LOS ANGELES – Facing mounting criticism from consumers and automotive press over styling, Honda debuted its facelifted ’13 Civic compact this week at the auto show here.

Executives call it a “minor model change,” but modifications are significant inside and out, including an all-new exterior that more closely matches recent upgrades to the Accord midsize sedan.

Gone from the ’12 Civic are hard-plastic trims, which have been replaced with soft-touch materials on the doors and instrument panel. A rear-view camera is standard, as is BlueTooth connectivity and hands-free capability.

The base-trim Civic DX is gone for 2013, with the LX assuming the entry-point model’s role. Its $18,165 sticker is $160 more than the previous base model. The LX went on sale this week and will be followed over the next 10 weeks by the Coupe; a natural-gas-powered model; Si Coupe; Hybrid; Si Sedan; and the HF enhanced-fuel-efficiency model.

For the first time, an all-black leather interior will be available in the Civic, following the recent U.S. industry trend toward nudging compacts upmarket.

Honda’s original plan was to wait three to five years from the 2011 refresh of the Civic for a major upgrade, but Honda America President John Mendel acknowledges some changes had to be made sooner.

“Frankly, all we did was pull ahead the (midyear model change) from what we did anyway. It’s a timing issue more than anything,” he tells reporters after the reveal.

Honda says the ’13 Civic’s biggest improvement is reduced noise, vibration and harshness, another point of criticism of the previous model. It features a stiffer front subframe, thicker windshield and front-door glass and additional soundproofing materials throughout.

The new Civic gets re-tuned electronic power steering and MacPherson struts, as well as thicker front and rear stabilizer bars for a more-nimble, less-bumpy ride.

“We clearly underestimated what the lasting effect on consumers was going to be when this car was developed,” Mendel says of past iterations of the Civic. “It wasn’t about cheaping out. It was identifying what the customer expected, and we missed that.

“The good news for us is that they have very high expectations of what we should be providing.”

The Civic retains its 1.8L 4-cyl. aluminum-block engine producing 140 hp and achieving 28/39 mpg (8.4-6.0 L/100 km) city/highway when mated to either a 5-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission.

The HF model boasts slightly higher fuel efficiency, rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 29/41 mpg (8.1-5.7 L/100 km) city/highway.

The Civic Coupe’s exterior styling carries over as well, but sedan models get a more aggressive, honeycomb grille, more-angular rear and front ends, jewel-like taillights and additional chrome and reflective accents.

Also new for 2013 is technology that reduces the risk of side-airbag deployment. The Civic Hybrid will have standard forward-collision and lane-departure warnings, something Honda says is a first for the compact segment.

“I suspect (the Civic) it will maintain its best-selling status,” Mendel says, declining to release specific sales targets for the refreshed lineup. He allows that the compact segment is growing increasingly competitive.

“It’s getting bigger all the time,” Mendel says. “Ford is having very incredible entries. You look at Dodge; everyone’s having to push down into the small cars to try to meet the fuel-economy standards.”

afoley@wardsauto.com