Review - 2003 Honda Civic EX Coupe - Review


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SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS



    There is a Honda Civic for just about everyone who wants a small 
car that combines fun and fuel economy. The current generation 
started out with a full range of sedans and coupes in 2001, with the 
Si performance hatchback added in 2002 and a gasoline-electric 
hybrid sedan debuting as an early 2003 model. The GX ``super ultra-
low emissions'' (SULEV) natural gas-powered sedan and high-
mileage HX coupe complement the regular value-oriented DX, well-
equipped LX, and performance EX grades. 

    The EX coupe was the hot model of Honda's current-generation 
Civic line until the Si hatchback made its debut last year. Where does 
that leave the EX coupe? Has it been demoted to merely another 
economy car?

    Hardly. If the EX's 127-horsepower VTEC version of the regular 
Civic 1.7 liter engine isn't the Si's 160-horse two-liter, it still has a 
noticeable advantage over the other gasoline Civics' 115 ponies. And 
it combines nimble handling with comfort, style, and useful space in 
a way that is rare in cars of any size or class, not just in its low-
priced small sports coupe class.

    I've been driving one for the past week, with never a dull moment. 
Performance is very good for its size and power, and the suspension 
combines ride comfort and driving fun. Since cars in this class are 
often someone's only car, space is important, even for a coupe. Four 
people can fit in a Civic coupe and still be friends. The EX model  is 
stylish in a subdued manner and very well-equipped. Best of all in 
these days of high gas prices, it continues the Civic tradition of fuel 
economy, with 30-plus mpg easily attainable. And, for those who 
want personalization, there is more aftermarket appearance and 
performance equipment available for Civic these days than just about 
any other cars. But the 2003 Civic EX coupe is just fine right out of 
the box.

APPEARANCE: Previous Civic coupes have been little more than 
two-door sedans. This one is unique in style. While the Civic coupe 
and sedan share structural and mechanical underpinnings, their body 
panels are completely different. The coupe is, fittingly, sleeker, and a 
touch lower, narrower, and longer. It takes its styling cues more 
from luxury coupes than sports cars, with a conservatively clean 
semi-fastback look devoid of race-inspired wings, spoilers, fender 
flares, and vents. The front, with its small grille flanked by pointed 
multi-element headlights, is similar to that of the Civic sedan, while 
the rear, highlighted by large triangular taillights, is completely 
different. Other grades have plastic covers over steel wheels while 
the EX has alloy rims. 

COMFORT: Like its exterior, the Civic coupe's interior is not 
designed for the fashions of the minute. Unpretentiously, it doesn't 
try to look like a race car or a luxury car, so silvery plastic and faux 
wood are eschewed. It's merely an honestly functional and 
comfortable middle-class vehicle, with high-quality synthetic 
materials throughout. Since the Civic coupe and sedan share a 
common wheelbase, there is more rear seat room than expected in a 
small coupe. Two average-sized adults fit easily, with good access 
thanks to the spring-loaded front passenger seat. The front seats are 
comfortably padded, with good side bolstering for enthusiastic 
driving. Instrumentation is easy to see, and all of the controls are 
placed for easy use. There is plenty of room in the trunk, and the 
rear seat folds with a 60/40 split to handle oversized items. 

SAFETY: Like all Civic models, the coupe gets high scores in safety 
tests and has a full complement of safety features. Side airbags are 
available in all models, while antilock brakes are standard in the EX.

ROADABILITY: In stock trim, with the standard suspension 
calibration and wheels and tires, the EX Coupe is designed for fun 
and comfort in the real world. It's sporty but not hardcore sports, 
meaning that the springs and shocks allow some noticeable body roll 
in hard cornering. On the other hand, ride comfort is very good, 
even on poorly-paved surfaces. Light weight gives it the sort of 
steering and responsiveness that make driving a joy. A simple ``plus-
one'' wheel and tire upgrade from the standard 185/65 HR15 to 
185/55 HR or VR16, with shorter, stiffer sidewalls, should further 
improve handling. Antilock brakes are standard on the EX grade.

PERFORMANCE: The Civic EX's soul is in its engine. Press on the 
accelerator and there is no doubt that you're in a very sporty 
machine. Numbers, although very good at 127 horsepower at 6300 
rpm and 114 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm, don't really do it justice. 
There is enough torque off the line to break the front wheels loose if 
you're not careful with the clutch and throttle on acceleration, and 
there is a healthy amount of midrange power as well. Short-shift it 
when it begins to sound busy and it sounds like a classic four-
cylinder sports car engine. But it's a Honda VTEC motor, made to 
rev. Above the cam changeover point it screams with pleasure and 
plenty of horsepower until the rev limiter cuts in at 6800 rpm. A 
light flywheel helps the engine rev quickly for good acceleration, but 
revs can drop quickly when shifting so good shifting technique is 
required for optimum performance. Fortunately the five-speed 
gearbox's shift action is good. And the EX's power drop is nowhere 
near as dramatic as that of the S2000, there is plenty of useful urge 
anywhere above 3500. A benefit of the engine's lean-burn, low-
emissions design is excellent fuel economy, with well over 30 mpg 
easily obtainable even while enjoying the VTEC zone as much as 
possible. 

CONCLUSIONS: Performance meets low emissions and fuel 
economy in the Honda Civic EX Coupe.

SPECIFICATIONS
2003 Honda Civic Coupe EX

Base Price			$ 16,510
Price As Tested		        $ 16,970
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve inline
                                 four-cylinder with VTEC variable 
                                 valve timing and lift system
Engine Size			1.7 liters / 102 cu. in.
Horsepower			127 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			114 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		103.1 in. / 174.7 in.
Curb Weight			2555 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        20.1
Fuel Capacity			13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		89 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				Firestone FR690 P185/65 HR15
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent double wishbone
Drivetrain			front engine /  front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		32 / 37 / 34
0 to 60 mph				est. 8.5 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination charge			$ 460
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