”

Yet while there is this simplicity of form—and the fact that this car closely resembles the eighth generation is no coincidence because Okumoto wanted to maintain the visual link—the Civic Coupe evidences a certain stylistic aggressiveness, with the power being less like something out of yoga (e.g., sun
salutation) and more like something from kendo . . . especially the Si Coupe, which comes with the largest and most powerful engine—an all-aluminum, 201-hp, 2.4-liter four that provides 170 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm and yet which provides 22/31 city/hwy mpg—ever offered in a Civic available in the U.S.

The Si engine block has cast-in iron liners; plateau honing—a two-step grinding process—is used in the cylinder sleeves to provide an ultrasmooth surface for the specially coated high-compression cast-aluminum pistons. There are a micropolished forged steel crankshaft and a one-piece aluminum crankshaft carrier with ferrous-carbon inserts in the bearing caps. The oil pan is cast aluminum.

The engine in the Si is rated at ULEV-2 emissions, so even it can be considered “Clean and energetic.”

Of course, if the issue is cleanliness, then there is the Civic Hybrid. This uses the latest—gen five—version of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. The Hybrid has a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is mated to a 23-hp electric motor (combined, the engine and motor produce 110 hp @ 5,500 rpm) and a continuously variable transmission. The previous generation Hybrid was equipped with a nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery pack; this one uses a lithium-ion battery (Li-ion) pack, which is lighter, smaller and more powerful than the NiMH battery. The battery pack consists of 40 3.6-volt batteries; it stores up to 144 volts of energy. What’s more, the battery is 35% more efficient than the previous one. The vehicle also features an idle-stop mode that shuts off the engine when the vehicle is stopped. During braking, the engine deactivates and the motor becomes a generator to provide power to the battery pack. Unlike some hybrid systems (say the one in the Ford Fusion Hybrid or the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid), the setup is one where the IMA is, as its name says, an “assist,” as while it is possible to drive on pure electric power at very low speeds, not 40 mph or more, as in the others, the real objective is to provide a performance boost while turning in a combined city/highway rating of 44 mpg.

One issue of considerable concern for the Si, the Hybrid or the more conventional sedans and coupes is light weight. After all, whether it is performance or fuel economy, reducing the overall mass of a vehicle is important. Across the board, the curb weight of the Civics is down compared to the previous generation models, by as much as 58 lb for the EX-L sedan, although there is a single outlier, the DX Coupe, which has an increase of 9 lb. A key factor in the weight down—contributing as much as 7%—is the use of high-strength steel (HSS) in the structure. The amount of HSS for the 2012 model is 55%, compared with 50% for the previous model. In addition to reducing mass, there is a 10% increase in torsional rigidity. A related factor as regards handling and fuel efficiency is the coefficient of drag; thanks to the use of things from windshield wipers that are tucked in below the hood line to a flat underfloor to low-drag side mirrors, there is a 3.4% reduction in drag for the ’12 compared with the ’11.

In 2010, Honda sold 260,218 Civics in the U.S., which was an increase (0.8%, but still an increase) over 2009 sales, even though the model was in its last year of production. And of the Civics sold in the U.S., 95% were produced in the U.S. and Canada. Civics are manufactured at Honda Manufacturing of Indiana (the Sedan and Natural Gas models) and at Honda of Canada Manufacturing (all Civic Coupe and Civic SI models, as well as additional Sedans). The Hybrid model is produced in Suzuka, Japan.