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2001-2005 Honda Civic: Honda's Ever-Popular Small Car

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by John Rettie May 2009

Ever since Honda first introduced the Civic back in 1972, it has remained as one of the most popular cars on the worldwide market. Not surprising, as it has always offered great reliability, attractive looks and good fuel economy.

Although its smaller size might have relegated it to second fiddle next to the Accord in the US market, it has been the best-selling car in Canada for the past 11 years. Indeed for a short while in 2008, when fuel prices were over $4 a gallon, the newest Civic was the best-selling car in the US.

The car featured here is the seventh generation Civic, which was sold between 2001 and 2005.

Just about every car tends to get slightly bigger with each new generation, and the Civic has been no exception. In fact this generation officially moved up from the sub-compact to compact segment when it went on sale in 2001. Although it was only a few inches bigger than the previous model it was just enough to bump it up, according to official EPA numbers.

In keeping with its move up market, more emphasis was placed on the four-door sedan model and to a lesser extent, the two-door coupe. The traditional hatchback version was left exclusively for the sporty Si model, which sold in limited numbers after its delayed introduction in 2002. It's worth noting that Honda introduced the hatchback-only Fit model in 2007, which has replaced the Civic as Honda's entry-level model in the US. A hybrid Civic was introduced in 2003, but it also sold in very small numbers. Minor changes to the design of the headlights and taillights in 2004 freshened the look of the Civic midway through its five-year lifecycle.

Despite its increase in size, Honda kept the seventh generation Civic's prices much the same as before, thanks to some cost cutting measures that included less complicated MacPherson struts in the front suspension instead of double wishbones. The average driver would never know the difference, but it was a move that upset many traditional Civic enthusiasts, especially those who like to modify their cars.

Talking of which — Civics have long been a popular car with young drivers. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to tell which cars might have "enjoyed" a tougher life as most enthusiasts modify the car body and add extra accessories inside. Of course, so many Civics were sold during the period that there are plenty of clean low-mileage cars on the market at any given time.

Test Drives
1. 2005 Honda Civic EX Special Edition Coupe
   Automatic, 44,500 miles
   Asking price: $12,550 (April 2009)
   Owner: Valerie, female, age: 19

I was kind of surprised when the silver two-door Coupe showed up for my test drive as it was covered in dust. Valerie explained that the car was not being used, and it sits outside all day near a busy street. Although Valerie was the owner of the car, it had actually been used by two of her three daughters and finally the youngest one was leaving home to join the Air Force so the car was no longer needed.

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Considering this Civic had been driven exclusively by teenagers since it was new, it was in really good condition with only a couple of minor scuff marks. Apparently the oldest daughter had wrecked another car when she began driving, so Valerie was pleased this car had survived the ordeal. "I'd rather they would have chosen a "mom-approved" four-door sedan," Valerie told us. "But my daughter had her mind set on this two-door because of its sporty looks and upgraded sound system."

The Special Edition was offered only in 2005 and was the top-of-the-line model. It featured a rear spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel and in-dash CD/MP3 player.

The family said they had had no problems with the car whatsoever and were really sad to see it go. That's perhaps why they were having trouble finding a buyer as they had priced it a little too high. However it would, nonetheless, be an excellent buy for another mother looking for a car for a young person. A brief drive confirmed that there was nothing wrong, as it seemed tight, and there were no squeaks or rattles. The brakes were also good, and the engine was smooth. All round it was a sweet car.

2. 2002 Honda Civic LX Coupe
   Manual, 114,000 miles
   Asking price: $4,500 (April 2009)
   Owner: Nancy, female, age: 57

As a social worker, Nancy has to drive a lot. Consequently she put 114,000 miles on her 2002 Civic, which is above average for a car of this age. What's perhaps more surprising is that the car has a manual transmission. "One of my first cars was an MGB GT, and I grew to like manual transmissions," Nancy tells us.

This Civic was her fourth Honda, and she has replaced it with a new Accord. Yet she was showing signs of remorse when I met with her. "I got 41 mpg commuting daily 40 miles each way to work. I've never had any problems with the car apart from replacing the battery and getting new tires last year."

When I drove the car I immediately noticed an unusual clunking noise when turning. Nancy told me it had been there for many years and the dealer had never been able to decipher where it was coming from, consequently she was not worried about it.

Overall the car was in fairly good shape although there were a couple of blemishes, including a dent in the right corner where it looked like a shopping cart had taken a whack at it in a parking lot. For the price it would make a good buy for a first time driver.

3. 2004 Honda Civic LX Sedan
   Automatic, 5,500 miles
   Asking price: $12,500 (April 2009)
   Owner: Brett, male, age: 50

Despite a light covering of dust, it was immediately apparent that this champagne gold-colored Civic was in prime condition. As soon as I stepped inside, I could tell it was as good as new. It turned out to be true, as the five-year old car only had 5,500 miles on the odometer. It meant that the previous owner had barely driven it a thousand miles each year. The driver had been an 87-year-old lady who recently passed away, and her son had inherited it. Although he liked the car he already owned a truck as well as a Toyota Prius, so he decided it was wise to sell the car while it was still in top-notch condition.

Not surprisingly it drove well, although it did seem to have more road noise than I've normally found in other Civics. Overinflated tires may have caused it, but I could not tell in the short time I had with the car. Another strange anomaly was that the light stalk had to be switched to the parking light setting in order to start the car. Brett said it had always been that way and he presumed it was a security feature. True it would cause a thief or joy rider to wonder why he could not get the car started, but it's something I've not experienced before. Once you know about it, it is no big deal. I have to presume, unless corrected, that it was a minor wiring fault somewhere.

Overall, though, this car would almost be like buying a brand new car with a 25% discount. True you would not have a warranty but with only 5500 miles on the odometer it should be fine for another 100,000 miles. Incidentally NADAguides shows that the extremely low mileage adds $2,275 to the value, compared to one with an average mileage. Even with that addition, NADAguides indicates this car should be selling at retail for around $11,300, making Brett's asking price too high. "I am willing to come down somewhat in price," he told us.

Market Overview
Even though fuel economy was not a concern during the years this edition of the Civic was on sale, it was nevertheless among the top four best-selling cars in the US. Its sales were about the same as the Toyota Corolla, and both were only exceeded in sales volume by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

Initially, when this generation was introduced in 2001, about 40% were coupes, and around one quarter of both coupes and sedans had manual transmissions. By the end of the model run in 2005, coupe sales represented less than one third and the number of cars equipped with manual transmissions had fallen to 18%.

Apart from the low-volume Si and hybrid, a 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine powered all models. However, the power output of the EX engine was slightly greater (127 hp vs. 115hp). Another low volume model was the HX, which was available with a CVT transmission that delivered better fuel economy.

As in the past, the Civic continued to win accolades from numerous consumer magazines for its reliability. In particular it was cited for powertrain dependability by research organizations such as Intellichoice and J. D. Power and Associates. This particular generation, though, did not get as much praise from enthusiast magazines, as they tended to dislike the changes in the front suspension as considering it to be less sporty.

There were some recalls and technical bulletins issued for minor problems. Most of them were for the 2001 model year, so hopefully they will have been taken care of in those for sale as used cars.

As far as safety equipment is concerned, ABS was an option only purchased by about one third of buyers. Side airbags were also optional during this period, and only about 10% of buyers opted to pay the extra cost. Power windows and remote keyless locks were much more popular options with over 75% of Civics sold during the period getting these convenience features. Only the base DX model came without air conditioning, but you'll be hard pressed to find one as only a few thousand were sold each year.

Few people would disagree that Honda and Toyota have garnered a reputation for making the most reliable cars. Judging from comments by Honda Civic owners it would appear that Civics are amongst the most trouble-free cars on the road.

This makes them an excellent choice as a used car. Of course it also means that the price of a used Civic tends to be higher than an equivalent car from another maker, but hopefully it will lead to lower running costs, as the car gets older.

Unless you are a car buff, it's probably best to avoid a Civic that's been modified. But a clean unmodified used Civic should be a good bet. It is an ideal car for commuting, thanks to its great fuel economy, and it's great as a first car, thanks to its ease in handling and good safety features.

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2001-2005 Honda Civic: Honda's Ever-Popular Small Car - Autotrader