Model: 2013 Honda Civic EX
Exterior color: Urban Titanium
Interior color: Beige
Engine: 1.8 liter, four-cylinder
Transmission: five-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 32 mpg city, 39 mpg highway
Dealer: Economy Honda Superstore
Price (as tested): $21,605
Time was, most modern sedans got redesigned about every five years - whether they needed it or not.
But 21st century auto buyers have a much shorter attention span. A car that looks and feels five years old is probably going to gather dust in the showroom.
With its 2013 Honda Civic, the Japanese automaker has proven that even a mid-design-cycle "refreshening" can translate to significant quality improvements.
The current-generation Civic is only about 18 months removed from the drawing board, and already Honda is packing on new features and upgraded materials.
This week we test drove a 2013 Civic in EX trim from Economy Honda. The carmaker has taken a competent machine and given it such improvements as a standard back-up camera, more sound-deadening material, improved steering and upscale interior materials.
STYLING AND COMFORT
The exterior sheet metal, which was all-new for the 2012 model, gets a new hood and trunk lid treatment. From 20 feet, the Civic cuts a sporty profile, with a roofline that allows for an expansive windshield and great inside-out visibility.
Our test car came in an exterior color called Urban Titanium with beige cloth interior, a handsome combination. Two-tone, 16-inch alloy wheels provide a nice design contrast.
A daring, two-tier dash has become a trademark of the Civic brand. On the lower tier, right behind the steering wheel, a tachometer whips back and forth. On the upper tier, a digital speedometer ticks up and down.
Honda has picked leather-look materials for the dash and door trim that give the cabin a near-luxury ambiance.
The EX trim always has been a good pick for Civic owners because it showcases favorite options and pays for itself in added resale value. Our test car included a one-touch moonroof, a 160-watt stereo, steering-wheel mounted radio and phone controls and automatic climate control.
The Civic has all the requisite electronics including Bluetooth compatibility, USB audio and SMS audio text messaging.
It's rare when the predominant driving impression after a test drive is: "Wow. Love that steering." But that's exactly my impression of the Civic. The electronic power-assist steering is precisely weighted and gives the car a calibrated balance that makes it feel expensive.
A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine makes 140 horsepower and gives the Civic plenty of pickup in normal driving. The engine only labors under hard acceleration. The musical hum of a Honda four-cylinder engine is one of life's pleasures.
A five-speed automatic transmission is seamless, and will excite driving purists who don't like the notchless CVTs that are becoming common in today's small sedans.
We may be entering an era when cars - like smart-phones - get major improvements once a year.
If that's the case, the 2013 Civic may be enshrined as an early example of what is possible.
At $21,605, our test car nudges the bottom rungs of the midsize segment, but its high content and ample interior dimensions may make it a perfect alternative for those Honda lovers who don't quite need to step up to the impressive new Accord.