There are three Civic bodystyles in this generation: the short-lived Coupé that ran from 2001-2003, three and five-door hatchbacks and an eco-friendly hybrid saloon. A minor facelift in 2004 resulted in quieter interiors and restyled headlamps.
The standard hatchbacks are geared more towards family comfort rather than driving pleasure – Honda leaves that to the Sport, Type-S and Type-R. They’re easy to drive, with light steering, supple suspension and strong brakes; ABS is offered on every model. The Type-R handles sublimely, with tight cornering and ultra-sharp steering. Drivers used to wimpier hatches may find the Type-R’s ride too harsh. This is the pay-off for an outstanding drive.
There’s good visibility, comfy seats and a driving position that suits almost every driver. Controls are clear and simple to use; dash-mounted gearlever is smooth and precise. The volume button for the stereo is on the right hand side of the unit and the tuner on the left. Honda’s engineers figure that the driver uses the volume more than the tuning button and so it should be closest. A small point, but it highlights Honda’s attention to detail.
1.4 and 1.6 petrols are adequate, but not thrilling. Variable valve timing (VTEC) smoothes out the power delivery and gives good performance. The clattery 1.7-litre diesel is bought-in from Isuzu. IMA hybrid is not economical and only available in saloon bodystyle.
It’s the Type-R that really excites: Honda’s VTEC engine has been developed to give more low-down power, but it still does its best work closer to the red line. The six-speed gearbox is well matched to the 2.0-litre engine, with quick, well-spaced gearchanges.
Driver, passenger and side airbags. Deadlocks are strong and there’s an alarm/immobilizer as standard. Euro NCAP awarded a four-star safety rating.
Parker's buyers' lines
On the forecourt
One of the great hot hatches, but cars without air con are becoming harder to sell on.
Civic 1.6 SE Exec 5-dr
Great engine; loads of kit inside. Easiest five-door to sell.
Civic 1.6 Sport 3-door
Type-R looks without the Group 17 insurance.
Ones to avoid
Not a VTEC engine and feels underpowered.
Lacklustre performance and mediocre performance.
In the workshop:
Two recalls: one for malfunctioning dipped beam headlights (2001), the other for possible damage to the inner sidewalls of tyres (2003).