New Car/Review

1997 HONDA CIVIC 3DR DX

By Matt/Bob Hagin

Honda

SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 11,800
     Price As Tested                                    $ 12,295
     Engine Type                          1.6 Liter I4 w/PGM-FI*
     Engine Size                                  97 cid/1590 cc
     Horsepower                                   106 @ 6200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               103 @ 4600 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  103.2"/67.1"/164.5"
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     2281 Pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  11.9 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P185/65R14
     Brakes (F/R)                                      Disc/drum
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                      Five-passenger/three-door
     Domestic Content                                 60 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            32/38/35
     0-60 MPH                                        9.2 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     17.9 seconds @ 82.5 mph
     Top speed                                           115 mph
     * Programmed fuel injection

(The newest Honda Civic three-door Hatchback DX has an impressive reputation preceding it. Its ancestor of nearly a quarter-century ago was the precursor to the inexpensive, front-drive "econoboxes" on the market today. Matt Hagin was impressed with the practicality and fuel mileage of the '97 Civic Hatchback DX, but his dad, Bob, liked its "boppiness" which reminded him of days gone by.)

MATT - This Honda Hatchback DX is really a remarkable people-mover, Dad. It's classified as a sub-compact but it can carry five adults in reasonable comfort and give up to 38 miles per gallon - if it's driven at a reasonable rate. It's no ball of fire, though, with only 1.6 liters of engine displacement and 106 horsepower, but it only weighs around 2300 pounds. It moves pretty well, just as long as it includes the five-speed manual transmission that's standard equipment. And for what it's worth, this little engine is the first in the industry to be certified by the omnipotent California Air Resources Board as powering a "Low Emission Vehicle." Civic's price is reasonable and it's reliability is legendary.

BOB - Its price is low enough to make it attractive to first-time buyers, too, Matt, and I see lots of them driven by young guys who have "spiffed" them up with dark-tinted windows, exotic paint jobs, hot-rod wheels, and custom exhaust systems. But you'll also find tens of thousands of them on the highways during commuter hours being used as daily transportation. The DX Hatchback is such a good value that in recently, the resale value of older models has actually increased as the cars get a couple of years on them.

MATT - It's really quite sophisticated under the skin, and I was impressed with the fact that Honda has constructed the four-wheel independent suspension system with forged controlled arms rather than punching them out of sheet steel. And I like the fact that understeer that's noticeable in the four-door is more neutralized in the hatchback. According to the Honda press kit, the shock absorbers have been redesigned to make them self-adapting to road conditions. But still, it's an entry-level model and such amenities as air conditioning, an automatic transmission, and an up-scale sound system are all extras that bump up the price. Unfortunately, an anti-skid braking system isn't offered on the Hatchbacks and a Civic buyer has to move up to the EX Coupe if ABS is a necessity. The Hatchback DX is basic transportation that's reliable and comfortable, but I would have preferred to have a tachometer on the dash of our test car since it came with a stick-shift. Unfortunately, a tach is only available on the fancier sedans and sporty coupes.

BOB - The Civic Hatchback is the base-price Honda, Matt, but it's a long way from being offered as a take-it-or-leave-it econobox. Honda engineers have gone into such detailed changes as altering the accelerator pedal linkage for improved driver control. And your super-tall brother Brendan would find that front seat leg room is adequate with the seat fully slid back, but it wouldn't leave much room for adults in the rear seat. There isn't a lot of trunk space when the car is loaded with people but its bob-tailed look is part of its panache. The rear seat can be folded for luggage or long items like skis or fence boards if extra space is needed.

MATT - We can't really say that this Hatchback was made in the U.S., but its final assembly plant is Ontario, Canada, and in this case I guess that close counts. Over the years, Honda has put over four million Civics of various types on U.S. roads and its vehicles set a new standard for small cars back in '73.

BOB - Actually, Honda brought in a bunch of small cars before then, Matt. Would it surprise you if I told you that I worked on a couple of them in the '60s?

MATT - Dad, as old as you are, it wouldn't surprise me if you told me that you were there when Mister Honda built his first car in the back of a blacksmith's shop.

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