Honda introducing a new Civic at the L.A. Auto Show

2013 Honda Civic Honda

(MoneyWatch) Stung by criticism of its 2012 redesign, Honda is introducing a new-look 2013 Civic today at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Used to getting top ratings -- and sales -- for the Civic, Honda reacted quickly when reviewers, especially Consumer Reports, criticized the 2012 Civic for its less appealing interior and poorer handling than the previous version. The Civic on display today has a sleeker interior and exterior look and reportedly some suspension tuning and other changes to address the handling. Honda was not saying much about any other mechanical changes prior to today's announcement.

The new look borrows some features from the redesigned 2013 Accord midsize sedan, including a lower "open mouth" front bumper and more slender, tapered headlights. The redesigned Civic also goes on sale at dealerships today.

Analysts who have seen the car ahead of the full announcement today reacted positively. "Honda got the message," says Jesse Toprak, senior analyst at TrueCar.com. "It looks like a new car inside and out."

And Eric Lyman, senior analyst at ALG -- which sets future residual values for cars being leased -- says Civic now will be a stronger competitor against other attractive compact cars. "Without the new improvements and refinements it would have been difficult for Honda to compete in this highly-contested segment."

Here's a look at some other new vehicles being introduced in Los Angeles:

  • Toyota RAV4. The original small sport utility, RAV4 sales have lagged behind Honda CR-V and Ford Escape in recent years. The new 2013 version has sharper styling and is slightly smaller than its predecessor. A third row of seats will no longer be offered. The base 2.5-liter, 176-horsepower engine will carry over from the previous version but with improved gas mileage. "The new Toyota RAV4 is well-balanced with a great design," says Jesse Toprak of TrueCar.com
  • Chevrolet Spark Electric. General Motors is showing off its first pure electric vehicle in this version of its Spark minicar. (The Volt has a backup gasoline engine). But as with most electric cars, the price of close to $33,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit will seem high to consumers. That's especially true since the all-gasoline Spark starts around $13,000. But some analysts say GM's main goal here is to display its new all-electric technology.
  • Ford Fiesta three-cylinder. Ford is displaying this Fiesta that is going on sale in Europe but not yet available here. The small one-liter engine is rated for 123 horsepower -- vs. 120 for the current four-cylinder engine. The three-cylinder engine has not been tested for MPG in the U.S., but Ford says it will get 40 MPG in highway driving.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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