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2005 Honda Civic Sdn
Mitch McCullough

Introduction
Efficient, practical, affordable, polished and pleasant to drive, if not downright fun, with a reputation for reliability: These are the Honda Civic's hallmarks, and nothing about the 2005 model suggests anything has changed.

Measured by the hardware, little has changed on the Civic for 2005. There are a couple of new paint colors and a Special Edition package at the high end of the line-up. On the other hand, price increases are so modest that they haven't kept pace with inflation, and the Civic had significant changes inside and out for 2004.

Few carmakers offer the range or diversity Honda builds into the Civic line. There are sedans, coupes and a hatchback, with an emphasis on either features and convenience, performance or fuel efficiency and low cost of operation. All are notable for their excellent fuel economy, free-revving engines and solid handling, including the electrically assisted Hybrid. Up-level Civics come with powerful VTEC engines that deliver brisk acceleration. The Si hatchback is the flagship performance model, and a favorite among young enthusiast drivers for good reason. All provide superb comfort for front-seat passengers.

Three specialized Civics are designed specifically to minimize environmental impact and deliver better fuel economy than all but a few cars currently available. The most extreme is the Hybrid sedan, which gets up to 51 mpg with help from an electric motor that never needs to be plugged in. Owning and driving a Civic Hybrid is just like life with a regular Civic, almost. The Civic HX coupe gets 44 mpg on regular unleaded. There's also a Civic GX sedan that burns natural gas; Honda claims it has the cleanest internal combustion engine in the world.

Subtle styling changes were made for 2004 when bumpers, hoods, headlights and grilles on the coupe and sedan were redesigned to emphasize a baby-brother resemblance to the slick, smooth Honda Accord. The sporty Si hatchback was trimmed with new head- and tail lamps. All Civics were improved with less visible updates that reduced noise and vibration inside.

Nearly four decades after its introduction, the Honda Civic can rightfully be called an automotive icon. It remains one of America's best-selling small cars for good reason. Model Lineup
Honda Civic comes as a four-door sedan, two-door coupe or the three-door Si hatchback. The sedans and coupes offer several engines choices and trim levels. All come standard with a five-speed manual transmission. Most models are available with either a four-speed automatic transmission ($800) or CVT continuously variable automatic ($1000). Honda's package-pricing policy means extra equipment is geared to the trim level, with few individual options. A new Special Edition trim package is offered for 2005. Prices have increased a modest $150 from 2004 for all models except the Si, which rises $220.

The DX sedan ($13,160) and DX coupe ($13,810) are the least expensive Civics. Both are powered by a 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 115 horsepower. The DX sedan has wind-up windows and manual locks, and it lacks such features as air conditioning and seat-height adjustment. An optional VP or Value Package ($400) adds air conditioning, a CD player and a center console. The VP is included in the price of the standard DX coupe.

In other Civic trim levels, the coupes are less expensive. The LX sedan ($15,510) and LX coupe ($15,310) get the 115-hp engine with more standard equipment, including air conditioning, 15-inch (rather than 14-inch) steel wheels, anti-roll bars front and rear, power-windows, a height-adjustable driver's seat, remote keyless entry and a CD player.

The Civic EX sedan ($17,410) and coupe ($17,010) get more power from a more sophisticated 127-horsepower VTEC (for variable valve timing) version of the 1.7-liter engine. EX also adds 15-inch aluminum wheels, body-colored power mirrors, upgraded audio with six speakers and a tilt-and-slide glass sunroof. For 2005, Honda offers a Special Edition Civic for the first time in several years. The SE is actually an option package ($450) on the EX. It includes an in-dash 6-disc CD changer with an auxiliary jack for Ipod-style MP3 players and satellite radio receivers. The SE also adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear-deck spoiler, unique alloy wheels and special badges.

The Civic Si ($19,220) is only available as a hatchback and the hatchback is only available as the Si. The Si comes with a high-output 2.0-liter VTEC engine delivering 160 horsepower, sport tires and suspension and EX-grade features. It's not offered with an automatic.

Three specialty Civics put a particular premium on fuel efficiency. The HX ($13,860) comes with DX-style amenities and a lean-burn engine that combines up to 44 mpg highway with an impressive 117 horsepower. Civic HX offers the optional CVT.

The Civic Hybrid ($19,800) represents the ultimate in environmental responsibility, using a small gas engine and a big electric motor to achieve up to 51 mpg. The Hybrid is equipped comparably to the EX sedan, with a five-speed manual transmission or optional CVT. The hybrid system provides up to 93 horsepower and 116 lb-ft of torque with the electric motor "assist." Fuel economy is improved up to 30 percent compared to other Civic sedans, while meeting the EPA's partial zero emissions standard.

Finally, the Civic GX sedan ($20,190) comes with 100-hp, natural gas-powered engine that requires a special fueling station for home use. The GX may have the cleanest internal combustion engine in the world, as Honda claims, but it's also the most expensive and one of the least powerful Civics. For 2005, the GX gets the same styling changes introduced on other Civic sedans in 2004.

Safety equipment includes two-stage front airbags, child seat anchors for the back seat and an emergency release lever inside the trunk, all standard. Side-impact air bags come standard on the Hybrid and are optional on all models ($250) and we strongly recommend getting them. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are standard on the EX, Si, and Hybrid, and optional on GX. We wish ABS was available on all models. The Civic scores well in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's crash impact tests, with most models earning the full five stars for all passenger positions. Civic comes with good seat belts, with pre-tensioners for both lap and shoulder belts in front, three-point safety belts for all five seating positions; be sure and wear them as they are the most important safety feature on the car. Walkaround
Honda's reputation for space-efficient design holds in the Civic. This small car packs its motor into a condensed engine bay, leaving more space for passengers, especially in front, without increasing exterior dimensions. We like the Civic's expansive glass, compared to some small cars. We're not crazy about the lever-type door handles, though, the grab-through style is easier to use.

Now familiar, the Civic's basic wedge profile rises from front to rear, with a low, abbreviated prow and high, curt tail. The hood sits amazingly low. Civic's flanks are interrupted only by a single crease that dashes from the front wheel opening to the taillight; there are no body-side moldings. Windshield pillars arch into the rolled roof to meet narrow C-pillars. Bold tail lamps dominate the blunt rear panel. Overall, both the sedan and the coupe remain conservative in appearance, but contemporary in design.

For 2005, the new Special Edition features a prominent rear-deck spoiler, unique alloy wheels and badges that quickly distinguish it from other Civics. These features follow more significant styling changes introduced last year, when most models where fitted with redesigned bumpers, grilles, hoods and lights at both ends. The changes are subtle, but suggest the total re-style given big brother Accord in 2003. The family resemblance is obvious.

The same shared blood is even more obvious between the Civic sedan and coupe, yet the two cars are clearly different. While they share the same wheel base and inner structure, most of their exterior panels are not interchangeable. The coupe features a more aggressive windshield rake, intended to create a sportier look, and its tail lamps light up in a signature pattern. The appearance of the Civic Hybrid sedan is also subtly different from other four-doors, with a deeper spoiler under the front bumper, a small spoiler on the lip of the trunk lid and Hybrid-specific lightweight alloy wheels.

The Civic Si hatchback seems to polarize people. Its huge, flat windshield is steeply raked, and its nose slopes radically downward, generating excellent aerodynamics and allowing great visibility outward. The Si is slab-sided, without any sculpture in the sheet metal, though in 2004 better proportioned 16-inch wheels gave the car more character by better filling the wheel wells. Some think the Si is ugly; others love it and are quick to defend it. Interior
Good seats, well-designed controls and excellent outward visibility make the Honda Civic an easy car to operate. The windows are expansive for a car this size and the hood is low, so the passenger compartment feels airy and open. Sight lines are excellent for driving and parking. From the front seat all Civics are comfortable cars; from the back seat, they are less so.

Front-seat accommodations in the Civic are superb for a car in this class. The sedan's seats provide excellent support, thanks to a rigid structure with fairly aggressive side bolsters. High bottom cushions make entry and exit easy, though a lack of height adjustment in the base DX limits tailoring for driver size or taste. The Civic coupe's front seatbacks stretch broad and deep, with headrests that are open at the center like a doughnut. The Si hatchback's front seats are best of all, offering comfort for longer trips and more aggressive bolstering for hard driving.

Seat fabrics have been upgraded in recent years, and the look and feel of materials are generally very good. The Civic Hybrid's interior is most posh of all, with automatic climate control and a two-tone finish lacking in the high-trim EX sedan. Yet we like the Si best. Soft, suede-like microfiber adds richness to the side bolsters while red stitching accents the sporty fabric in the center.

Rear-seat accommodations, on the other hand, are not the best. The back seat is neither roomy nor comfortable compared to best in class. The flat floor eliminates a center tunnel, at least, and the outboard rear head restraints are adjustable. But three in back is definitely a crowd.

Moreover, getting into the coupe's back seat can be a challenge. The front seats cooperate for rear entry by gliding forward when the seatback tilts forward; a memory function then returns the seat to its original position. The front seatbelts attach to a side anchor bar that slides out of the way when someone climbs into the back. In short, the front seat's forward movement creates the largest possible portal for rear-seat entry, given the design. Yet it's still not easy to fold your body and wedge it into the back of this (or any) coupe, much less to haul yourself out. Bottom line: The Civic is happiest with two people, but can haul additional passengers when called upon.

In all Civics, the cockpit looks clean and efficient, with the instrument panel tucked beneath a barrel-shaped cowl. A four-spoke steering wheel provides a comfortable grip, though you'll crave a leather-wrapped steering wheel in anything other than the new SE on sweaty-palm days. Round analog instruments include an oversized speedometer and tachometer in the center, flanked by smaller fuel and coolant gauges. In the sedan, the gauge graphics are the traditional white-on-black. In the coupe, the gauges show silver highlights and glow with amber light at night. The Hybrid's instruments are blue-lit and include a digital fuel mileage display and other indicators that monitor the functioning of its auxiliary electric motor. The Si features sport-style black numbers on white gauges, with a bright red Si badge for a splash of color.

Heating and air conditioning controls are among the best in any car, with large rotary dials for temperature, flow direction and fan speed stacked just to the left of the stereo controls. Separate buttons for air conditioning, recirculation, and rear-window defrost are arrayed just below the audio system. It's an excellent design that's very easy to operate. Audio controls are also close at hand, but the system suffers from small buttons and knobs. Sound quality has been improved in recent years.

The Si's gear shifter sprouts at an angle from the upper console, as in a mid-1960s Alfa Romeo or some of the latest rally cars. Though it looks odd at first, the lever turns out to be perfectly located for quick, easy shifting, almost reminiscent of a formula car. Its close proximity to the steering wheel keeps it handy. It works really, really well and we instantly liked it.

With 12.7 cubic feet of volume, the Civic sedan's trunk is comparable to that of other compact sedans. The rear seat splits 60/40 and folds down for increased cargo space. The hatchback is even more practical, with a big cargo compartment that increases from 15.7 to 35.7 cubic feet when the rear seats are flattened. The Civic Hybrid, unfortunately, loses nearly 3 cubic feet of trunk to its batteries, making its luggage capacity nearly the smallest in the compact class. Another disadvantage of the Hybrid is that its rear seat backs cannot be folded down. Driving Impressions
Honda Civics rank among the best driving small cars anywhere. All variants handle well, and the engines are strong if you're willing to wind them up and wring them out.

Ride quality has improved over the years, but Civics have never been best in class when it comes to noise, vibration and harshness control. To address this, Honda introduced refinements for model year 2004, including better dampening material in the doors. While it still isn't the quietest car in its class, the Civic is nonetheless much smoother and quieter than it once was. At highway speeds, passengers have no trouble conversing in a normal voice, free of distraction from excessive mechanical racket or wind noise.

If you haven't driven a Civic since the end of the last century, you'll find that the current models feel more substantial and more upscale than the pre-2001 models. All Civics are pleasant to drive, though the EX and Si models can be downright fun thanks to more powerful engines and brisk acceleration. All variants are certified as ultra low emissions vehicles (ULEVs), or better.

Civic DX and LX models offer excellent fuel economy, delivering 32 mpg city and 38 highway with the manual transmission, according to the EPA. Unfortunately, acceleration is no better than tepid unless you are willing to keep the high-revving Honda engine bouncing near the red zone on the tach. The standard 1.7-liter four cylinder produces 115 horsepower, and most of the power and torque comes high in the rev range. The problem is more pronounced with the optional four-speed automatic, which can be slow to shift down and prefers it keep the engine turning at slower revs. You'll need more time and space to pass a semi-truck with the auto, and city fuel mileage drops to 29 mpg. In other words, the Civic DX and LX models are best with a manual transmission and a driver willing to wring the grunt as well as the efficiency from the engine.

The EX sedan and coupe deliver livelier acceleration because they are equipped with the more powerful VTEC engine. Driving a Civic EX sedan with the five-speed manual transmission is a sporty, satisfying experience. Throttle response is good at any speed because VTEC extends its torque across a broad power band. The manual gearbox is smooth and precise, with notched stop points between gears. The four-speed automatic also likes this engine much better, shifting smoothly and taking advantage of the extra torque.

Most fun to drive is the Civic Si hatchback. Around town, the Si is tractable and pleasant, pulling strongly from a fairly wide range of rpm. Honda's latest i-VTEC engine is tuned for torque. You can short-shift through the gears: snick, waahh, snick, whaah, snick, whaah, and still get plenty of go. Or, on an on-ramp or open road, you can keep the pedal down, snick waaaaahh!, snick, waaaaaahh!, and the Si really rockets at higher revs.

Downshifting short is fun, too. Barely push in the clutch pedal, and casually flick the lever into the next-lower cog. The Civic Si's transmission ratios seem perfectly matched to the engine, all quite close so a driver can keep the engine running in that higher-rev rocket zone at just about any road speed. And the Honda transmission is so tight and well machined that you can easily quick-shift up to the next gear without using the clutch at all. On the highway, the Civic Si delivers good performance for passing, accelerating from legal speeds to supra-legal speeds fairly quickly. The Si goes from 0-60 mph in a tick under 8 seconds, making it one of the quicker cars in this class. If you want better performance from a Civic, you'll have to do what so many young owners are doing these days: modify it with some of the hundreds of speed parts currently available.

Charge too fast into a corner and the Civic Si will understeer. That means the front tires lose some of their grip and the car wants to push off the outside edge of the road. This understeer comes by design, because it's actually a safe response to too much speed: a driver's natural reaction is to lift off the gas and slow down, and the car will generally tuck in and track nicely through the curve. That said, the Si will be traveling faster than other Civics before it begins to understeer excessively. Its tires, front and rear stabilizer bars, shocks and springs are designed for sharper handling, but the ride quality remains better than tolerable. And at 80-90 mph, the Si feels very stable. Transient response (left, right, left) is good, even at those speeds.

The Civic Hybrid is one of the best vehicles available for drivers interested in great fuel economy and low emissions. The EPA rates the Hybrid at 46/51 mpg on its City/Highway test, but the most remarkable thing about the Hybrid is the unremarkable driving experience. That's our highest compliment. If you like driving the regular Honda Civic EX sedan you'll like driving the Civic Hybrid. You'll need no extra investment of effort or energy, and the Hybrid will demand nothing extra from you.

Many people mistakenly think a hybrid car needs charging like an electric car. It does not. You do not plug this car in. The Civic Hybrid, like Honda's new Accord Hybrid or its more radically designed Insight, is primarily a gasoline-powered car. All three of these vehicles use an auxiliary electric motor that assists the small gasoline engine when extra power is needed for passing, accelerating, or climbing a grade. In the case of the Civic Hybrid, the 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine develops 85 horsepower and 87 pound-feet of torque on its own; the electric motor adds another 13.4 horsepower and up to 46 pound-feet (36 pound-feet with automatic transmission) when needed. When decelerating or braking, the electric motor works as a generator to recharge the 144-volt battery pack. In certain steady-state driving situations, the Hybrid will rely on the electric motor for power and the gasoline engine will be relegated to charging the batteries. The mode of the electric motor is indicated in a bar graph in the instrument cluster. A driver can use this information to minimize fuel consumption and maximize mileage, but basically all you have to do is fill the car with gas and drive.

The Civic Hybrid we tested had the optional continuously variable automatic transmission ($1,000), and that made a bigger difference in how it drove than did the hybrid powertrain. The CVT is an option on the regular Civic, so it's not an unknown quantity, though few people have experienced it. Essentially this transmission has infinitely variable gear ratios provided by belts running between moveable conical pulley wheels. The advantage is that it changes ratios smoothly and should always find the optimal one for given demands and speed, in turn optimizing both performance and fuel economy. The CVT also provides a strange sensation when accelerating hard, as the engine speeds up and the transmission seems to lag behind, as if the clutch in a manual transmission was slipping. Then the engine revs start to slow down as the CVT changes ratios, even as the car is moving faster. It's not a problem with the transmission so much as our sensibilities as drivers, which are built on the operation of conventional automatic.

Other than that, the weirdest sensation we experienced in the Civic Hybrid was when the engine automatically shut off at traffic lights off to save fuel. Fear not: as soon as you put the car in gear and touch the gas pedal the engine fires up without any hesitation. A small icon in the left-hand gauge indicates when the engine has shut off.

According to the dashboard readout, we averaged 40 mpg overall during our test drive. This is somewhat lower than the EPA ratings (48/47 mpg with the CVT), but most of it was city driving with a lot of heavy accelerating. Nonetheless, even if you routinely achieved the EPA numbers in everyday driving, there's a rub to the Civic Hybrid. If low cost of operation is a driver's primary motivation for buying, the Hybrid really doesn't make economic sense.

Compared to the Civic HX, which is rated at an impressive 44 mpg highway (and offers much better acceleration), a buyer will spend $5,360 more for a Hybrid at current prices. At current gasoline prices, that buyer will have to drive the Hybrid a million miles before he or she saved enough on gasoline to recoup the extra money spent at the dealership many years before. Moral of the story? Buy the Civic Hybrid for its uniqueness, novelty or to make a statement about your desire to conserve natural resources and protect the environment. Don't buy it because you think it's cost effective. It isn't.

The Honda Civic's braking performance is good, but short of best in class. Civic sedans and coupes have front disc and rear drum brakes, which isn't the optimal combo for short stopping distances. Yet even the all-disc Si hatchback stops longer than the best braking small cars.

Regardless, the brake pedal is easy to modulate in all Civics, and those with ABS are unflappable under hard braking, allowing the driver to maintain directional control in panic stops. Si and Hybrid models also come with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), which optimizes braking performance and stability by gradually moving more braking power to the front wheels as the car's weight tilts forward while stopping. It's not a common feature in this class. Summary
Now in the latter part of its product cycle, the Honda Civic remains a class standard. You can't go wrong with a Civic regardless of trim level, and there are a broad range of choices to suit budgets, needs or tastes. All are practical, fuel efficient and fun to drive. Other small cars might beat the Civic in a particular area or category of performance, but few match its overall balance of strengths.

New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough is based in Southern California.

Model as tested
Honda Civic EX sedan ($17,410)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
East Liberty, Ohio; Alliston, Ontario; Swindon, U.K.; Japan
Destination charge
515
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
13160
Price as tested
17925
Options as tested
none

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Honda Civic DX sedan ($13,160); DX Coupe ($13,810); LX coupe ($15,310); LX sedan ($15,510); EX coupe ($17,010) EX sedan ($17,410); Si hatchback ($19,220); HX coupe ($13,860); Hybrid sedan ($19,800); GX sedan ($20,190);
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags, child restraint seat anchor brackets, internal emergency trunk release
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
1.7-liter sohc VTEC 16-valve inline-4
Transmissions
5-speed manual

Specifications as Tested
air conditioning, power moonroof with tilt feature, central power locking system with remote keyless entry, power windows with express down for driver, power mirrors, driver's seat manual height adjustment, six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, engine speed-sensing power steering, two-speed intermittent windshield wipers, manual tilt steering wheel, driver footrest, analog instruments with tachometer, rear bench seat with 60/40 split folding seatback, rear seat heat duct, remote releases for trunk lid and fuel door, 15-inch aluminum wheels, 195/60R15 tires

Engine & Transmission
Engine
1.7-liter sohc VTEC 16-valve inline-4
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
127 @ 6300
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
32/37
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/drum with ABS
Suspension, front
independent, MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Tires
195/60/R15
Suspension, rear
independent, upper and lower wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
39.8/51.2/42.2
Head/hip/leg room, rear
37.2/49.8/36.0

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
12.9
Wheelbase
103.1
Length/width/height
175.4/67.5/56.7
Turning circle
34.1
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
N/A
Track, front/rear
57.8/57.8
Ground clearance
N/A
Curb weight
2449


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