Had a little free time yesterday so I took out a Civic EX-L and a Focus SEL for test drives. I drove the Civic first so here are my impressions of both. This is not only going to be posted here but I'm going to share it on most of the enthusiast websites where I have membership. I'll probably be adding the Elantra (if I can find one to test drive) Cruze and Mazda3 to the list soon. I've driven the Jetta and I may add it as well. *This is a LONG Post
Honda Civic EX-L
My ideal Civic would be an EX-L in Polished Metal or Taffeta White. Priced out on Hondacars.com mine came out to $24,571 with the following options/accessories:
Splash guards, Sunroof Wind Deflector, Interior Ambient Lighting, XM Radio, Remote Engine Start, Fog Lights and Automatic day/night rearview mirror.
When the 2006 Civic first came out I thought it was over the top for the time but it grew on me after a year or two. I feel the complete opposite way about the 9th gen, its just too conservative looking. They do look similar but the impression I got when seeing the Polished Metal EX-L I drove parked beside a 2011 Civic LX-S was that the 9th gen looks older than the 8th gen does. I honestly believe the average joe on the street would think the 2012 was the older design lol...it just looks so conservative, so bland, so boring. I feel like I could have accepted the 2012 if it had come out in 2006 and I'd be more impressed if the 2006 were the 2012. Strange. The car looks more mature and I bet it will appeal to an older crowd than the 2006-2011 models did. I'm only 25 and the design just doesn't appeal to me. Perhaps the Si sedan will be more to my liking. I must admit that I do not like the styling changes made to the Coupe, even in Si trim.
From the front and back ends I prefer the look of the 8th gen. The dull looking grille of the 2012 and the fact that the EX models have cut outs with moldings for fog lights but don't actually come with fog lights seems strange. LX models don't have these cut outs in the front bumpers and those models look unfinished. I felt the same way about the Civic in 2006 and the front end of the current Civic didn't grow on me until the 2009 facelift. From the side I'll give the 9th a slight edge on exterior looks. I do like the changes to the side profile and the lower portions of the door panels but the taillights on the 2012 just look so cheap and unfinished next to the 2011 models. I got a Toyota Camry vibe as soon as I saw them. I always liked the Audi A4, fake LED look of the current Civic sedan. The 9th gen Civic isn't Versa sedan bad but the overall look of the 9th looks ill proportioned and bland next to the 8th. Those taillights have got to GO, they look cheap and almost subcompact car like.
The 2012 interior is an evolution of the 2011 and I've never been crazy about the 2006+ Civic interior. It may be functional but aesthetically it's never been to my liking. The new design is a step down from the current generation . It looks like someone took the dashboard of a 2011 and set it in an oven for a few minutes and melted it. The whole look lacks cohesion. I did play around with the i-MID system and there was nothing "wow" about it, it simply seemed like a high res color screen with a trip computer and a few extra functions to it, nothing that really caught my eye next to say the Sync/MyFord Touch system in the Focus. I did like how it was pretty much integrated in with the dashboard which puts it right in your line of sight with the speedometer and tachometer. It was a nice touch but the interior design overall seems poorly executed. I LOVE those digital gauges too and the blue lighting looks nice at night, I wish more cars had a digital speedometer.
I do believe the Civic has taken a significant step down in material quality. Every single panel on the dash board was hard, cheap and hollow plastic. Not one panel on the top of the dashboard was soft touch. The plastics also have this strange patterned looked to them that looks like someone took a knife and carved random scratches all over the top of the dash board. Here is the thing though, the materials have this shiny/sheeny look to them that wouldn't be so bad if Honda hadn't chosen this random scratch pattern that's applied to most of the dashboard panels. I was disappointed. The automatic transmission shifter looked similar to the one used in my mother's 1992 and my 1991 Honda Accords which looks awful by today's standard. Still no manumatic function either. Most all of the materials were disappointing and look as if they were chosen to stay within a certain price point. I will say that the door panels were pretty nice and the added padding for the armrest and vinyl inserts within the panels looked nice. The leather quality was right up there with the Accord IMO and the gathered looked of the leather helped bring up the "compact car" feel of the Civic's interior. The leather and the door panels were the only areas where the Civic felt like an upgrade next to the 2011.
From the outside I'm not crazy about the extra glass window where the side mirrors should be but when you sit inside the Civic you instantly feel this level of airyness that gives you this sense of spaciousness. Visibility is excellent up front its almost minivan like, which is a good thing IMO. You can thank the steeply raked windshield and the extra window panel for that. Rear set leg room was pretty impressive, much better than the Focus I drove or the Cruze. The radio and climate controls felt appropriate for the class, not luxurious but not low rent but I will say that the different shades of gray plastic used throughout the interior don't help and the "Dark Cross" look on the radios looks strange. I do like the radio design in the new Civic better than the Fisher Price look of the 2006-11 radio. It's strange how the primary areas of the Civic interior to me feel lower quality but the door panels seem to have improved material wise.
Steering was pretty good IMO, power was decent for around town and I didn't notice any real changes in wind noise next to my 07 Accord. I drive a truck for a living so maybe my perception for noise is different from some of you guys and gals. I didn't get to take the Civic out on the interstate to test out the power but I will say that when merging into traffic for my test drive the Civic gave me ample power to get around town and into the flow of traffic. It's no race car but I don't expect it to be one. I did take one steep hill right before coming back into the dealership and the automatic transmission held onto to 4th gear for a very long time. The transmission felt and sounded like a CVT for a moment but shifting for the most part was pretty seamless. I took the car out on a few back roads and the ride quality is pretty good IMO it absorbs most road imprefections well but overall the car had more of a sedate feel to it, very Accord like, which is probably just fine for most folks.
This is one area where Honda has disappointed me the most and considering that the Civic seems to have taken a step down in material quality you'd think Honda could have added a few more featues to make up for the loss but they didn't. As I mentioned I cannot belive that a Civic EX-L still does not have fog lights (the Accord EX-L I4 models don't either) Ditto for the lack of satelitte radio, HD radio, push button start, a power driver's seat, a more advanced telematic system, ambient lighting or automatic climate control. There used to be a time when the Civic, and Hondas in general, appealed to a younger crowd of folks, its obvious that Honda isn't chasing that buyer anymore. I'm 25 and I, like most of my friends like the latest and greatest in technology on the infotainment front and we don't really get that in the Civic. The fact that Civic EX and up force you to get the automatic transmission is one thing but the fact that the 5spd auto lacks paddle shifters or a manumatic function or an extra gear adds more insult to the injury. I understand that manuals make up very few sells but I mean, really, can we at least get a set of paddle shifters?
I believe the Civic is still competitive, but IMO Honda didn't do enough with this update to make it really standout in the field of all these new, vastly improved competitors. In many ways the 8th generation was revolutonary next to the stodgy 7th generation and IMO this 9th follows a very similar path to the 7th when compared to the 6th. It simply feels like a stodgy poorer effort than the 8th did. It's not a bad car but it's bland exterior styling, its eccentric interior design and its low-grade Toyota Corolla interior materials don't really impress me much. The materials aren't Chevy Cobalt or Dodge Caliber bad but I do believe they are a downgraded compared to the 8th generation Civic and the new Focus and Cruze.
I've always believed that the downgrade from Civic to Accord was a bit too steep interior design, materials and features wise and that the Civic has always felt like a "compact car" and was simply price appropriate for its class, while the Accord has always had one of the best interiors in its class and it could compete with Acuras. That formula worked in 2006 but now everybody in this class is forging ahead with better interor design and better interior materials. Civic is OK as a compact car, but it makes you wonder why Honda just doesn't bring over a Fit Sedan (City) to compete for the entry level sedan buyer and move the Civic more upmarket. All of Hondas major competitors are doing this. Nissan has the Sentra and Versa, Toyota has the the Yaris and Corolla (though the Corolla really needs to be upgraded) Hyundai has the Elantra and Accent, Kia the Rio and Forte, etc. etc. Of course that would require Honda moving Acura further up, which they seem reluctant to do. To me, sitting inside the Civic makes me feel like Honda is aiming to stay within a certain price bracket with the Civic while the Cruze and especially the Focus feel like they are trying to go premium, they simply feel more expensive. Cruze has its share of hard plastics on the dashboard but they feel more substantial than the ones used inside the Civic, the Focus has soft touch materials all over the dash except on the very top of the area where the audio/climate control are located. The Civic also feels like an older person's car, where as the previous generation felt more youthful and fun to toss around.
I believe that the Civic will still continue to sell well because its a good car but I think most of those sells will come from repeat buyers or perhaps buyers moving up from the Fit or someone looking for basic and reliable modes of transportation. The 39mpg rating is nice, especially considering Honda didn't really change the engine or transmissions but for some reason "good enough" just doesn't suite me when it comes to Honda and I'm left wondering just how good the Civic would be had it been equipped with a 6spd automatic and other technologies that other companies are using. It's nice that Honda can still achieve a lot with what it has but as an enthusiast I've come to expect for Honda to push the envelope and with this generation of the Civic I don't think they have. I do believe that Honda has done a good job of keeping the orginal buyers of the Civic by continually giving them a reliable mode of transportation but as those buyers have aged the Civic has equally matured and its almost as if Honda only sees the Corolla as real competition and thus they don't feel the need to compete with the newest competitiors in some areas. I think Civic will still be a top seller but it won't have the big wide margin in sales results over the Cruze and Focus that it had just a few years ago. I also foresee the use of incentives and more advertising for the Civic, something Honda has never really had to do before. We'll see soon enough I suppose.
Ford Focus SEL
My Ideal Focus would be a Titanium or SEL model, since the SEL is more inline with the Civic EX-L here is how I'd optioned out my model on ford.com
-Rapid Spec Pkg 303 (leather upholstery, 6-way power driver's seat, rain sensing windshield wipers, MyFord Touch with Sync, Sony sound system with HD Radio, Reverse sensing system, 17 inch alloy wheels, rear armrest and automatic dimming rearview mirror)
-Winter pkg (heated front seats and outside mirrors with puddle lamps)
-Exterior Protection Pkg (splash guards and rear bumper protector)
-Artic White Interior Style Pkg: Artic white leather interior with matching interior trim pieces
-PowerCode Remote Engine Start
For a grand total of $25790 in the Sterling Gray exterior paint color I'd want it in.
Let me first say that I think the Focus is one of the best looking sedan in this class, especially in well optioned out SEL and Titanium trim levels but with that said I think the Focus is a bit underwhelming looking on the outside. It's the hatchback model that draws my attention everytime I see one. The SEL I drove was a Platinum White model with the optional polished 17 inch wheels. The color and wheel combination made the Focus look more upscale than your typical compact sedan, love the color but I'm not willing to part with $500 for a white car, just not my style. I hear some complain about the wide mouth grille of the 2012 and I can understand the criticism but I think the overall look combined with the fog lights that are standard on SE and up trim levels gives the Focus a sporty flair in the front. The Piano black painted front grille on SE Sport, SEL and Titanium trims is a nice touch IMO. The side profile looks a bit funky with its rising beltline and the extra rear window behind the doors. I also don't like the placement and design of the gas tank. It looks random on the body and the circular design looks out of place with the flowing lines of the profile. I do like the rear end of the Focus but again I prefer the looks of the Hatchback over the sedan here as well. The multi spoke 17s that are available on SEL and Titanium models really add some flair to the profile...the 18s available on the Titanium look very good, very sporty too. I love those 18s. It's not bland like the Civic, Corolla or Sentra and its not wierd like the Mazda3 but I don't think the Focus sedan has a side profile as nice as the Cruze. I happen to really like the side profile of the Cruze, front too, but not the rear end.
First let me say that the Focus I drove had not been prepped on the inside or at least not in the back seats because they still have some plastic on the leather seating but my salesmen let me drive the car anyway. When he first gave me the keys to the car and I unlocked the door I was surprised by how nice the Focus interior looked. I first saw the Focus back in Detroit in 2010 and I was impressed with the car then but we couldn't sit inside one. I've read conflicting reports about the Foci interior materials some say they are soft touch others say they aren't so I was eager to test this car out and give my impressions. This particular car had the "Stone" interior which Ford should really call Beige or Tan because that's basically what it really is. The two-toned black dashtop with lower tan color combo combined with the piano black radio trim and the satin/bronzy looking interior trim on the lower center console combined for an upscale appearance IMO. As soon as I opened the door I got the impression that the Focus SEL was trying to compete more with the Acura TSX then say the Civic EX-L. The satin lower interior trim is an SEL exclusive other models get painted silver trim which looks a bit cheaper IMO. Most of the materials on the top of the dashboard are soft touch with the only exception being the "hood" portion of the dashboard that comes over the MyFord Touch screen, those plastics are hard but they feel substantial. Everything else is soft touch, which surprised me considering how awful the 2011 Ford Focus interior really is. I LOVE MyFord Touch, it didn't take me 5 minutes to get used to using the system but it can be a little complex for those less tech savvy than I am. Thankfully Ford offers a Rapid Spec pkg which doesn't include the MyFord Touch, Sony Sound system and HD radio for those who want a loaded car but don't care for the MyFord Touch system. I like the fact that I can control so many functions within the touch screen like heated front seats and the ambient interior lighting which is really nice. The color coded screen is nice too, certain colors within the screen control certain functions like your climate, audio, internet and bluetooth settings. The steering wheel design is really nice but with all those buttons for the audio, sync and other functions it can look a bit overwhelming. It took me no time to get used to them though.
The lower console, armrest area has decent plastics, not Acura good but better than just about every other car in this class. I will say that the handbrake has a weird design where it actually comes up when you pull it, took me a second to get used to it and the level felt cheap and gimmicky to me. I also was unimpressed by the door panels inside the Focus. The SEL I drove had leather seats but the door panel inserts had this cheap looking and feeling flat cloth insert that looked really out of place. The power window switches were painted black and they contrasted well with the "Stone" interior but they too were cheap brittle plastic. The Civic I drove earlier in the day was much better in this regard. Front seat room was good but the cockpit design of the interior felt less airy and more cramped up front than the Civic, it didn't bother me but for those taller than me they may want more room than the Focus has to offer. I'd say the Focus puts the Fusion and even the Taurus to shame in the interior design and interior materials department. I hear the new Fusion comes out in the 1st quarter of next year, Ford might wanna get it out by the fall of this year LOL. Fusion's interior is simply low rent next to the Focus.
After adjusting the driver seat to a decent position (with the use of a 6 way power driver's seat I might add) I got into the back seat of the Focus. When I first opened the door I noticed this plastic pocket between the door and the seat I think its some kind of a storage space it looked rather cheap and it was painted the same color as the stone interior, I can see children scuffing up that area in no time flat. Rear seat room was cramped, no doubt about it. I'm only 5 feet 9 and it was merely acceptable to me. I have no children so its no deal breaker for me but if you are downgrading to this type of car and travel with folks or have children the rear seat room may proof problematic for you. Leather quality front and rear was pretty nice I did pull some of the plastic off the rear leather seats so I could examine the leather quality I prefer the look and feel of Honda's leather to the Focus slightly though I have to admit I'm a sucker for Ford's Two-tone Arctic White/Charcoal Leather upholstery that is available on the SEL and Titanium models. Focus feels like a more upscale European style compact (it was primarily designed by the Europeans I believe) whereas the Civic feels more roomy, more airy more midsize like, more American on the inside I would say.
My name is Reginald and the salesmen I happened to have had the same name, really cool older kat who had to be in his late 60s but he knew a whole lot about the Focus. I told him when I pulled into the dealership that my Accord was rare EX-L sedan with a manual transmission and that I was disappointed that Ford didn't at least offer the SEL with a manual transmission seeing as they do in Canada. As soon as I got behind the wheel he wanted me to test out the Selectshift function of the Focus...he thought I'd be impressed...but I wasn't. I nag because the Civic doesn't have a manuamatic function but if its anything like the toggle buttons on the Focus, I'll pass. When I first drove the car off the lot we immediately took some back roads so I could get a feel for the car. Around town power is decent, and honestly seemed a bit lacking next to the Civic at first but when you punch the gas on the Focus it moves. You've got to dig into the RPMs a bit to get the power but its there. Handling was pretty good IMO, steering was a bit heavier than the Civic's but not as sporty as some might think, this was an SEL afterall, not the SE Sport or the Titaniun. I'd say the Civic has a slightly better ride overall, especially for the more traditional buyer but that the Focus felt a bit sportier and more fun than the Civic did. I noticed that when braking the Focus feels a bit like a manual but my salesmen insured me that it was the work of the dry clutch automatic.
Here is where the Focus outshines every car in this class. Nothing in this class (and some in two classes above it) can touch the Focus in the features department. The Focus I drove had a sticker of $26660 after the Rapid Spec discounts and it included the rear parking assist pkg with the rearview camera, and was loaded with everything including navigation. Seems pretty expensive at first glance but remove the Navigation System, remove the pearl white paint, rear parking pkg and the expensive optional 17s and the prices sits right around $25,000 or so. Not bad at all for what you get and boy do you get a lot. Sync, MyFord Touch, HD Radio, rain sensing wipers, dual (Not single zone) automatic climate control, ambient interior lighting a power driver's seat and on and on and on. It's pretty clear that Ford is aiming for the higher end of the compact car market just as they do in Europe. The beauty of it all though is that you don't have to get all these options on this car if you don't want them. SE models can be had with just about everything available on SEL and Titanium models sans auto ac, push button start (Titanium exclusive) and MyFord Touch. A simplier MyFord system is available though and I haven't tested it. My point is you can still get a decently equipped Focus for around $20-23K that still puts most cars in this class to shame infortainment and interior materials wise. The Focus is basically what the VW Jetta used to be, compact but more upscale and entertaining car than anything else in this class
After driving the Civic and the Focus back to back I've come to the conclusion that the Focus would be my choice overall. Sure the Civic has more room, is less expensive and it has "Honda Reliablity" but there are several things more appealing about the Focus. From it's interior design to all the technology that it offers getting into the Focus feels like an upgrade over my 2007 Accord. Sure some of the secondary controls in the Focus have a cheap feel to them, particularlly the door panels with their lack of padding but the Focus just feels more upscale to me, it feels more Mazda3-like, more youthful for this young fellow and that's something I can appreciate . I'm moving to Chicago in just two weeks and taking a local trucking job there so I can return to college and if I were to buy today my money would be on the Focus. When returning to my Accord, which I think had the best interior in its class during the time, I felt like the Focus would be the ideal downgrade if I had to make one today, it packs everything my Accord has and then some plus it has a level of bizazz to it that Honda's just don't seem to have IMO. The only real drawback of the Focus I could find was the automatic transmission, I simply thought the Selectshift function was a gimmick. If Ford would simply allow those of us who like rowing our own gears to chose a six speed manual or at least offer us a set of decent paddle shifters I could see myself driving the Focus around the city I've grown to love. Rumors are swirling that a 1.6L Ecoboost engine may make its way into higher trim levels of the Focus and perhaps with that engine Ford may offer us the availability of a six speed manual or perhaps I'll wait for the 2.0 Ecoboost ST to come around, if Ford does make any of these changes I'd be more than willing to spend the extra money on the Focus over the Civic because IMO its more car for slightly more money. Civic isn't a bad car by any means but, it, like Honda in general, seems to have lost its mojo and may be going thru a midlife crisis.