1998 HONDA CIVIC EX COUPE
Used Car - 1998 Honda Civic EX coupe in Dodge City, Ks
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1998 Honda Civic ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
The small car defined.
Though everything from mid-size sedans to SUVs carry the Honda badge nowadays, the heart of the company product line remains the compact transportation device. Small, innovative and efficient, Honda's trademark Civic has been a leader in its segment for more than 30 years, and shows no signs of relinquishing its hold on the top spot.
The key, as always, is the use of clever engineering, good assembly quality and a comprehensive menu of standard and optional features to create an entry-level car that provides more than basic transportation. The expected virtues--primarily fuel economy and small exterior dimensions--are there, but good looks, comfort and better-than-average driving pleasure are also integral parts of the Civic driving experience. Better yet, these attributes apply to all Civics, regardless of equipment level.
Before rushing to the nearest Honda dealer in search of a bargain, however, you should be aware that 'best' doesn't necessarily mean 'least expensive.' Granted, the least expensive Civic barely nudges the $11,000 barrier, but adding options or choosing one of the dressier versions can push the out-the-door price nearer $20,000.
Comparable offerings judged by size include the Toyota Tercel, Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Sentra and Dodge/Plymouth Neon. But a loaded Civic's window sticker leads to expanded choices; for the same money, one might look at base versions of the Ford Contour, Toyota Corolla or even Honda Accord. Those are tougher opponents, being generally more substantial and commodious.
Against members of its own class, the made-in-USA Civic is the pick of the litter. And, if nothing else, the expenditure of extra money for fancier trim can be balanced against significant cost savings any Civic owner will realize at the gas pump.
Now three years old, the Civic exterior design retains its fresh, attractive appearance. Three body styles are offered. A 3-door hatchback is the entry-level version, followed on the size and price scales by a 2-door coupe and 4-door sedan. All three use identical sheet metal from front bumper to windshield. All adhere to popular styling themes, having a distinct wedge profile rising from front to rear and large headlights and taillights. Careful detailing lends character to what is overall a very simple form.
Some of the details that make the Civic appealing are also functional. The low cowl and hood line combine with generous glass area to provide exceptional visibility for driver and passengers. All three Civics have large doors, and offer handy access to well-shaped stowage spaces in back.
The least expensive member of the family is the plain CX hatchback. Even a radio costs extra here, though a split/folding rear seat, tinted glass and a rear-window defroster are included. Regardless of body style, base Civics share a basic DX trim level with dual outside mirrors, an AM/FM radio, and adjustable steering column. All sedans and automatic transmission-equipped coupes and hatchbacks come with power steering.
Mid-grade LX sedans add air conditioning, power windows and door locks and cruise control. EX sedans and coupes come with just about everything one might reasonably want in a Civic or more, including a more powerful engine, a power moonroof and antilock brakes. Unfortunately, ABS is not offered on all Civics.
Whether installed in plain hatchbacks or fancy sedans, Civic interiors are well-designed, neatly executed and, even if fully equipped with features, more functional than ostentatious. Interior materials seem to have been selected more for durability than maximum eye appeal. The monochromatic gray hue that covered the cabin of our HX from headliner to floor reinforced the utilitarian nature of the design. Beige and a darker gray are also available.
Four adults can ride comfortably in the Civic; it will also accommodate two adults with three children. Civics offer 12 cubic feet of luggage space and that can be augmented by folding down the rear seats. Pockets and bins provide storage for small items.
Instruments and controls are simple in layout and function. A base Civic has but three gauges--speedometer, fuel level and coolant temperature--while up-level models add a tachometer. The switch layout is generally good; the radio buttons are somewhat small and fussy, but sliders and buttons for the climate control are large and clearly marked.
Though we concentrate our attention here on a single version, it is worth noting that all three of the Civic powertrains are first-rate, combining sprightly performance and exceptional smoothness with outstanding economy. Rated at 106, 115 and 127 horsepower, all Civic engines use 4-valve-per-cylinder technology (16v) for maximum efficiency. EX and HX coupes add a variable valve timing system (called VTEC by Honda) that makes them extraordinarily responsive at any speed.
A 5-speed manual transmission--one of the easiest-shifting gearboxes on the market--is standard for all Civics. An optional 4-speed automatic uses electronic controls to minimize unnecessary shifting when driving up or down hills. Both transmissions are excellent and suit the high-revving characteristics of all three engines.
Even more clever is the HX coupe's optional continuously variable belt-drive transmission (CVT). Honda's belt-drive transmission is a fascinating device controlled by what looks like an automatic shift lever with three forward ranges, though only Drive is necessary in everyday use. Pull away from a stop and the engine revs faster than the car accelerates. In less time than you might expect, engine and car speed synchronize, without the usual pauses for gear-changing. It is uncannily smooth and responsive.
Initially, the CVT's antics can be disconcerting. One tester likened the experience to driving a manual-transmission car with a slipping clutch. When pulling away from a stop, the engine spins right up to high rpm and stays there until the driver lifts off on the throttle or the desired vehicle speed is reached. Throttle lift-off will occur first, as the CVT Civic has a maximum speed well in excess of 100 mph. In any case, the CVT is efficient enough to have averaged 37 mpg during our test.
There's nothing lacking in the remainder of the Civic's mechanical hardware either. The 4-wheel double-wishbone suspension is more expensive and complex than conventional struts, but pays off with ride and handling qualities seldom found in low-dollar cars. On a three-day excursion through California, we put the HX through its paces on everything from wide-open freeways to narrow mountain roads, and found it well-suited to any conditions. It was comfortable at cruising speeds, nimble and fun when urged through corners. Especially noteworthy is the Civic's power steering. Unlike some systems, the Civic's steering does not isolate the driver from the road. At the same time, it offers plenty of power assist to keep 50 miles of twists and turns from being a chore and it's stable on long straight stretches.
Most of us are forced to spend part of our lives in congested city driving. The Civic shines in these conditions. All Civics are compact, with the largest sedan being just over 14 feet long. Add superb visibility and its easy steering, and the result is a car that is ideal for taking advantage of small openings in traffic and 'compact only' parking slots.
If the CVT transmission, which we rate as tops for clever design and would like to see available in all three body styles, isn't your cup of tea, Honda offers enough alternatives within the Civic line to suit almost any compact-car buyer. Regardless of powertrain, the Civic offer top performance and economy. And there's a higher level of mechanical refinement than those unfamiliar with Hondas might expect in this class.
For price-conscious buyers, a DX with selected extras is a very good value. A top-of-the-line EX sedan may seem less so at $16,480 ($800 more with an automatic transmission), especially since that's $1000 above the price of a base Accord.
But if reliability, economy, compact exterior dimensions and an unexpected (but welcome) dose of driving pleasure are important to you, the Civic is a top choice.
East Liberty, Ohio.
Options As Tested
Air conditioning, floor mats.
HX CVT Coupe.