Automotive writers are a pretty spoiled bunch. We can be given the keys to a top-of-the-line luxury sedan with state-of-the-art engineering, and complain about the colour of the wood trim or the size of the radio controls. Let us drive a Bentley or Rolls and weíll whine about the dearth of cup-holders. Thatís our job, I suppose, and we have to find something wrong with our test cars, but sometimes I think we spend too much time on upper end models and not enough on the cars that most people can actually afford.
Well, as the song goes, hereís something we can all enjoy. An inexpensively priced four door sedan that satisfies all the basic requirements of family transport with excellent dependability, a decent amount of storage and interior space, Ďway above average fuel economy, one of the cleanest running engines in the industry, and, best of all, a price tag well under $12,000.
Itís Honda Civic four-door, which for 1999 is on the receiving end of some exterior refinements, including a new front end treatment, and improved interior ergonomics. Itís also powered by what the company calls a "Tier 1" powerplant that complies with Californiaís Light Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards.
Engine first. Although there are two varieties of the made in Canada Civic sedan - the base LX and upscale EX - both are propelled by a 1.6 litre overhead cam four cylinder engine that develops 106 horsepower at 6200 rpm. Honda excels in small engine design - possibly because of their motorcycle heritage - and this engine is a paragon of efficiency, smoothness, and durability. It wonít press you back into your seat when you bury the gas pedal, but itís peppy enough and with fuel economy ratings of 38 mpg in the city and 50 mpg on the highway, for the manual five-speed model, you wonít be spending much time at the pumps. In fact, I would guess that these numbers are actually on the low sideÖ.once cars get a few miles on them, the fuel economy generally goes up. My test car was an EX with the four-speed automatic, but the fuel economy is still pretty impressive.
Although itís a relatively modestly-sized car, the Civic sedan has decent interior dimensions. Front legroom of 1085 mm puts it about the middle of the pack, and it has trunk storage capacity - 338 litres with the seats up - that exceeds the Toyota Tercel and Hyundai Elantra, but is about even with the Toyota Corolla, Mazda Protťgť, and Saturn SL. But what it has that most of the competition lacks is a nice airy interior with a terrific driveability factor and excellent peripheral visibility. Like the Accord, the Civic seems to encourage driving. Honda has also redesigned the heat/ventilation controls for 1999, but the old ones were OK too.
You get a fair whack of equipment with the Civic LX. Dual front airbags, childproof door locks, tilt steering, lockable 60/40 folding rear seat, and rear heating ducts all come standard, and there are some nice little touches like - oh - a coin holder, driverís dead pedal, a couple of cup-holders, and height adjustable front seat belts. With the EX, add power windows, cruise control, air conditioning, a tachometer, upgraded stereo, and heated outside mirrors, among other things. The EX starts at an additional $2000, which is still pretty affordable. All of these last items are nice, but I figure the Civic Sedanís true value comes as a bare-bones LX, and the only option Iíd have to insist on would be air conditioning, which should be a dealer-installed option.
I think what I like best about this car is its unpretentiousness. It wonít get your blood pumping or impress the neighbours. True, itís undeniably anonymous-looking, but itís the kind of car thatíll start every time, and everything will work the way itís supposed to. Civics also have one of the best recall and frequency of repair records in the industry. Some consider them to be "disposable" carsÖ.drive Ďem for a coupla years and then get another one. But my neighbour has one of the 4WD Wagons they made back in the late 1980s - early 1990s with well over 300,000 kilometres on the clock. It still looks almost new and has been dead reliable since he bought it.
What else can you ask for?
Specifications Passenger capacity - five Engine: 1.6 litre in-line four cylinder Power: 106 hp @ 6200 rpm Transmissions: five-speed manual/four-speed automatic Fuel consumption - 34 mpg city; 48 mpg hwy.