Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Honda Civic 1995-2000, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you are buying it.
The Honda Civic stood apart from the rest of the small car crowd from the moment it hit our shores in the early 1970s. It was the small car for buyers who could afford a little more than was being offered by other carmakers.
Honda was quickly able to establish a reputation for quality and design innovation that set it apart in the eyes of small car buyers.
With each new generation Honda was able to build on the reputation established by pervious models.
Every new generation offered an attractive blend of quality, style, packaging and price, and the sixth generation that arrived here in the mid-1990s was no different.
The Civic that hit our shores late in 1995 was the sixth generation of the small Honda, and took it to a whole new level of quality, refinement and performance.
The fifth generation, while maintaining the things that made the Civic so appealing was criticized for its packaging, noise level and ride. It was even rated below rivals like the cheaper Toyota Corolla. Clearly Honda had some ground to recover with the sixth generation.
Honda had obviously heard the criticisms and answered most of them with the new car. The style and build quality that was so well liked was carried through, but with much improved packaging and refinement. The interior noise levels in particular were much lower than those of the earlier model.
There were three body styles in the new Civic range. There was the Japanese-sourced three-door hatch and four-door sedan and a coupe that came from America.
All three were based on a modified version of the previous model sedan’s platform, which retained the sedan’s longer wheelbase.
That meant the hatch grew in wheelbase by 50 mm, which resulted in rear legroom and much needed passenger comfort. It was also higher and that also made it a more comfortable place to be.
The sedan body was also reworked, but in a less obvious way. It was 55 mm longer than the previous sedan, 38 mm of which was used to increase rear legroom, with five mm added to the legroom in the front.
Under the bonnet the sixth generation Civic had a choice of three 1.6-litre four-cylinder engines and all delivered better performance than those in the earlier model.
They started with a single overhead camshaft unit that punched out 88 kW at 6400 revs and 144 Nm at 5000 revs in the CXi and GLi models.
There was also a choice of two VTEC variable valve-timing engines. The opener was a single overhead camshaft unit that gave similar performance to the base 1.6-litre, but was configured to work with Honda’s the new Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and optimize fuel consumption.
The ultimate performance engine was the double overhead camshaft VTEC engine that thumped out 118 kW at 7600 revs and 148 Nm at 7000 revs. The notable thing about this engine was that it delivered 100 horsepower per litre, a benchmark for engine performance.
Honda offered three transmissions in the Civic, the CVT, a regular four-speed auto and a five-speed. The CVT was available in the VTi, the auto in the CXi and GLi, and the manual in the CXi, GLi, VTi and VTi-R.
The three-door hatch was offered in CXi, GLi and potent VTi-R models, while the sedan came in GLi and VTi variants.
ON THE LOT
Entry to the Civic club comes via the CXi hatch that can be had for $5000-$11,000; add $500 for the better-equipped GLi hatch.
For the security of a sedan you’ll pay $6000-$11,500 for a GLi and $6500-$17,500 for the VTi.
For the thrill of the VTi-R hatch you’ll need to part with $7000-$17,000.
IN THE SHOP
Mechanics hate Hondas. Not because they’re a bad car, but because they don’t break down. It’s hard to make a living when the cars you’ve chosen to specialize in rarely arrive on the back of a tow truck.
Honda engines are generally bulletproof, but look for a service record showing they’ve seen the inside of a service shop as required. Regular oil changes are necessary to avoid the expensive build-up of sludge that can cause the demise of any engine, but Honda engines in particular.
Likewise the gearboxes, which stand up well, but the auto likes the Honda-recommended oil. Straying from the Honda oil may save a few bucks, but it can lead to troubles down the road.
Bodywise the Civic copes well. It’s a solid little car that generally stays rattle free as the kays mount. Obviously look closely for the telltale signs of a bingle; mismatched paint, sagging doors, boot lids or hatches.
The Civic interior also copes quite well with our harsh sun. The general fit and finish is of a high quality, the parts are durable, and the trim seems hard wearing.
IN A CRASH
Rigid bodies provide a stable platform, on which Honda built a car that was agile and responsive, which enhanced primary safety when it came to avoiding a crash,
Only the VTi sedan and VTi-R hatch had the protection of anti-lock brakes.
Driver airbags were standard across the range, with the VTi and VTi-R also boasting a front passenger airbag.
Marilyn Gardiner intended to keep her 1999 Civic GLI sedan for three years, but it is so stylish and has been so reliable in 106,000 km she hasn’t been able to part with it. Unlike the 1989 Holden Astra she owned before the Civic, which was called the mystery car because she never knew when or where it would let her down, the Civic has been totally reliable. The Civic lacks the zip of her Astra, but doesn’t cost much to run. Her only criticism is of the Honda colours, which she says are boring.
The CXi three-door hatch Geoff McDonald bought new in 1997 is still his prime mode of transport. Honda dealers have regularly serviced it and the only expense he’s incurred other than filters and plugs in 10 years and 115,000 km is a replacement light bulb costing $5. The car is as good as new in terms of performance and consumption, the body is perfect, and the paintwork is excellent. The McDonald family has collectively owned six Hondas and all have been equally reliable and trouble free.
• chunky styling
• decent interior roominess
• agile and responsive handling
• standard drivers airbag for safety
• zippy VTi-R hatch
• low fuel consumption
• Ford Laser – 1996-1999 – $5000-$9500
• Toyota Corolla – 1994-2000 – $3500-$10,000
• Nissan Pulsar – 1997-2000 – $4800-$10,500
THE BOTTOM LINE
Well-built, good-looking small car that shows no signs of ageing with the passing years.