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Civic gets overhaul following criticism

In an unusual move, a revamped 2013 Honda Civic went on sale Thursday, 19 months after the 2012 model came out. The new model has a sportier profile, analysts say.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

In an unusual move, a revamped 2013 Honda Civic went on sale Thursday, 19 months after the 2012 model came out. The new model has a sportier profile, analysts say.

Honda has made a quick U-turn.

Just 19 months after its Civic compact hit showrooms and was slammed by critics, the company has revamped the car, giving it a sportier look and upgrading the interior.

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It is an unusual and costly do-over. But Honda — among the auto industry’s most highly regarded brands — feared the car’s flaws would hurt sales and market share, analysts say.

The 2013 version went on sale Thursday, and Honda has provided a sportier profile, replaced its chintzy dashboard, and made the ride quieter. The revamp comes to market in about half the time it normally takes, and shows how concerned Honda is about falling behind rivals.

‘‘The new consumer coming to the marketplace looking for a compact car doesn’t think the Civic is a slam-dunk anymore,’’ says Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence for TrueCar.com auto pricing site.

The company misjudged the small-car market when it rolled out the Civic in April of last year, analysts say. Small-car buyers used to tolerate cheap materials, noisy interiors, and boxy styling just to get high gas mileage. But they now expect their gas-sippers to have a quiet ride, crisp handling, and plush seating. The 2012 Civic lacked those refinements.

It was so noisy, for example, that ‘‘I kept trying to put the windows up,’’ recalls IHS Automotive analyst Rebecca Lindland.

To be sure, criticism of the 2012 Civic has not dented demand. Sales of the car rose to 255,000 through October, up 39 percent from last year. The car has passed the aging Toyota Corolla and the Chevrolet Cruze to become the nation’s top-selling compact.

But the increase came primarily because Civics were in short supply last year after an earthquake in Japan. Loyal customers delayed purchases until the Civic returned, Toprak says. The Civic also is selling well because of discounts, he says. Dealers are knocking about $2,500 off the sticker price unload 2012 models. Civic discounts usually run about $500.

Without changes to the car, Honda would probably keep longtime customers, but it would not attract new ones. ‘‘They will eventually start bleeding market share,’’ Toprak says.

When Honda began to develop the 2012 Civic years earlier, competitors still were putting out blasé compacts aimed at budget-conscious buyers. But as gas prices rose, consumers shifted to smaller vehicles. At the same time, firms such as Hyundai rolled out sleek, quiet compacts with amenities once reserved for the luxury class.

Shortly after the 2012 Civic debuted in the spring of 2011, Consumer Reports refused to give it a coveted ‘‘Recommended Buy.’’ The magazine’s chief auto tester said that the car was a step backward, and it appeared Honda tried to save money by using cheaper parts.

‘‘We’re not reacting to negative criticisms,’’ says Art St. Cyr, Honda’s chief product planner.

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