BY ANDY ENRIGHT
This Civic range finally put to rest the old memories of Civics being tiny starter cars of little sophistication. The seventh generation Civic was superbly engineered, innovative in design and rightly popular with British buyers. Honda did almost everything right. There was a family friendly five-door, a slightly more rakish three-door and a flagship Type-R sports model that quickly deposed the Renaultsport Clio 172 as the hot hatch of choice. The only slight fly in the ointment was the woeful US-built Coupe, one of Honda's rare own goals. As a used proposition, it's difficult to get things wrong. All models have peerless reliability and Honda dealers have an enviable reputation.
Models Covered: 2dr Coupe, 3 & 5dr Hatch: (1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 2.0 petrol [S, SE, Max, Sport, Executive, Type-S, Type-R])
The Swindon-built Civic 5-door range beat its 3-door sibling to market by a couple of months, touching down in summer 2000. Two engines were offered; a 1.4 and a 1.6 available in S, SE and, with the 1.6, Executive trim levels. The range quickly drew plaudits and the 3-door cars gained similar acceptance, a similar range structure being launched bar the top model, Executive being replaced by a Sport variant. Few doubted that Honda could resist launching a red hot Type-R model, and so it proved, the 197bhp road rocket touching down in 2001 to rapturous acclaim. So good was the Civic that the withdrawal of the much-loved Integra Type-R passed almost unnoticed. At around the same time the Type-R hit the showrooms, Honda quietly slipped the two-door Civic Coupe into the range. With a 1.7-litre engine pumping out an effete 123bhp, this bland little coupe was best ignored. The Civic Max special editions were launched in January 2002, aiming at spiking the burgeoning success of the Peugeot 307, the Civic's closest rival. These were closely followed by the value-packed Vision special editions. The 160bhp Type-S answered the demand for a hot hatch option for five-door Civic buyers, and a little of the Type-R magic was trickled down into the three-door Civic 1.6 VTEC Sport in summer 2002 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of Civic production. A plush Type-R 30th Anniversary edition was also launched in limited numbers. The all-new Civic with its futuristic looks was unveiled towards the end of 2005.
What You Get
The one-box dome-shaped profile with its short nose and large glass area gives a very shrunken-People Carrier feel. It's the same inside, where the dashboard-mounted gearlever frees up floorspace and enables front-seated parents to walk through and clip the ears of warring kids sat in the rear. As for space, well there's significantly more than you'd find in an ordinary family hatch, due to dimensions that make it 130mm longer and 15mm higher than a class-leader like Ford's Focus. Hardly surprising then, that the cabin boasts a useful amount of extra room. Compare it once more with a Focus and you'll find 30mm more headroom and (perhaps more surprisingly given that it's 15mm narrower) 145mm more cabin width. Rear seat passenger legroom is especially impressive, even for the middle seat occupant who for once, can stretch his or her legs out in comfort. Built in Marysville, Ohio, the Coupe utilises much of the same technology as the three and five-door cars. Like the 'cooking' Civic, beneath the Coupe's unexciting styling is a car which is unremittingly competent, but which won't set hearts a-flutter. When placed alongside the 3-door hatch, it's obvious that the Coupe sits on a shorter wheelbase, it's front and rear overhangs being slightly more gauche than the wheel-at-each-corner tautness of the hatch. There's a 125bhp 1.7-litre engine under the hood, sorry, bonnet, which utilises Honda's now familiar VTEC valve technology, but not the next-generation iV-TEC intelligent and stepless valve control seen on the hot Civic Type-R. Talking of which, to say the Type-R has undergone a few modifications would be akin to noting that Imelda Marcos wasn't short of footwear choices. Pride of place goes to the 2.0-litre engine, equipped with double overhead cams and intelligent VTEC, Honda's stepless valve control system, combining to generate 200PS, which in terms of good old bhp is a scarcely believable 197bhp. No, it doesn't quite approach the otherworldliness of the S2000 roadster's 237bhp from a 2.0-litre engine, but for a hot hatch it's decidedly manic, especially when you consider that it's attained without the aid of a turbocharger.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Very little: the car tends to prove predictably reliable. Your biggest problem may be finding one that suits your budget. Civic owners don't seem to be selling at the moment. Whatever you decide on, a full service history is preferable. The Type-R is a more specialist proposition and you should make sure the vehicle has been well looked after, run in synthetic oil, has tread on the front tyres and hasn't been used as a weekend warrior by a track day fiend.
(based on a 2001 5-door 1.6S - approx ex-Vat) A full exhaust system (excluding catalyst) is around £210 and a full clutch assembly around £175. Front and rear brake pads are around £45 and £40 respectively per set. A starter motor is £240, a radiator around £150, and an alternator around £275.
On the Road
If you're a keen driver, you needn't bother with the Coupe. Unless you really need the extra room, a Ford Puma does a better job. If you do need the extra room, buy a Civic three-door instead. It's a far better package. Most customers opt for the five-door car and being a Honda, is a tidy handler. The 89bhp 1.4 has proved popular, but the 108bhp 1.6 keeps more enthusiastic motorists interested. Here, sixty is 10.4s away en route to 114mph. At the pumps meanwhile, you should be able to average over 40mpg on a regular basis, whichever of the two units you choose. Whilst sharing the same width across the floor pan as the five-door, the three-door range is in fact 145mm shorter and 60mm lower. A 20kg weight saving translates into marginal performance advantages for the three-door cars, the 1.6-litre variants are capable of hitting 60mph in 10 seconds before running out of go at 116mph.The 89bhp 1.4-litre model manages to crack 60mph in 11.8 seconds and boasts a terminal velocity of 110mph. Want to experience what it's like to drive the Honda Civic Type-R? Easy. Go to the Extreme Sports Channel on your digital television, sit approximately four inches from your television screen, crank up the volume and sellotape an electric battery drill to the top of your head. Stay in this position until the battery fails and then try having a rational conversation. The performance box is decisively ticked, 60mph flashing by in 6.8 frenzied seconds on its way to 145mph. Think of the rally-bred performance icons of the past such as the Ford Escort Cosworth and Lancia Delta Integrale and the Honda's performance is in the same ballpark, only with normal aspiration, front wheel drive and post-millennial emissions regulations to contend with. Outrageous.
Bar the Coupe or a thrashed Type-R, it's difficult to put a foot wrong with a used seventh generation Civic. Although the customer profile has changed and you can no longer bank on one careful elderly owner, a used Civic should be a safe source for your funds.