2001 Honda Civic Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All-new design for popular compact car.
Since the 1996 Civic debuted, Honda's small car has set the pace in the subcompact class due largely to its quality, efficiency, pleasant road manners and comfortable cabin. More than 300,000 Civics roll out of Honda's North American production plants each year, placing the Civic among the top five best-sellers.
Despite this success, stylists and engineers at Honda in Japan and Ohio have spent the past three years developing new versions of the Civic that arrive as 2001 models. Their goal is to improve quality by a factor of 10.
The idea driving these new designs is to maximize space for people and minimize the room required for mechanical systems, produce larger but more efficient engines, increase safety systems and comfort features, and enhance the manufacturing process by constructing fine cars with refined components and body panels that fit together precisely. As a result, the new Civics, conforming strictly to four-door sedan and two-door coupe styles, increases in engine displacement, fuel efficiency, safety, cabin space and passenger comforts. Although exterior dimensions decrease slightly, the passenger compartment expands in volume to forge a more spacious cabin stocked with comfortable seats plus new safety systems like dual-stage frontal airbags and optional side-impact airbags ($250).
Civics come in coupe and sedan versions, which differ in appearance but share the same level of features.
Civic four-door sedans come in three different trim designations and two different powertrains. Models include the base Civic DX sedan ($12,960); LX ($15,010), which adds power-operated controls and luxury features; top-of-the-line EX ($16,910), which gets a more powerful engine, body-colored power mirrors and a remote entry system. A four-speed automatic transmission ($800) is optional with every trim level.
Civic two-door coupes add a thrifty fuel-economy HX edition ($13,560) along with the DX, LX and EX trim levels listed above. The HX is equipped with an efficient lean-burn engine capable of 44 miles per gallon when teamed to the standard five-speed manual transmission. A continuously variable automatic ($1,000) also works with the HX.
Three engines are available for 2001; all are four-cylinder aluminum engines and each earns the government's ultra low emission vehicle, or ULEV, certification. The mileage-leading Civic HX coupe edition uses a lean-burn engine that achieves 117 horsepower; DX and LX coupe and sedan come equipped with a 115-horsepower 1.7-liter engine; the deluxe EX coupe and sedan get a 127-horsepower engine.
Sedan and coupe differ in appearance; in fact, fewer than one-fourth of the body panels are common to both body styles. The coupe comes with a more aggressive windshield rake than the sedan for a sportier look. Sedans and coupes measure identically in wheelbase and share a common structure, although the coupe has steel reinforcements for bulkheads, the floor pan and the front and rear roof pillars to compensate for the absence of the sedan's center side pillars.
Sedan or coupe, the 2001 Honda Civic presents a basic wedge-shaped profile with a high, curt tail and low, abbreviated prow. To effect such a sharp slope of the front hood, the steering box had to be relocated to a high center spot on the firewall and a compact new front strut suspension devised. Further, the condensed compartment required an engine of smaller physical size. These internal changes set up the most dramatic styling distinction from the previous Civic design, as the new hood drops by 2.6 inches.
The new Civic presents a clean but conservative face with a discreet horizontal grille set between larger triangular multi-lens headlamps that curve around the corners. A wide air intake stretches across the body-colored bumper with a low front spoiler added for downforce.
Relatively flat flanks carry linear molding. Windshield pillars arch into the rolled roof to meet the rear arches of narrow C-pillars. Bold taillamps dominate the blunt rear panel underscored by a body-colored bumper.
Civic coupe's taillamps offer a signature pattern of light at night.
The most significant change in the new Civic occurs with an expansion of the passenger compartment, which increases in volume from 101.7 cubic feet to 104.3 cubic feet, enough to elevate the car from subcompact to compact status.
These spatial gains were achieved by raising the roof, moving front pillars forward and developing a flat cabin floor. The additional space becomes most apparent in the back seat, where legroom increases by 1.9 inches in the sedan, or 0.6 inches for the coupe. Space for hips and shoulders is fractionally larger in the new Civic than in the 2000 model. The flat floor allows rear-seat passengers to spread their feet out; this is particularly noteworthy in the coupe where traditionally a two-door format skimps on space in the back seat.
The Civic rings the passenger compartment in a tall wrap of window glass so the interior seems to move outward visually to create a perception of airy spaciousness.
The interior layout sets two bucket seats up front with a center floor console. A bench in back is large enough for three children or two adults to ride comfortably. The seats were reworked to provide more support from a rigid structure and stronger side bolsters; the seat cushions stand about an inch higher than the previous design to make entry and exit easier.
For the coupe, front seatbacks stretch broad and deep, and headrests are open at the center like a doughnut. Front seatbelts attach to a side anchor bar that slides out of the way when someone climbs into the back seat. The seat also cooperates for rear entry by sliding forward under power when the seatback tilts forward, then returns to its original position due to a memory setting. That forward movement creates the largest possible portal for rear entry, but it's still not an easy matter to fold your body into the rear seat of this (or any) coupe, much less haul yourself out.
The cockpit looks clean and efficient with a new instrument panel tucked beneath a barrel cowl. Round white-on-black analog instruments include an oversized speedometer and tachometer in a central position flanked by smaller fuel and coolant gauges. In the coupe, gauges show silver highlights and glow with amber light at night. Controls for audio and climate systems are housed in a pod on the center dash that adds large rotary dials.
Safety equipment includes front seatbelt pretensioners for lap and shoulder, two-stage frontal airbags, three-point safety belts for five seat positions, child seat anchor brackets for the back seat and an emergency trunk release lever inside the trunk. Optional side-impact airbags are available, along with anti-lock brakes.
Beneath the new styling, the Civic rides on a stiff new structure that carries new suspension elements and larger but more efficient powertrains. We drove several variations of the sedan and coupe on freeways and narrow back roads that wind through the convoluted hills near San Diego. There, we discovered all the new Civics offer competent pavement manners. In certain iterations, they are spunky and fun to drive.
Most fun to drive is the Civic ES with a manual transmission. With its more powerful engine, the ES produces lively acceleration, while the manual gearbox affords more driver control. This engine produces 127 horsepower and its torque extends across a broad rpm band, so the driver gets good throttle response at any speed. Shifting is smooth and precise, due to the revised feel of the stick with notched stop points added between gears. A four-speed automatic also works well with quiet and refined shifts, although the automatic dampens any pretensions of a sporty attitude.
The base engine for Civic DX and LX models produces less power and that translates to flat and tepid performance. This is most noticeable with the automatic transmission; a little more time is needed in the passing lane when trying to pass another vehicle at speed.
Ride quality is smooth and easy with Civic's new suspension that uses MacPherson struts up front and a double wishbone in the rear. Noise, vibration and harshness are reduced, largely due to improvements in structural rigidity, along with liquid-filled engine mounts plus noise- and vibration-damping materials added throughout the Civic's body. Wind noise was diminished through aerodynamic streamlining. The net effect: When driving at highway speed, riders may converse in a normal voice without distractions from mechanical or wind noises. Indeed, the quietness of the Civic rivals far more expensive cars.
Honda's new 2001 Civic offers improvements in power and efficiency, cabin space, safety equipment, and noise and vibration. It also comes with more standard equipment than before. With engines earning high fuel economy figures, all models qualify for ULEV status. Its improvements and positive environmental position moves the Honda Civic ahead of the curve in the compact class.
DX ($12,960); LX ($15,010); EX ($16,910); HX coupe ($13,560).
East Liberty, Ohio.
Options As Tested
air conditioning, power moonroof with tilt feature, central power locking system, power windows with express down for driver, power controls for two exterior mirrors, remote entry system, driver's seat manual height adjustment, rear bench seat with 60/40 split folding seatback, AM/FM/in-dash CD, 15-inch wheels, 185/65/R15 86H tires; destination charge.
Civic ES Sedan.
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