2003 Civic New Car Test Drive
Honda Civic is an icon. Honda sells more than 325,000 Civics a year in the U.S., making it one of America's best-selling compacts. They are notable for offering excellent fuel economy and sporty handling.
But the Civic can't be described that easily because the lineup is composed of a family of diverse models: a practical four-door sedan, a slick two-door coupe, and a hot hatchback.
Honda completely redesigned the entire Civic line for 2001. Refinements for 2002 included improved handling and reduced noise and vibration, though we think there is still room for improvement in that area.
For 2003, sedans and coupes come with improved seat fabrics and the outboard rear headrests are now adjustable. There's a sporty new four-spoke steering wheel on most versions, and a new center console and armrest on LX and EX. Civic LX and HX models now come with a standard CD player, and the driver's seat on the LX is now height-adjustable, as it has been on the EX. Aluminum wheels are now standard on the EX coupe. Hybrid gas-electric cars have recently been in the news as the government threatens to increase fuel economy standards. Major manufacturers are busy talking about producing hybrid SUVs to help improve their economy. However, just two companies, Honda and Toyota, have actually brought hybrid cars to market.
Honda has gone one better than anyone with the world's first mass-produced hybrid. What's more it's used to power the most popular subcompact car in America, the Honda Civic.
Many people mistakenly think a hybrid car needs charging like an electric car. Far from it, a hybrid runs on gasoline just like a regular car. What makes the car special is that there is an auxiliary electric motor that works to assist the small gasoline engine when extra power is needed. Honda calls this the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system.
In 1999 Honda introduced the first ever hybrid, the Insight, as a specialized hand-built high-tech two-seater car that is still on the market. But it had limited appeal because of its small size.
This should change with the Civic Hybrid with its increased practicality. It is a car that makes sense for owners interested in great fuel economy and low emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Civic Hybrid at 48/47 mpg on its City/Highway test. The most remarkable thing about this car is that it seems unremarkable: For the most part, driving this gas-electric Civic is just like driving a regular gas-powered Civic.
Honda Civics come in three body styles: four-door sedan, two-door coupe, and three-door hatchback. Sedans and coupes are available in three primary trim levels: DX, LX, and EX.
Civic DX and LX are powered by a 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine rated 115 horsepower. LX adds air conditioning, power-operated controls and luxury features.
EX models get a 127-horsepower engine, body-colored power mirrors, a remote entry system, and a tilt-and-slide glass sunroof. The EX engine displaces the same 1.7 liters as the DX and LX engine, but gets a boost from Honda's excellent VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Electronic Control) system. Larger wheels and tires help put the power to the road.
A four-speed automatic transmission ($800) is optional for DX, LX, and EX models, all of which come standard with a five-speed manual transmission.
Civic Si is only available as a hatchback, and the hatchback is only available as an Si. Civic Si comes with a high-output 2.0-liter i-VTEC (for variable valve timing with intelligence) engine rated 160 horsepower. Si comes with a five-speed manual and is not available with an automatic transmission.
Prices range from about $13,000 for a DX to about $15,000 for an LX to about $17,000 for an EX to about $19,000 for the Si.
Specialty Civics are available as well. Coupe HX ($14,170) comes with a fuel-efficient lean-burn engine teamed to the standard five-speed manual transmission. Capable of 44 mpg, it achieves an impressive 117 horsepower. Optional on HX is a continuously variable automatic transmission, or CVT, for $1,000. There's also a Coupe GX with a natural gas-powered engine that Honda claims is the cleanest internal combustion engine in the world. For their part, the DX, LX, and EX four-cylinder aluminum engines earn the government's ultra low emission vehicle, or ULEV, certification. A Civic Hybrid is available that uses a small gas engine and a big electric motor to achieve 50 mpg, which New Car Test Drive reviewed separately. We think hybrids are the best short-term solution to reducing air pollution and fuel consumption, and the Civic Hybrid is the best example of one of these.
Options are limited for the many trim levels. Side-impact air bags add $250. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are standard on EX and Si, optional on GX. The Civic Hybrid part of the 2003 Civic lineup. (See review covering the rest of the Civic line at www.nctd.com.)
The Hybrid is only available in two versions, one with a manual transmission that retails for $20,010 and the other with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) for $1,000 more.
Both models are based on the upscale EX Civic sedan and come loaded with features. Consequently, there are no factory-installed options available.