Brian Benstock, a Honda and Acura dealer in Queens, N.Y., responded with shock. What inspired this top Honda dealer to such emotion? On Monday, Consumer Reports announced it simply cannot recommend the redesigned Honda Civic, going so far as to call the vehicle "mediocre."
In its report issued Monday, Consumer Reports called the redesigned 2012 Honda Civic LX “less agile” and having a “lower interior quality” than the prior model, while also saying it “suffers from a choppy ride, long stopping distances, and pronounced road noise.”
But Benstock — the minority owner of Paragon Honda and the vice president and general manager of Paragon Acura — disputes that take on the vehicle and said he is having “zero complaints” from customers, who are hurriedly snatching 2012 Civics up so fast that “we can’t keep them in stock.”
“It’s unbelievable, frankly,” Benstock told Auto Remarketing on Tuesday morning in response to Consumer Reports’ analysis.
And while trying not to disparage Consumer Reports, he said: “In this instance, I absolutely disagree with what they’re saying.
“I frankly don’t know what they’re talking about,” he added.
Granted, Consumer Reports did have some positive things to say about the Civic LX it tested, noting that it “provides decent rear-seat room, and it achieved 30 mpg overall,” a fuel economy bested only by the Toyota Corolla (32 mpg) in its category, the publication noted.
But the magazine — which was also examining the redesigned 2012 Ford Focus sedan and hatchback varieties as well as the Kia Forte hatchback in this particular test group — said it could not recommend the model after its test score came in at 61, which put it 11th among the 12 small sedans Consumer Reports has tested.
This “mediocre” score for the Civic compares to the “very good” 78 the prior edition model scored and follows years of this model being one of the top small sedans in the magazine’s testing.
In fact, for five of the last 10 years, it was named a Top Pick.
But apparently, that has changed.
“While other models like the Hyundai Elantra have gotten better after being redesigned, the Civic has dropped so much that now it ranks near the bottom of its category,” stated David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Conn.
The publication's analysis of the Civic went on to note: "The Civic has slid backward with its redesign. It feels insubstantial against recently-redesigned competition. Vague steering weakens its agility and robs it of its fun-to-drive feel. Stopping distances are long, the ride is choppy, and road noise is pronounced. The Honda Civic LX ($19,405 MSRP as tested), is powered by a 140-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that provides adequate acceleration and gets an impressive 30 mpg overall in CR's own fuel-economy tests.
"The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. The interior feels cheap, a letdown from previous Civics," editors added. "CR is currently testing a Civic hybrid and will report on it next month. Cargo space is good."
The less-than-favorable rating from Consumer Reports doesn’t appear to parallel consumer interest in the Civic, at least at Benstock’s store.
Benstock has been selling the 2012 Civic for around 60 days and when asked how many he has sold, Benstock said with a laugh: “All of them.”
In fact, he has zero on hand because all have sold out.
“If I had another hundred, I could have sold another hundred,” Benstock noted.
And the production/supply aftermath of the Japanese earthquake “made a hot product even more difficult to get,” he emphasized.
Moving along, American Honda also chimed in on the matter, as well, issuing a statement that explains its take on Consumer Reports’ views, while also detailing some more the more positive things the publication said about the Civic.
“In a broad sense, we disagree with Consumer Reports' findings. Without question, the small sedan segment is more competitive than ever,” Honda said in the statement provided to Auto Remarketing.
“In virtually every way, the completely redesigned 2012 Civic is a step forward. The new Civic excels in areas that matter to small-car customers, including fuel efficiency, safet, and reliability,” the statement continued.
“Among the Civic’s greatest competitive strengths, is a smooth and efficient powertrain that, in Consumer Reports testing returned ‘an impressive 30 mpg overall on regular fuel and 47 mpg on the highway,’” Honda added.
The automaker also pointed out the strength in the safety department that Consumer Reports said it found in the Civic, including the standard safety features throughout all trim levels and its Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“Lastly, the Civic has a stellar reliability history with Consumer Reports, and we are confident that the new Civic will be a reliability leader as well,” Honda noted.
As far as sales, the Civic struggled in July in light of continued production issues.
Specifically, Honda sold 14,006 Civics in the U.S., down 37.4 percent as the automaker continues to be supply challenged because of the earthquake’s aftermath. So far this year, Honda’s U.S. Civic sales have reached 141, 577 units, a 9.7-percent decrease.
It wasn’t alone, though, as monthly sales of most Honda division models and all Acura division models were down double-digits. But the automaker’s leadership appeared confident that the company would bounce back as production gets back on track.
“We look forward to improved inventory levels in the coming months as most of our North American facilities begin to return to full production in August,” said John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president of sales. “On top of that good news, customers will have two significantly updated Honda products to choose from this month with the refreshed 2012 Pilot and Fit hitting dealer lots soon.”
From a worldwide perspective, Honda released its global first-quarter financial performance results on Monday, which showed the automaker still struggling but hopeful about where it may be headed.
As reported in Auto Remarketing, Honda’s global quarterly consolidated net income dropped 88.3 percent year-over-year to $394 million, while consolidated net sales and other operating revenue fell more than 27 percent to $21.239 billion.
That said, the automaker upped its projections for full-year profit 18 percent to $2.96 billion for the year ending March 31, 2012. Honda said it has bounced back from the earthquake quicker than it thought it would, which is why it upwardly revised its forecast.
This revision “is a sign that production is recovering at a faster-than-expected pace, and that even with the high yen, sales are strong,” Tatsuya Mizuno, a director at Mizuno Credit Advisory in Tokyo, was quoted by Bloomberg.
Editor's Note: Staff Writer Nick Zulovich contributed to this report.