New Car/Review

1997 HONDA CIVIC LX SEDAN

by Tom Hagin

Honda

SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 14,650
     Price As Tested                                    $ 15,145
     Engine Type                             1.6 Liter I4 w/MFI*
     Engine Size                                  97 cid/1590 cc
     Horsepower                                   106 @ 6200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               103 @ 4600 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  103.2"/67.1"/175.1"
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     2405 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/four-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                                        9.9 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     17.8 seconds @ 81.4 mph
     Top-speed                                           110 mph
     * Multiport fuel injection

In the automotive industry, redesigning a bread-and-butter model such as Honda's Civic every three or four years is considered a breathtaking rate. But Honda adheres to this rate, and last year's revamp of the Civic is the sixth time for the little commuter, and there is sure to be more changes in the years ahead.

Each model is better than the last, and each has evolved with the industry itself. Three variations, hatchback, coupe and sedan, are currently on dealer lots, and this week we test the Civic sedan, in mid-level LX trim.

OUTSIDE - There was no radical changing of the Civic's styling, rather, the new version is a thoughtful freshening that contains many carryover parts. The sedan is taller and slightly longer than the previous generation model, but its wheelbase remains the same. Its roof line is now rather formal, and a pronounced crease runs along the upper body panel. Gone is the untrimmed nose of before, having been replaced by a proper-looking small grille above the body-color bumper. Also, the headlights, once small and seemingly insignificant looking, are now larger and more pronounced. Stylish wheelcovers are standard, while our LX test model came with P185/65R14 all-season tires.

INSIDE - Typical of Honda products, the interior is efficiently packaged with a low, wide dashboard with logically-placed controls. Thin roof pillars mean good visibility, but some of our testers thought that the center armrest was located too far aft. Interior room is adequate for a small car, and four adults should find enough space for a comfortable ride. Three across in back, however, would be tight squeeze. Both front shoulder belts have adjustable anchors, and a special clip is unnecessary to secure a child seat in back. All Civic Sedan models come with a lockable 60/40 split fold-down rear seatback, which greatly increases cargo room. Civics with the LX trim package include such standard niceties as air conditioning, power windows, outside mirrors and door locks, an electric rear window defogger, intermittent wipers, cruise control and an AM/FM stereo.

ON THE ROAD - Power for our Civic comes from a 1.6 liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine that produces 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque. This engine's power output peaks at 6200 rpm, just 600 shy of its redline, so keeping the engine revved high will allow the Civic driver to take advantage of the best part of its power band. In addition, it is designated as a Low Emissions Vehicle, which means that it adheres to Government standards regarding the amount of pollution it can expel - a full three years ahead of schedule. It provides plenty of punch to move along easily, with good passing power. It comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission which shifts smoothly, but seems to have rather "tall" gear ratios to help stretch fuel economy, but it comes at the expense of off-the-line acceleration. An optional four-speed automatic transmission is also available.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Civic is great fun to drive, and its sparkling handling comes from its double wishbone independent suspension, tuned to provide a comfortable ride and good maneuvering capabilities. Body motions are well-controlled, and understeer is predictable, due in part to gas-pressurized shock absorbers with progressive valve damping. What this does is allow the shocks to control the smaller road inputs, while the coil springs handle the larger bumps. The boost of its standard power rack-and-pinion steering system was nearly perfect, which added to its fun factor. Through our unofficial slalom course, it remained composed, all the way to the limit of tire grip. Braking from the front disc/rear drums was stable and predictable, with good pedal feel and respectable stopping distances. Unfortunately for Civic LX buyers, anti-lock brakes are no longer available; they are reserved only for top-line EX Sedans and automatic transmission-equipped EX Coupes.

SAFETY - Civic features dual airbags, energy-absorbing crush zones and it also meets 1997 Federal Motor vehicle Safety Standards for side-impact protection.

OPTIONS - Our test vehicle carried no optional equipment.

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