Review and road test of the Honda Civic Coupe (1994 - 2002)
THE INCONSPICUOUS COUPE
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Ask most coupe owners what they want from their car and, if they're truthful, a large percentage of it will be a 'look at me' factor. Coupes say something about their owners, that they are young at heart, fun loving and appreciate a healthy dose of style over substance. For every rule, however, there are always exceptions. Honda's Civic Coupe is a case in point. Leaving aside the charismatic CRX model which are considered separately, the Civic Coupe isn't really a car that's easy to visualise. Most wouldn't register its presence in the traffic so inoffensive is the styling of any of the three generations we look at here.
Take away the showmanship and what benefits do the coupes bestow over their more practical hatchback siblings? The answer is very few. Nevertheless for those who want a Civic but don't want a car that's an everyday occurrence, the coupes are well worth a look. Their unspectacular image means that used bargains are plentiful.
Fifth generation Civic - 1994-1996: (1.5i Coupe [LSi]) Sixth generation Civic - 1996-2001: (1.6i Coupe [LS, SR ,Sport] / 1.6i VTi Coupe) Seventh generation Civic - 2001 - to date (1.7i Coupe)
The fifth generation Civic was very much a revolution in terms of styling, refinement and quality for Honda. Prior to this, the Civic had been unashamedly a 'cheapie' but as the car matured it reached ever upmarket. The coupe version was introduced in 1994, but was offered only with the standard 1.5-litre engine in LSi trim.
The sixth generation Civic was launched early in 1996 and had grown larger again. The styling was yet more assured. A 103bhp 1.6i LS Coupe was available from the outset, as was the punchy SR model. A number of special editions subsequently appeared, each named less originality than their predecessor. Winter 1996 saw the 'Winter' special edition, followed in June 1997 by the SE special edition. In July 1998, the Special Limited Edition was launched.
Early in 1999, the Coupe models were mildly restyled, air conditioning added as standard and the 158bhp VTi engine fitted to the Coupe. The SR was replaced in November 1999 by the 114bhp 1.6i Sport at which time the VTi received a boot spoiler and CD player as standard. This model lasted until March 2001 whereupon a seventh generation model replaced it.
Built in Marysville, Ohio and powered by a 123bhp 1.7-litre engine, this model focused on comfort and refinement rather than the vivid performance of its VTi forebear. A limited edition model was launched in early 2002 with black leather and silver paint.
What You Get
If you're looking for a small coupe that can accommodate human beings in the back, the Honda Civic is a good place to start looking. All models are reasonably proportioned, getting bigger as the generations progressed. All VTEC cars are brilliant - driving enthusiasts queue here. If you can't afford one or want something less frantic but still sporty, try an L or M-plate fifth generation Coupe; it looks superb, particularly with alloy wheels.
The sixth generation car will probably be remembered as the one to have, especially in VTi trim. Here was car that knocked on the door of the fabled 100bhp per litre from a normally aspirated engine, members of which include the McLaren F1, the Ferrari 355 and the BMW M3.
What to Look For
Watch out for high insurance premiums and tyre wear on the VTi variants and worn seat trim on fifth generation cars. Otherwise, there is very little to catch you out.
(approx based on a 1994 Civic LSi coupe - ex Vat) A clutch assembly is around £135 and an exhaust system about £280. Allow a budget for around £45 for front and rear brake pads.
A radiator is about £165, an alternator about £330 and a starter motor around £245. A front headlamp costs from around £107.
On the Road
We make no apologies for concentrating on the VTi coupe in this section. It is, after all, the only Civic Coupe that offers an exceptional driving experience. The others are perfectly competent and benign, if lacking a little charisma. No such problem with the crackerjack VTi. Under the bonnet lies Honda's glorious 160bhp VTEC engine, which revs all the way to 8,000rpm with a yowl that's intoxicatingly rich. It's fantastic to drive, and it's stunningly fast. The tarmac result is rest to 60mph in a fraction over eight seconds on the way to 134mph, but such is the aural accompaniment that you feel like you're going a great deal faster.
One of the endearing things about this car however, is that it doesn't force you to drive like Damon Hill all the time. In fact, under about 5,000rpm, it feels like any other small family runabout. Put simply, chameleon-like qualities come as standard. To change from sober suit to sports jacket, simply put your foot down.
Unlike some other car manufacturers who have toned their engines down to create 'warm' instead of 'hot' hatches, Honda's engineers have resisted the temptation. The VTi unit boasts a state-of-the-art engine management system and has been changed very little during it lifetime. Past revisions have instead concentrated on improving the suspension and the five-speed gearbox.
But the burning question for keen drivers is, what's this car like to drive? Handling first: the Civic's stiff bodyshell and all-wishbone suspension produce a car that turns into corners like a shark turning towards a meal. Yet this doesn't mean the VTi has nervous, 'pointy' handling that can be unnerving for the driver. We've all come upon a corner quicker than expected and had to hurl the car in at a faster speed than we would have liked. Well the Civic will work with you as predictably as anything this side of four-wheel drive.
You don't need to be a motoring expert, or to cover many miles, to quickly appreciate that this car has been designed by a team of engineers who understand the subtleties of driver enjoyment. The development team readily admit that once the engineering blokes had done their work, many pleasurable hours were spent pounding Civic VTis around the twisting Takasu test track. The fruits of their labour can be yours for less than you may think. Find a well looked after used example and you'll have ample cause to thank them.
If you want a coupe but don't want to put up with many traditional coupe headaches, the Civic Coupe in any of its generations is a reasonable bet. The sixth generation car is the one to go for, the fifth now looking a little old and the seventh still very thin on the ground. Mechanically tough and usually well looked after, the Civic Coupe is an unlikely gem in a congested compact coupe market.
Honda Civic Coupe (1994 - 2002) review by ANDY ENRIGHT