The best-selling small car in the United States, Hondas popular subcompact earned a redesign for 2001, bringing it closer in appearance to the larger Accord. The exterior and interior dimensions of the two-door coupe and four-door sedan also grew.
Like other small-car manufacturers, Honda will turn to performance this season. A revived version of the performance-focused Civic Si, which cars.com classifies as a sports car, packs a high-output 2.0-liter engine and a close-ratio five-speed-manual transmission. Built at Honda U.K. in Swindon, England, the Si will be a three-door hatchback the only example of that body style to be sold in the United States, at least for now. Honda expects to sell about 12,000 units in the first year.
Except for the addition of the Si hatchback, little is changing for 2002. The Civic gets additional insulation, a revised steering box and a few interior refinements. All Civics other than the new Si carry a 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine, but horsepower varies from 115 to 127, depending on the model. Environmentally oriented folks can go a step further and choose a natural gas-powered Civic GX, which was the first vehicle certified in California as a near-zero emissions vehicle.
The restyling for 2001 was not radical, but it amounted to an evolution of the previous design. The Civics rear end now has a more noticeable look, and its overall appearance resembles the midsize Accord. The interior in the new Civic is larger, but its total length of 174.6 inches measures about half an inch shorter overall than its predecessor. The Civic rides a 103.1-inch wheelbase and is a hair shorter overall than the Ford Focus.
The coupe and sedan share the same hood, front fenders, front bumper and headlight styling, but the coupe has a steeper front windshield. The coupe also uses different rear pillars, rear bumper and taillights. Featuring a double-layered mesh grille and a rear spoiler, the Civic Si has a firmer suspension than other Civics, as well as bigger wheels and tires.
The Civic offers a more spacious feel than some smaller cars. Rear legroom has increased in the current generation due to a compact rear suspension. All Civics seat five occupants, with a shoulder belt provided for the middle rear seating position. Trunk space totals 12.9 cubic feet, and the split rear seatback folds down for additional cargo room. Sport seats are included in the Civic Si.
Under the Hood
On DX and LX models, the 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine makes 115 hp. The engine on the EX model boasts Hondas variable valve technology and a boost to 127 hp. Both engines are available with a five-speed-manual-gearbox or an optional four-speed-automatic transmission.
The Civic HX coupe has a 117-hp lean-burn engine that operates with reduced emissions, according to Honda. Thats not the only difference. The HX is available with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which has no gears, provides infinite drive ratios and functions more like a dimmer switch than a three- or four-way light switch. The CVT transmission also is available on a GX model that runs on compressed natural gas.
The 2002 Civic Si carries a high-output 2.0-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine that makes 160 hp and teams with a close-ratio five-speed-manual gearbox. Instead of the usual floor gearshift, the lever is mounted rally-style at the dashboard center, close to the steering wheel.
Side-impact airbags for the front seats are optional on all models; they automatically disable if sensors detect that an occupant is out of position. Antilock brakes are standard on the EX and new on the Si, but are not available on other models.
Solid and substantial as ever, the latest Civic is not markedly different from the prior generation. Though it is easy and pleasant to drive, and is quiet on the road, its a bit on the bland side in appearance and performance. Still, those aspects may easily be overshadowed by Hondas reputation for quality and dependability. In fact, consumers seeking a practical small sedan especially one with a stick shift need to look no further. The Civic EX is about as good as the compact sedans get.
Throttle response with the 127-hp EX is good, but its automatic transmission reacts a bit slowly. The manual gearshift, on the other hand, functions like the proverbial knife slicing through butter. Even better, the clutch performs expertly. The only minor drawback is its inability to move at low speeds in higher gears, due to the lack of low-speed engine torque.
Steering has a substantial feel, and it requires only modest effort. The Civic delivers excellent ride quality and is delightfully capable and precise during tight maneuvers. Though appealing and undeniably sensible, the current Civic does not come across as overpowering or alluring. In a word, it does everything a commuter car is supposed to do, and it does it well.