- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The Honda Civic dates back to 1973 in the United States.

But this plucky small car continues to win over buyers and was the only compact auto to rank among the 10 best sellers in the country last year.

For the 2004 model year, the Civic is freshened on the outside, with new front and rear bumpers, hood, headlights and grille. There’s more sound insulation to reduce noise inside the car, and stereo speakers are upgraded for better sound.

Additionally, some features have been made standard on some Civic models.

Pricing remains affordable in Honda’s lowest-priced vehicle. Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $13,900 for a Civic coupe and $13,500 for a 2004 Civic sedan. There’s even a gasoline-electric Civic Hybrid sedan that starts at $20,140.

The test car was an uplevel, gasoline-powered, EX coupe priced at $18,400. Coupes account for about 25 percent of the approximately 300,000 new Civics sold annually, according to Honda spokesman Andy Boyd.

But buyers of the Civic coupe are noteworthy in the auto industry because their median age is just 34. Auto industry officials increasingly are seeking ways to attract the large numbers of Generation X and Y Americans joining the ranks of new car buyers each year.

The Civic test car combined Honda’s typically clean, uncluttered styling with a new-for-2004, bright Fiji Blue Pearl paint job. It looked like a deep royal blue, a color you don’t see often on the road.

The two-door car sat low to the ground. I had to drop down into the form-fitting and well-bolstered driver’s seat as I got inside. Note: There’s no way for a Civic driver to see around and beyond minivans, sport utilities and trucks.

The Civic coupe’s main three gauges are eye-catching and jazzy at night. The bright red needles in the gauges seem to glow, and each gauge is surrounded by bright red circles.

Knobs and buttons on the Civic dashboard are good-sized and easy to reach. Even the latch that opens the glovebox is easily reached by the driver.

I liked that the two cupholders in the Civic center console can be covered by a black plastic door when not in use. This allows the storage of small items out of view.

The sporty front-seat head restraints, which have a cut-out open space in the middle, provide an airy feel, especially for back-seat riders who sit by windows that don’t open. Also, these riders’ heads rest under the rear window glass, and having three passengers in the back would be a very close fit.

Civics are offered with several versions of four-cylinder engines. The test coupe had the 1.7-liter, single overhead cam, inline four-cylinder with Honda’s variable valve timing or VTEC. It generates a maximum 127 horsepower and 114 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm, enough to make this 2,500-pound car move sprightly down the road.

The five-speed manual shifter and clutch pedal in the test car didn’t need a lot of force to operate. There were muted shock points in the shifter, and there was a satisfying feel in moving through the gears.

Acceleration was brisk — the car was peppy enough that I could dart around stopped traffic easily. Yet, fuel economy for this EX coupe is commendable at 32 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. But I could readily hear the engine just about all the time. Road noise seemed to overtake the engine noise once I got close to highway speeds.

Civics also are available with automatic transmissions.

All Civics are front-drive cars, and the test EX coupe maneuvered through a slalom with ease. There was no body flexing or a loose, uncontrolled feel, but tires slid some.

Also in the test coupe, road bumps could be felt via vibrations that came through to passengers and there was some bobbing up and down on irregular road surfaces. Wind noise was at a minimum. The test EX coupe’s fit and finish were excellent; seams and body panel gaps were consistent throughout. Rear seatbacks split into one-third and two-third sections and can flop down onto the seat cushions, opening an oval-shaped pass-through from the trunk for long items.

Note, though, that it can be awkward to reach the keyholes on the rear parcel shelf that unlatch these seatbacks. Also, the seatbacks don’t lie flat, and the trunk floor material feels thin.

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