Car Test   R0346
  See also R0148 
July 2003
Brief Test Honda Civic
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: 2.0 Type S
Worthy though it is, the standard five-door Civic’s demeanour is hardly likely to raise one’s pulse – this is the prerogative of the racey Type R coupè. It has the looks and the machinery under-bonnet to do the business.
   However, rather like Goldilock’s porridge, both may fail to measure up for some, who want their motoring neither too cold nor too hot.
   This is where the Type S comes into its own. Take a standard Civic 5-door, give the interior a top-trim treatment, then install a standard two litre engine from Honda’s larger model range, give it 160bhp and bingo! You have a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
   We really do admire Honda’s courageous good sense in evolving this model. It eschews conventional lines of demarcation, in matters of image, attempting instead that compromise between hot-hatch and boring practicality with refinement that isn’t easy to sell in a polarised market. (The VW Golf GTi is currently criticised for the same reason.)
   This Civic S has the obligatory alloy wheels, for instance, but they’re fitted with 65-Series radials, to ensure no further deterioration in the model’s iffy bump-absorption abilities. It’s also quite high-geared, which results in a very relaxed motorway cruising gait and significantly better mpg than most 2.0 litre alternatives.
   True, the in-gear response suffers to some extent, but Honda petrol engines are designed to be revved, to liberate the power that lurks in the upper-band of the tachometer; indeed, this engine lights up at the point where most diesels are shutting down.
   If you don’t use the gearbox, the engine plods along obligingly enough (30mph in top is allowed), but you mustn’t expect much in the way of overtaking (or even hill-climbing) ability. Fair enough, but unfortunately the gearchange feels rather ponderous and can sometimes baulk when changing from top to third – just when you need to enliven the proceedings, if overtaking.
   As we said, this S rides as well as the lower-powered versions – but that’s not saying much; it can feel quite joggly on poorer surfaces. Likewise, the electric steering still lacks the fluent, tactile feedback of a Ford Focus or an Alfa 147; grip is ample through the bends and our car’s brake tests revealed an excellent emergency best stop, maintained by the ABS, however hard we stamped on the pedal; fade is no real problem, either. The Civic's turning circles aren't very good, but at least they’re better on right lock - the more useful one on UK or Japanese roads.
   Inside, one cannot but admire the sheer space and comfort of the five-door, with a flat rear floor and big-car legroom. The adoption of a ‘space-saver’ spare wheel has resulted in improved load-deck height, as well, with consequent benefit to luggage volume – though it means a more conspicuous load sill to heave cases over.
  considering size, price and rivals
Overtaking Ability
Fuel Economy
Safety Euro NCAP
Security, theft of
theft from
  • intermittent-action tailgate wiper
  • air-con works well on 'Auto'
  • S trim enhancements subtle but effective
  • good interior lighting
  • gearchange heavy-going - and baulks from 5 to 3
  • lowered load deck means deeper sill
  • crowded underbonnet layout
  • handset for door locking separate from key
  • oddments receptacles unlined so items slide around
The Honda Civic S feels supremely competent and sensible, will probably prove very reliable over high mileages – and is abstemious into the bargain. Yet somehow it lacks keener-driver appeal; it doesn’t serve up an experience behind its wheel that’s memorable. A hotter-hatch that you buy with your head, rather than your heart.

engine 1998cc, 4-cylinder petrol; 160bhp at 6500rpm, 132lb ft at 5000rpm; driven double overhead camshafts, 16 valves
transmission 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive; 22.3 in 5th, 17.8 in 4th
suspension front: independent damper/struts, integral coil springs
rear: independent double wishbones with coil springs
wheels/tyres 6in alloy with 195/65R15V tyres standard
brakes ventilated discs front, solid discs rear with ABS
0-62mph* 8.5sec
official mpg 28.0/46.3/37.7§
30-70mph through gears 8.5sec
30-70mph in 4th/5th 16.2sec/23.2sec
maximum speed 129mph
AA typical mpg 38miles
CO2 emissions 178g/km
* maker's figure  § urban/extra urban/combined

body lower-medium (mid-priced) hatchback, saloon and coupè; (plus Stream MPV)   trim levels S, SE, Executive; Type S and R
engines petrol: 4 cylinder/1.4 litre/90bhp, 4/1.6/110, 4/1.65/123, 4/2.0/160, 4/2.0/197
diesel: 4/1.7/100 hybrid: 4/1.35/90
  drive front-wheel drive, 5-speed manual (4-speed stepped automatic, with torque converter, optional)

HOW THE CIVIC S COMPARES engine (cyl/cc/bhp) revs at 70mph (rpm) 30-70 through gears (sec) 30-70mph in 4th/5th gears (sec) fuel (mpg/CO2) brakes from 50mph (kg/m) maximum legroom - front (cm) typical leg/kneeroom - rear (cm) steering turns/circle (m) overall length (cm)
Honda Civic 2.0 Type S 4/1998/160 3140 8.5 16.2/23.2 38/178 12/25.5 107 102/76 2.8/11.75 429
Ford Focus 2.0 4/1989/130 3120 9.5 16.7/24.9 33/207 19/25.5 105 99/70 2.9/10.6 418
Skoda Octavia 1.8T 4/1781/150 3040 8.5 14.4/19.7 35.5/190 27/24 112 97/72 3.1/10.5 451
Alfa Romeo 147 2.0 4/1998/150 3470 8.5 14.6/21.1 29.5/211 26/25 109 96/72 2.3/11.3 417
MG ZS 120 4/1796/120 3230 9.7 15.4/23.7 35/174 n/a 109 93/74 2.7/12.0 436
Honda CRV 2.0 4/1998/148 3350 9.5 16.4/25.3 30/216 12/27 108 106/80 3.3/10.8 457
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