The Honda Civic is one of the best-known, best-loved cars in the world; it's also the car that put Honda on the map and helped lead the Japanese invasion that eventually brought Detroit to its knees (or senses, as some would point out). After decades of evolving change and improvement, the seventh generation Honda Civic (model years 2001-2005) provides its owners with more interior room, more safety features, more creature comforts and, best of all, more power under the hood.

Available as a sedan, coupe or sporty hatchback, the Civic line features no fewer than six trims, including the fuel-efficient HX, natural gas-powered GX and sporty Si. The Civic's outstanding fuel economy and good reliability record only bolster its legendary status, making even 10-year-old models with high mileage a more expensive prospect than similarly equipped rivals. There is also a hybrid that debuted in model year 2003 (covered in a separate review).

Why You Want It

If you're looking at a car that is five to ten years old, it's a safe bet that limited finances are playing an important role in your decision. Although buying any used vehicle out of warranty carries some risk, with the Civic, the odds of encountering major headaches down the road are greatly reduced. With room for four, a wide range of models and styles, and a repair and reliability record to envy (early model automatic transmissions notwithstanding), the Civic is in high demand - a fact that also keeps the car's asking price at the higher end of the used car scale.

Notable Features & Options

Like all Honda models, the Civic's features are bundled according to trim level. The only options are a few dealer-installed items like radios, fog lamps and CD players; the one factory option is side-impact airbags in front, available on all models. The most basic model, the DX Sedan, features a 115-horsepower 1.7-liter engine, five-speed manual transmission, power steering and an AM/FM radio.

The LX adds air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control and a cassette deck. The top-of-the-line EX gains an extra 10 horsepower and VTEC engine featuring variable valve timing, anti-lock brakes (ABS), a power moonroof, 15-inch alloy wheels and a single CD player.

The sporty Si hatchback features a high-output, 160-hp 2.0-liter engine, close ratio five-speed manual transmission, sport suspension and tires, bolstered sport seats with red stitching, white-faced gauges, electrically-assisted power steering, dash-mounted rally shifter, premium audio with cassette and CD player, and rear roof spoiler. All trims could be equipped with side airbags in front.

Model Milestones

2002: Moderate upgrades were made to the entire Civic line aimed at improving the car's ride and quieting the interior. The sporty Si two-door hatchback joined the lineup featuring a 160-horsepower engine, sport suspension and available side-impact airbags. The only transmission offered on the Si was a five-speed manual.

2003: Changes were mostly cosmetic and included new fabrics on all models, new gauges on LX, HX and EX and restyled tail lamps on the EX Sedan. Other changes included a height-adjustable manual driver's seat for the LX; a new center console and storage compartment for LX and EX; and a CD player made standard on HX and LX trims. The Civic Hybrid made its debut.

2004: The entire Civic lineup received a refreshed exterior, including new bumpers, hood, headlamps and grille. 15-inch alloy wheels were made standard on EX Sedan, while the LX saw its standard wheel size move from 14 to 15 inches. A Value Package (VP) was added to the DX trim bringing with it air conditioning, a CD player and a center console.

2005: A Special Edition EX trim was offered featuring an upgraded stereo with six-disc in-dash CD changer capable of reading MP3 encoded CDs, an auxiliary audio input jack, leather-wrapped steering wheel, unique 15-inch alloy wheels and a body-colored rear wing spoiler.

Engines & Performance

For such a small car, the Civic delivers a fairly smooth and stable driving experience. Acceleration is good as long as the car is not fully loaded or climbing at high elevation. The steering and brake response are first rate.

On Si trims, the tachometer has to be revved high to make the most of the engine's power, but the performance gained is well worth the price of a delayed upshift.

Perhaps more impressive than the Civic's peppy performance is its excellent fuel economy, with the LX manual earning an EPA 28 mpg city/35 mpg highway. Automatic-equipped DX and LX, as well as the slightly more powerful EX and Si trims, earn slightly lower figures. But the HX trim automatic (the only model with a continuously variable transmission) actually pulls off an incredible 31 mpg city/39 mpg highway - nearly as good as some hybrid models.

Recalls, Safety Ratings and Warranties

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has issued the following recalls for the 2001-2005 Honda Civic.

2001-2005: Recall issued for the Civic GX. In the event of an interior fire, the natural gas tank could rupture and explode.

2001-2005: Recall issued for possible defect in the front seatbelts that can restrict movement, causing an improper fitting for some passengers.

2001: Recalls issued for possible defective rear seatbelts, improperly secured fuel filler neck and possible defect in the fuel pump that allows water to corrode the unit, which could lead to engine stalling.

2001-2002: Recalls issued for possible defective air cleaner latch that can break and interfere with the throttle linkage; a defective airbag inflator that can rupture and eject metal fragments through the airbag to the driver; and a defective wiring harness that could fail, rendering the low beam headlamps inoperable.

Recall repairs are required by law even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs were performed and if not, he'll fix the car at no charge to you.

As for safety, the Civic receives five stars (the government's highest rating) in its frontal crash tests, but only four stars in the side impact test (three for the coupe). Adding side airbags, however, improves the coupe's driver's side impact rating to five stars; the sedan's rating remains unchanged. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Civic sedan a Good rating in its frontal offset crash test, but did not test the sedan or coupe for side impact crash results.

The 2001-2005 Honda Civic came with a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and five-year/unlimited mileage corrosion warranty, which has long since expired. Honda only offers Certified Pre-Owned warranties on models built in the past five years, so this model is too old to qualify for Honda Certified Pre-Owned program.

It's worth noting that 2001 through 2005 models don't offer traction or stability control. The EX model, however, does come equipped with anti-lock brakes and available side-impact airbags in front. So if safety is one of your top priorities, we would suggest looking at this trim before the others.

Word on the Web

You know what the experts have to say, but what about owners who live with the Civic every day? We researched owner and enthusiast websites, as well as Consumer Reports, to see what Civic owners think of their cars. For the most part, there is very little to complain about, with most owners praising the car's reliability, fuel economy and strong resale value.

But CarComplaints.com rates the 2001 Civic as one of its 20 worst cars, based on a large number of visitor complaints regarding automatic transmission failure, interior trim issues (falling headliner and peeling door cloth), and electrical glitches. Consumer Reports, on the other hand, has a much different view of the 2001-2005 Civic, giving it generally excellent ratings across the board, although the 2001-2002 model's automatic transmission receives only average marks. Most of these problems were covered by Technical Service Bulletins or recalls, and seem to have been addressed and corrected on 2003 and later models.

Competitive Set

The Toyota Corolla is every bit the Civic's equal, with even better longevity, excellent resale and good safety ratings. The clean, simple design has wide appeal, as does the no-nonsense interior layout.

Mazda is known for its sporty cars and the driving experience behind the wheel of the Protégé is predictably rewarding. The Protégé is also very reliable and it is not as common as the Civic, giving it a bit of exclusivity in the small car class.

The Nissan Sentra offers a bit more interior room than the Civic and a more formal look. It also offers a sport trim called the SE-R that may appeal to driving enthusiasts on a budget.

Although its repair and recall record is somewhat spotty, the Ford Focus is a great driving car, with good fuel economy figures and European-inspired styling. It also costs a lot less than a comparably equipped Civic with similar mileage.

AutoTrader Recommendation

With prices ranging from about $4,500 for a high-mileage 2001 DX Sedan to as much as $15,000 for a low-mileage 2005 EX in good condition, there is a Civic to fit just about any budget. But beware the older and more traveled cars; they're likely to be the ones that will end up costing more in maintenance and repairs, as even the mighty Civic contains parts that eventually wear out over time.

It's also important to remember that this car is popular with the younger set, a group that is notorious for lowering the car's suspension, modifying the engine and tacking on giant rear wing spoilers and obnoxiously loud mufflers. You probably don't want one of those cars.

At this age, you won't find many Civics in the Certified Pre-Owned lot, so we suggest trying to find an original-owner private party sale where you can obtain the car's complete repair history and get a sense of how it was treated over the years.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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