- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

It may not win any street races, but on the sales charts it is a big winner.

I’m speaking about the Honda Civic. Long considered one of the best cars in its class and the small-car sales leader, the Civic has much to offer for the buyer who puts practicality and reliability on the top of his want list.

Honda Civic sedans and coupes are not sporty models, but the high-performance Si hatchback is offered for those seeking more performance. It is produced exclusively at the company’s UK Manufacturing facility in Swindon, England.

Other Civic models come from Honda’s global supply network and use a combination of domestic and globally produced parts. Coupe models are assembled at the Honda of America Manufacturing Plant in East Liberty, Ohio.

My test car was a Honda Civic Coupe EX — an excellent example of why Honda has become a leader in the American marketplace.

EX is the top trim level for Civic coupes and sedans. It is offered with either an automatic or five-speed manual transmission. The test car was equipped with the smooth-shifting manual unit. It is teamed with the aluminum-alloy, inline four-cylinder engine with 127 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 114 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm.

Other trim levels offered are DX, HX and LX. The HX is a thrifty version featuring a VTEC Lean Burn version of the engine. Honda also offers a natural gas-powered sedan considered to be “the cleanest internal combustion engine in the world.”

Also offered is the Civic Hybrid, the first mainstream automobile application of gasoline-electric technology. A review of this version will appear in this column soon.

I found the 1668 cc engine in the test coupe to be a willing worker — particularly with the manual transmission. It would be my choice because a manual allows the driver to get the most out of the engine.

Automatics are more convenient but steal too much power when coupled with small four-cylinder engines. As expected, the EX engine provides excellent fuel mileage. The Environmental Protection Agency says 32 miles per gallon city and 38 highway. In combined city/highway mileage the EX averaged 35.8 mpg.

My week behind the wheel comprised most miles on city streets with a few forays onto the freeways. The EX was up to every task. It rides well for a small car and its handling and steering are predictable.

It makes no pretense of being a sporty car. It is a vehicle that will get you from point A to point B without any trouble.

The Civic’s appearance is clean. Here, again, styling was not the most important matter for its designers. The job was to get the most interior room possible in a small car — and they succeeded.

The coupe offers excellent room for the driver and front passenger. The rear bench seat is best occupied by small children, though adults will fit for short journeys.

Despite being considered an economy car, the EX comes well loaded with features that are often options on competition models. It features a standard power moon roof with tilt feature, body-colored dual power mirrors, aluminum-alloy wheels, power door locks, variable intermittent windshield wipers, cargo net and dozens of other features.

Civics come with a full complement of safety features. Civic coupes equipped with optional side air bag system earned a five-star rating for all passengers in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s front- and side-impact crash tests.

The instrument panel is easily read with white-on-black analog gauges for tachometer, speedometer, fuel and temperature

Other information is provided by warning lights

I appreciated the high positioning of both the sound system and air conditioner. It made the driver’s job easier while under way.

It is hard to fault any Honda model — and the EX coupe certainly doesn’t do anything to tarnish that reputation.

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