The cars we loved.
The sixth generation Honda Civic coupe (1997-2000) almost singlehandedly thrust Honda to the top-tier of tuner culture. Along with the
Acura Integra (Civic based), Honda’s subcompact coupes had become a favorite with enthusiasts due to their high reliability, refinement and out of the box tunability. So it was with some initial disappointment that the seventh generation coupe would come without a Si version when it was launched in late 2000 as a 01 model. Enthusiasts had other reasons to be disappointed, most notably because of Honda’s decision to move from the double
wishbone suspensions of previous cars to the cheaper and more compact McPherson strut. Also gone were the BMW like character lines of the old car. In its place was a streamlined shape highlighted by a short front overhand and a large fast back like rear window.
The changes weren’t all bad. The coupe like its sedan counterpart had made the jump from subcompact to compact all while maintaining
nearly the same exterior dimensions of the previous car. The trick was performed by adding more interior volume due to the revised suspension. The new model weighed a bit more than the old, but got more power and better fuel economy. All models of the Civic were now certified ultra low-emissions vehicles (ULEV). Like other Civics, the coupe was available in a dizzying array of configurations with no less than 8 models being offered. The most popular and consistant trim levels of the coupe were the DX, LX and top of the line EX. No Si was offered in the proper coupe configuration in this
generation. In a return to its roots, in 2003 a hatchback was offered with 160hp versions of the 1.8L i-VTEC four-cylinder engines. It was for the first time since 1995 that the Civic was available as a hatchback in the US. Its looks were polarizing and as such did not make much of a dent beyond the enthusiasts circles. Aside from the natural gas and hybrid engines, the remaining models used a 115 or 127hp 1.7L SOHC engines. EX models of course used the more powerful VTEC design.
The Civic was moving away from its appeal as a tuner special. It was clear that the Civic had grown up. Like all Honda’s, the Civics evolution was gradual with each new change being the result of research and owner feedback. Honda’s extensive market research concluded that making the car appeal more to females would improve its sales, lower insurance and further bolster its resale value. Not that the Civic was ever hurting in any of those areas. It had been one of the top-selling cars in America for as long as anyone could remember and it’s resale value made Cavaliers and Neons look like bad junk bond investments. At around $17,000 the Civic EX cost less than many loaded competitors. Despite the low-cost, the level of refinement was typical of what buyers expected of any Honda, even its lowest priced car.
The exterior was clean-looking almost to the point of looking bland. So barren was the look that dealers began offering side trim to protect from light side impacts. Later the feature would be incorporated into the design along with subtle ground effects (EX), giving the coupe a slightly more upscale and sporty look. The upmarket look extended to the enlarged cabin. The control layout was similar to the last car, with logically placed buttons and big gauges. Surface materials were of good quality, but the extensive use of greys in some models betrayed the otherwise upscale feel of the interior.
Performance of the EX with the larger engine was nothing to be excited about. With the 5 speed manual transmission, published 0 to 60 times
ranged anywhere from the low 8 second to low 9 second range. To most drivers, the difference between the DX and EX was smaller than it had been in the past from an acceleration standpoint. Despite the downgrade to a MacPherson strut independent suspension, the Civic coupe retained its good road manners. Handling was surprisingly good considering the 185/70R14 tires. Brakes where disc up front and drums in the back. ABS was limited to EX models, while cars like the Cavalier offered it as standard on all models. Competitors like the Cavalier and Ion offered more power, but lacked the Civics refinement and overall fun to drive factor.
The Civic’s forte has always been efficiency, reliability and comfort. The least efficient Civic coupe had highway mileage in the 30’s. A
Civic was consistently in the top ten list for gas misers. 2001 DX models with a manual transmission for instance were rated at 28 city and 35 highway
according to the EPA’s new figures. The added horsepower of an EX was no real penalty with only 1 mile a gallon less on the highway.
Civic development recently has swung back toward the enthusiasts with Si models in coupe and sedan styles. The seventh generation coupe represents an odd change-up in Honda’s evolution of the Civic coupe as a result, its resale value is not as high relative to some other generations of Civics. That’s good news for anyone looking for a reliable used car that’s not been tarnished by ground effects kits, black hoods or mis-matched body panels.
Performance parts exist for this Civic, but not nearly on the scale of the 1997-2000 models. The Civic has now become a larger more posh car, so much so that Honda has added the Fit to fill the slot the Civic once did. In many ways the seventh generation Civic marked the beginning of the larger more grown up Civic.