2001 Honda Civic new car reviews

2001 Civic Coupe

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and acts like a duck, then it must be a duck. Likewise, while the 2001 Honda Civic Sedan and Coupe are pretty much all-new from the ground up, they still look, drive, and smell like past models--which should be a relief to Honda fans.

The GRM staff has been a fan of the Honda Civic since the magazine's launch back in 1984, so naturally we were eager to see the car: Would Honda move it "up market" and make it more expensive? (No.) Would the hatchback survive another redesign? (No.) Would the popular and sporty Si continue? (No--for now, at least.)

Size Matters

We're happy to report that the 2001 Civic is nearly the same size on the outside as its predecessor, although there is now more interior room thanks to more efficient packaging of components. The new Civic Coupe measures 174.7 inches in length, which is 4/10ths of an inch less than the previous car; at the same time, the nose of the car is shorter by 2.5 inches and the trunk is slightly longer than before.

Making the nose shorter required some re-engineering of the front components, however. The steering rack was relocated to the midpoint of the firewall, and it is now directly linked to the front struts. Struts? Yep, the double-wishbone suspension, a feature on the Civic since 1988--and one which has yielded excellent handling while allowing the car to be painlessly lowered--is now history.

For 2001, the Civic's front suspension will use MacPherson struts teamed with short, large-diameter springs. While different than past designs, Ground Control's Jay Morris says lowing and modifying the new suspension for increased performance will not be a problem. He also notes that the new front suspension will toe in under compression, which will yield a more natural feel to the driver as the car goes through a corner.

Out back, a compact, double-wishbone suspension is used. The new rear suspension setup does away with trailing arms, which requires less space and allows Honda to stick the exhaust pre-chamber behind the passenger compartment, yielding a completely flat floor.

Like the front end, Morris says lowing and modifying the rear suspension for motorsports use will not be a problem, although all new aftermarket parts will be required. In other words, none of the suspension parts developed for previous generations of the Civic will cross over to the new car.

Making the interior bigger than past Civics seems to have been a goal of Honda engineers, as practically every interior dimension--leg room, shoulder room and hip room for all passengers--has been increased on the Sedan, with rear leg room increasing by almost two inches. Headroom on all Sedan models doesn't change much, however, and the new Civic EX Coupe actually features slightly less headroom that the 2000 model. Weight is up only slightly, as the 2001 Civic EX Coupe with a five-speed transmission weighs 2546 pounds, only 33 pounds than a similar 2000 model.

Speaking of the body, Honda says torsional rigidity of the new Civic has been increased by 53 percent, while bending rigidity is up 19 percent. In order to make the new car lighter and stronger at the same time, high tensile steel is used for about 50 percent of its body structure--including the mid-floor cross members and floor gussets.

The Coupe receives additional strength-adding measures, including upper and lower A-pillar stiffeners, instrument panel beam and a rear bulkhead. Additionally, the front seat brackets, side sills, side sill reinforcements and front floor cross members are made of high-tensile steel.

Honda says that body tolerances are tighter than before, and this fact is apparent at first glance. The 2000 Civic had body gaps ranging from 3.0 to 5.0 millimeters, while the 2001 car has gaps in the 0.5 to 3.5 millimeter range. Hondas have always been tight, but the bumpers and body panels on the new car fit almost seamlessly.

In redesigning the new Civic's body, Honda engineers worked to give the two-door Coupe and four-door sedans different looks and personalities. To help accomplish this goal, the Sedan was designed in Japan, while a team in the U.S. did the Coupe. When compared to the Sedan, the Coupe sports a decreased windshield angle, more sloped C pillar, sportier grille and 1.6-inch lower roof line. Each car also gets its own taillight treatment.

As the Coupe body tends to be a little more open, this model gets additional measures: bags of cotton/polyester fibers have been inserted into the wheel well area, while a new window sash construction cuts down on wind noise.

Under the Hood

While we sadly bid farewell to the sweet 160-horsepower, B16A twin-cam engine that propelled the 1999 and 2000 Civic Si, the rest of the powertrain lineup for the 2001 model line is similar to past offerings. However, engine displacements have been increased from 1.6 to 1.7 liters in an effort to boost torque, and all have been ULEV certified. (ULEV stands for "ultra low emission vehicle.")

As in recent models, the EX Sedan and Coupe get the single-cam VTEC-E engine. Horsepower remains at 127, but torque is up slightly to 114 ft.-lbs. The DX and LX cars get a 115-horsepower, single-cam engine, while the HX gets the extra fuel-efficient 117-horsepower VTEC-E lean burn setup.

No matter which grade, all new Civic engines receive several updates and refinements: swirl intake ports that help optimize fuel dissemination; more efficient four-port fuel injectors; redesigned combustion chambers that feature better squish shape; equal-length intake manifold runners that reduce noise and improve torque; more rigid cylinder blocks; stronger engine mounts and a stiffer crankshaft.

Additionally, new pistons are used that feature an asymmetrical oval shape, which maintains a tighter tolerance on the exhaust side so they seal better during the combustion phase. Trick.

Along with all of these upgrades, Honda engineers managed to make the 2001 Civic engine smaller in overall size as well as lighter. A compact intake manifold that now sits on top of the engine saves precious engine room space, while several key components were lightened: the exhaust manifold is now stainless steel instead of cast iron, while a magnesium valve cover replaces the previous aluminum piece.

Driving the Car

Despite all of these changes, the new Civic feels pretty much like the old one. The driving position is comfortable, and all of the controls easily fall to hand, just like every other Honda.

In normal driving on public roads, the new suspension gives excellent ride and handling, although we're eager to try out some more spirited maneuvers and see how things act while at the limit. However, we can say that the car in as-delivered condition will tackle runs up and down winding mountain passes with no problems. If anything, things seemed a bit quieter than before.

The extra torque of the new 1.7-liter engine is nice when compared to past EX models, and the gearshift position and action are fine. While this engine isn't a 160-horsepower screamer, it seemed refined and powerful enough for most of the population.

Probably the biggest improvement comes in the seating department. While some Honda products have been blessed with nice seats--the Integra Type R and second-generation CRX Si come to mind--the ones fitted to the 1996-2000 model seemed a little flat to us. Honda has redeemed themselves here with some nice, well-contoured seats in the 2001 Civic.

Prices were not released before our editorial deadline, but Honda says the 2001 Civic will cost about as much as the 2000 models, meaning a top-of-the-line EX will go for about $17,000. While that may sound like a lot of cash, remember that a fully-loaded Dodge Neon ES goes for about the same money.

Our only disappointment is that an Si model was not part of the initial release. While we realize that Honda needs to concentrate on churning out the bread-and-butter models, pulling out of the compact sporty car segment leaves the door open for a competitor to step in and take the crown.

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