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Honda Civic DX Sedan (2001)

SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

Honda's Civic has been a benchmark in the small sedan class since the introduction of the original version in 1973. It has consistently been a leader in emissions, fuel economy, and safety, making it popular for family transportation and commuting. It has also inspired a new generation of performance enthusiasts.

The Civic has kept at the top of its class by constantly evolving, and the seventh generation has debuted for the 2001 model year. The newest Civic improves on the traditional Civic values of safety and economy, and offers a touch more space as well. Interestingly, and in response to American buyer tastes, the hatchback - the original Civic body style - has been dropped from the lineup. The sedan and coupe continue, with much more differentiation than in any previous Civic line.

Although they share almost no external styling, both the 2001 Civic Coupe and Sedan share a new chassis structure with increased rigidity and a completely re-designed suspension. The almost archetypal Honda double-wishbone front suspension has been replaced by a more mainstream MacPherson strut design, which allows increased passenger compartment room with no loss of the Civic's fun-to-drive character. The engine is new as well, physically lighter and smaller but increased in displacement from 1.6 liters to 1.7. Horsepower and torque are up a bit, emissions are lower - all 2001 Civics have ULEV status - and fuel economy is even better.

High gas prices got you down? Over 30 mpg in real-world driving is easily attainable with no need to suffer sluggish performance or a boring driving experience, as I discovered during a recent week with a Civic DX Sedan. The DX is the entry trim level, and, as expected, is basic and plain in appointment. But it is as tastefully executed as any Honda, and, like all new Civics, features even tighter manufacturing tolerances for excellent fit and finish. Passenger space has increased, and there is room for real people in the back seat. With the 2001 Civic, Honda is serious about defending its place at the top of the small sedan class.

APPEARANCE: Despite its all-new sheetmetal, the 2001 Civc Sedan is easily recognized as a Honda Civic. Styling changes are evolutionary, not revolutionary. Proportions are changed, with a larger passenger cabin and a shorter hood and trunk lid. The previous generation's rounded edges have given way to a more angular design. The Civic Sedan's large, distinctive taillights are its most distinguishing styling feature. The front is defined by large, bright, multi-element headlights and a small rounded pentagonal grille with a bright chrome trim strip at its top. The front bumper fascia has a flat "air dam" look, not merely for a sporty appearance but for functional aerodynamics. Plastic wheel covers over steel wheels are standard on the DX trim level.

COMFORT: Although the 2001 Civic Sedan is a half-inch or so shorter than a 2000 model, its interior is larger. The old Civic was classified as "subcompact"; the new one is "compact." Rear-seat legroom and width are noticeably increased, with more space than is usual for a car of its size. Interior appointments at the DX level are decidedly basic, with manual windows and mirrors, and an AM/FM radio without a tape or CD player. Air conditioning is optional, but a rear-window defroster is standard. If the Civic DX's interior is Spartan, it is also well-designed and functional. The seats are comfortable, if firm, and a 60/40 split folding rear seat is standard. There are useful storage spaces and cupholders, and the trunk is large for the car's size.

SAFETY: The new Civic Sedan's unibody structure is designed to protect passengers in a collision, and it is expected to meet the highest impact ratings. Front side airbags are available in all models.

ROADABILITY: "Inexpensive" doesn't have to be synonymous with "no fun." Even in base-model DX trim, the new Civic sedan is enjoyably entertaining to drive. Its newly-designed MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear suspension is tuned for real-world handling and all-around comfort, and will please the majority of Civic buyers. No, the DX is not another Si, but, for low-budget enthusiasts, a simple wheel and tire upgrade from the standard P195/70 SR14 rim protectors to larger-diameter wheels and lower- profile tires should increase steering response and precision with a minimal decrease in comfort. The more performance-oriented EX is so equipped.

PERFORMANCE: The Civic DX's playful character is also a product of its new engine. Unlike most previous Honda engines, the new single overhead cam, 16-valve 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine has good low- and midrange power, which makes it easier to drive, with less shifting necessary. Its115 horsepower and 110 lb-ft of torque give sprightly, if not blistering, performance. Buyers interested in power are directed to the EX model, with a 127-hp VTEC version of the new engine. The standard five-speed manual gearbox makes shifting a pleasure, with very good linkage and a light clutch. Importantly, as most will be ordered with the optional four-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission, the new engine's power characteristics are better-suited to an automatic than most previous Honda engines. EPA fuel economy estimates are 32mpg city / 37mpg highway. Driving my test car with absolutely no concern about economy, in mostly city traffic and backroad fun mode, I got an average of 33 mpg. With less exercise of the right foot, that could get even better.

CONCLUSIONS: The new Honda Civic Sedan offers solidity, space, and performance with no sacrifice of fuel economy or air quality.

2001 Honda Civic DX Sedan

Base Price              $ 13,210 with side air bags
Price As Tested         $ 15,020
Engine Type             single overhead cam 16-valve
Engine Size             1.7 liters / 102 cu. in.
Horsepower              115 @ 6100 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          110 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission            5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length      103.1 in. / 174.6 in.
Curb Weight             2421 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   21
Fuel Capacity           13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement        unleaded regular gasoline, 89 octane
Tires                   P195/70SR14 Dunlop SP20FE
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear  independent MacPherson strut / 
                          independent double wishbone
Drivetrain              front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      32 / 39 / 33
0 to 60 mph            est 9.0  sec

(Front side air bags included in base price)
Air conditioning      $ 1,274
Floor mats            $    96
Destination charge    $   440