There are not many things in this world that are as constant as the Honda Civic. Both the Civic name and its flawless reputation have been pleasing buyers for over three decades; ask around and you'll be amazed how many people have owned a Civic at one point in their lives. The Civic's body style may differ from year to year, but its mission has always remained the same: provide affordable, reliable, efficient transportation in a handsome package that serves many lifestyles and personalities. It's truly hard to think of another car that is so loved, so well known and so much a part of the American automotive fabric as Honda's bread and butter car.
There are many versions of the Civic, including a coupe, a hatchback and a hybridall with a number of various trim levels and options. For this review, we chose to test one of the most popular Civic models: the top-of-the-line EX sedan. If you can swing the $17K base price, this is the Civic trim that will give you the most for your money. Just for the record, the Civic DX is priced at just over $13K and the mid-level LX comes in just a shade over $15K. The interior dimensions are identical for all three, but the EX gets a more powerful engine and of course, a longer standard equipment list.
A quick walk around the Civic reveals a handsome design not usually worn by such a small car. The Civic's Honda lineage is evident from all angles and even though this seventh generation design is now a few years old, it still looks as fresh and competitive as the day it was released. Unlike previous models, the current Civic sits much higher, with a tall profile and high front and rear bumpers. This design serves two purposes; it greatly increases overall headroom and it allows the Civic to survive impacts with the high bumpers that now roam the highways attached to so many SUVs. Even though the changes have forced Honda engineers to forego their beloved low-cowl designs, the Civic still looks very much like a Honda and is easily recognizable as such even from a distance.
Peering inside the Civic reveals an inviting interior that is capable of comfortably holding four adults (or two adults and three kids). By running the exhaust pipe down the side of the chassis, Honda engineers have created a perfectly flat floor; this accomplishment translates into greater rear-seat legroom and makes life for the poor middle passenger a bit less uncomfortable. The Civic also comes with a nice deep trunk and a folding rear seat that allows you to pass long objects from the trunk into the passenger compartment.
Up front, there is plenty of legroom for six footers, though headroom is somewhat diminished by the standard power moonroof. This year, Honda has improved the Civic's interior by adding upgraded fabrics, a new center armrest with storage and new illuminated gauges borrowed from the Civic Hybrid. You'll like the new look of the instruments as they emit a pleasant blue glow that is easy on the eyes both in bright sunlight and during night driving.
The rest of the dashboard is logically laid out, with the three heating and ventilation control knobs stacked vertically and to the left of the audio and storage area. You'll find that all of the Civic's switchgear emits a sort of inaudible click that you feel more than hear, another upscale feature not usually found in this level of car. You'll love the feel of the Civic's firm seating and rear-seat passengers will find adjustable headrests have been added for 2003. Standard equipment for the EX includes a 5-speed manual transmission, power windows, power door locks, air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, rear defroster, AM/FM stereo with CD, tilt steering wheel and alloy wheels. The only available factory option is a seat-mounted front side-impact airbags.
A quick spin reveals that the Civic's road manners appear every bit as polished as its interior appointments. The five-speed manual moves without complaint, gliding with short precise throws as you row through the gears. Beneath the hood hums a happy 1.7-liter engine that is so quiet you may find yourself accidentally trying to start the car when its already turned on. Honda has added its VTEC technology to the EX, giving this model more power than its lesser stable mates. Rated at 127 horsepower, the VTEC engine moves the EX briskly, so long as its carrying only two passengers; load the car up, and you'll find you need to get the tachometer well over 4000 rpm before you begin to feel anything resembling acceleration. Once in motion though, the Civic moves smartly through traffic, with world-class small car handling, excellent feedback from both the steering and brakes and a surprisingly quiet cabin.
And what the Civic lacks in power, it more than makes up for in fuel economy. With an EPA highway rating of 37 miles per gallon, you may not be able to outrun the competition, but you'll probably out distance them by a long shot.