It's impossible to overstate the chill that ran through Honda when the new Civic flunked Consumer Reports' compact car comparison test last week.
The Civic is Honda, in much the same way that the F-150 pickup is Ford. It's the cornerstone of Honda's reputation and the best- selling car in the company's history.
I'd say that Honda gets pneumonia when the Civic catches a cold, except that this is the first time the Civic has even sneezed in its 39-year run as the company's icon-in-chief. It was an unquestioned bastion of dependability, efficiency and value.
So Honda had a problem when Consumer Reports' headline proclaimed, "The Honda Civic rolls backward while the Ford Focus pulls ahead."
David Champion, Consumer Reports' respected director of automotive testing, squeezed a little lemon juice into that paper cut: "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."
This isn't the first sign of trouble at Honda. It's been years since the company launched a real hit. The strongest vehicles in its U.S. lineup are arguably the Odyssey minivan and Pilot SUV. That sounds more like a description of Chrysler in the bad old days than the inventive little company that became Japan's best automaker.
The technical leadership and innovation that once distinguished every Honda have been in short supply. Competitors from Ford, GM and Hyundai to Volkswagen have surged ahead in drivetrain technology. That should have been a wakeup call to one of the world's great engine makers, but Honda didn't seem to notice as leadership slipped from its hands. …