Review and road test of the Honda Civic 5dr Hatchback (1995 - 2001)
HONDA'S COMFORTABLE CONTENDER
BY JONATHAN CROUCH
The Honda Civic 5-door owes a lot to British intervention. It was, after all, partly developed by Rover (whose 400 and 45 series are, engines apart, virtually identical). And from the start, unlike other Civics, it has been built at Honda's Swindon factory, a European car intended to please European buyers.
And it has. Unfettered by import quotas, the Civic 5-door has for some time been Honda's best-selling car here. Which means that there are plenty around on the used market. They make plenty of sense too.
Hatchback: (1.4 Base & Electric Pack, 1.4S, 1.5, 1.5LS, 1.5VTec-E, 1.5 Vtec, 1.5 VTec LS, 1.5S, 1.5SE, 1.5SE Sport, 1.5SE Executive, 1.5SE Executive Sport, 1.6LS, 1.6ES, 1.6SR, 1.6S, 1.6SE, 1.6SE Sport, 1.6SE Executive, 1.6SE Executive Sport, 1.8VTi, 2.0iTD)
The Civic 5-door range beat its Rover clone to market with a launch in March 1995. Equipment levels were strong from the start (better than its British rivals), with even the least expensive entry-level 1.4i version getting front full-sized driver and passenger airbags, power steering, central locking, an engine immobiliser, electric windows, wood finish interior trim and an electric glass sunroof.
It was the same story with the other four models in the range. These included two 1.6-litre variants - the plush 1.6 LS and the sporty 1.6 SR, with its 120mph-plus 'VTEC' engine. There was also a 1.5-litre version, the 1.5i VTEC-E, which, with its clever variable valve timing engine, was economical enough to take on diesel rivals.
A high-level brake light was added to all models in October 1995 but the real changes came with the introduction of second generation versions in June 1997. These were recognisable by Honda's new corporate chrome grille with its prominent central 'H'. Smoked rear lights and extra chromework completed the main visual changes.
A Rover-engined turbo diesel model joined the range, as did a flagship 1.8 VTi model, equipped with what Honda billed as the most powerful 1.8-litre engine in the world.
Aerodeck estate versions arrived in April 1998. Late in 1999, Honda revised the model line-up, bringing trim level designations into line with the larger Accord. The diesel, never a strong seller, was dropped. The 5-door was replaced by an all-new model in October 2000, though dealers continued to sell stocks of the 1.4 Sport model until March 2001. At this point, the Aerodeck was also dropped.
What You Get
The neat if not memorable exterior styling will be a matter of personal taste. It certainly won't put you off. The interior meanwhile, is spacious and comfortable, if not ultimately roomy enough to justify rather hopeful Honda aspirations that their new car might steal sales from Mondeos and Vectras in the next class up. Pitch it against the Vauxhall Astra, Ford Focus and Peugeot 306 however, and you'll have no complaints.
In fact, the exemplary driving position, sweet-shifting gearbox and careful dashboard design leave a distinctly favourable impression. It's also hard not to be impressed by the willing nature of the various engines on offer, despite the fact that you have to rev them pretty hard to translate much of their potential performance to the tarmac.
What to Look For
Very little: the car tends to prove predictably reliable. Your biggest problem will be sifting through the extraordinary number of engine and trim permutations to find the model that best suits your budget. Whatever you decide on, a full service history is preferable.
(based on a P-reg 1.6LS - approx ex-Vat) A full exhaust system (excluding catalyst) is around £170 and a full clutch assembly around £130. Front and rear brake pads are around £45 and £40 respectively per set. A starter motor is around £290, a radiator around £130, an alternator around £290 and a front headlamp around £70.
On the Road
The 1.6-litre LS version that the majority of customers tend to consider first makes sixty in 9.3 seconds on the way to 107mph. More to the point perhaps, it also returns up to 40mpg in normal use. Opt for the 1.5-litre version and that figure rises to almost 60mpg - diesel-style economy indeed.
Around the lanes, the car has no pretensions of sporting prowess. Instead, the light pedal pressures, progressive brakes and easy steering place the emphasis on user-friendliness. You'd feel as comfortable lending it to your mother as you would to your twenty-two year-old son.
In essence, 'comfortable' probably sums the car up. 'Comfortable' for Honda, in that the Civic 5-door and Aerodeck estate have given them real presence in a market where in previous years, they've only scratched the surface. 'Comfortable' too, for customers who place their emphasis on value for money; on the used market as on the new, the Civic 5-door range offers them more than virtually any other competitor.
Honda Civic 5dr Hatchback (1995 - 2001) review by JONATHAN CROUCH