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Sunday, February 20, 2000

Review: 2000 Honda Civic VTi


With the amazing debut of the Ford Lynx Ghia, one begins to wonder if Honda's grasp on the 1.6-liter market would begin to fade.  In terms of market share, it seems that it hasn't happened just yet.  In fact, Honda has maintained a healthy second place in sales for the 1.6-liter segment despite having a car that is nearly five years old and is becoming too common to be called different.  So what makes the Honda Civic a big seller then?  Why do people keep on flocking Honda's way when they could get cars with much more features for the same price?  I decided to find out for myself.

Upon arriving at our test site, I wasn't succumbed with any emotion at all at seeing the Honda Civic.  Sure, its lines are generally good and the overall design isn't all that bad, but it's just that this car doesn't have the same impact as the Ford Lynx. Visually, the only thing that makes the Civic different from all the other Japanese (and American) 1.6-liter cars is this 'bug-eyed' treatment.  In fact, to some extent, the bugginess of the Civic's headlamps reminds me of a Japanese anime character.  Upon closer inspection, the headlamps reminded me of a wonderful detail: all the main lamps are located within a single cluster.  The single cluster headlamp design could be seen in other European cars most notably the Peugeot 206 and the Mercedes A-class.  You could say that the Civic was quite responsible for starting a design revolution of sorts. Talking about lamps, the Honda Civic is also one of the first economy cars to introduce plastic, clear headlamp design: a design now used by all other Japanese car manufacturers with the exception of the Mazda 323.

The overall body shape and design of the Honda Civic is kind of reminiscent of the Honda Accord (both current and the past variant), CRV and City.  You could immediately see that there is a family resemblance with this car, and Honda didn't do anything to hide this fact.  It's that grille treatment common to all Hondas.  Another car company based somewhere in Munich, Germany also has the same treatment to all of its car line-up; however, unlike BMW, the Honda line looks too generic and bland to actually evoke any kind of reaction (good or bad) from anyone.



Sitting inside the cabin, and you'll behold (no surprise) a generic Honda interior.  Much like the outside, the inside doesn't evoke any emotion either.  This is probably one of those cars, which actually remind you how the car looks and feels like from the outside by sitting in the inside (bland in the case of the Civic, ugliness in the case of the Volkswagen Polo).  Sure, the switches are logically placed and feel adequate to the touch, but they aren't made with that extra touch of class or distinctiveness that is present in all other 1.6-liter cars, even the Toyota Corolla!  In fact, a close eye reveals the steering wheel stalks come straight from the Honda parts bin as it is shared with the Honda Accord and CRV.  However, unlike the Accord, the stalks lack the same 'sharp snap' feel especially when using the left / right turn signal lights.

The center console has been pushed high to provide more leg room to the front passenger, and by golly, it worked fine.  In fact, the extra height of the center console makes most, if not all of the controls within easy reach of the driver and / or the passenger.  The hazard and rear-defogger switches are the easiest to reach, whilst the ventilation controls are the hardest.  More so that I have to comment on the design of the ventilation / heater controls: I would easily conclude that the car's age is predetermined by the illogical slide switch design of the vent controls.  If you'd notice, most of the modern 1.6-liter use rotary controls, which can be easily adjusted without taking one's eyes off the road.  The Civic's slide switch control is hard to control especially when the all-important fan speed setting is on the right side of the console.  Add to that fact that the re-circulate and the A/C controls are mixed together with the vent control to the point that it's very easy to get mixed up with each.  On the same note, the clock is hard to read in the Civic, especially for the driver.  The radio controls however are within adequate reach and are easy to operate.

Starting up the Honda Civic VTi and it's easy to notice the similarity between this engine and it's bigger cousin, the 2.0-liter Accord engine.  Generally, both crank the same way, sound the same way, heck, they even seem to share the same cam covers!  It's the generic Honda treatment everywhere!  What's amazing is how this 1.6-liter engine behaves like its bigger brother.  In fact, the power and torque delivery is so similar it's easy to say that you're in an Accord-lite.  However, unlike the Accord, the Civic's VTEC transition isn't as pushy.  In fact, when the Civic changes cam profile there is hardly any sensation of increased acceleration.  In terms of power, the Honda Civic is unmatched by any other car in its class with an output of 125-bhp for the SOHC and 160-bhp for the DOHC.  Though the spec sheets says that the maximum peak is at a high 6,400 rpm, in true to life situations, the engine has enough power to battle with Corollas and Lancers even at a "stop light Formula 1" duel.  Unlike Toyota engines, the Honda Civic, is smooth throughout its power band.  Though some people complain about the Civic's buzzy-sounding engine, it's not much of a concern especially if you are a proud owner of more than one Honda already.



Another plus point for the Honda Civic is that its wonderful engine is backed up by well-engineered chassis and transmission.  The transmission is still the usual Honda by being a no fuss in both up and down shifting.  The clutch is so easy to modulate and the gearbox so easy to engage that they work well together to the point that this might well be the reason why the Civic is the number one choice of street racers.  An additional note to Civic SiR buyers though: the SiR uses the same manual transmission as the VTi, so don't expect a sporty MX5 Miata-like short throw gearbox).  Similarly, the chassis is wonderfully set-up.  Though more on the soft side, the chassis provide excellent handling and ride combination.  In fact, despite riding on after-market 195/55 R15 tires, the Honda Civic has better ride quality than the Ford Lynx or even the Mazda 323.  The bumps, especially those small, annoying potholes, are easily absorbed by the Civic's front and rear independent double wishbone suspension.  Because of the Civic's independent suspension all-around, the car exhibits above average handling characteristics.  The steering, though a bit lifeless, still manages to transfer a bit of feedback to the driver especially when the car corners.  Though helped by the low profile tires, the Civic generally has sharp, precise and light steering making the car very pointable and predictable when cornering.

The Civic's road manners are well complemented by comfort of the passengers.  In fact, the Civic feels well-insulated from the outside elements of jagged roads, noisy jeepneys and humid afternoons.  Why?  Because the interior is quiet, spacious enough to accommodate four large adults (much more two) and its air conditioner is so strong it feels like the Arctic Circle.

The weakest point in the driving experience is the brakes.  Even if our test unit is running on bigger tires, the Civic still exhibits rather weak braking power.  However, when we mean weak, it doesn't mean Volkswagen Polo or Mazda 323 weak.  It's just the type of brakes that don't really inspire driver confidence especially in wet and twisty roads.  It's even scarier to find out that this car doesn't have ABS or airbags as standard or even as options!



Overall, the Honda Civic is still the benchmark when it comes to pure driving pleasure.  In fact, the Honda Civic is second to none when it comes to sports-minded individuals: 125-bhp VTEC engine, independent double wishbone suspension, and precise rack-and-pinion steering.  Couple that with excellent passenger ride and comfort and the Civic is still the best choice for the people's car.  Add to this tons of after-market parts and accessories plus excellent (albeit expensive) Honda service makes it the perfect choice for those who want a pocket rocket.

However, when the buyer is price conscious, then the Civic is suddenly toppled out of the picture.  For the VTi, which we tested, the current tag is at PHP 636,000.  This price tag is sky-high when compared to similarly priced cars such as the Ford Lynx Ghia at PHP 635,000, which already runs complete with ABS, dual airbags, silver console, leather seats, 15-inch mags and a first-aid kit to boot.  The Civic SiR is outrageous at PHP 718,000, but it might just be worth it to get that wonderful 160-bhp engine!

All in all, the Honda Civic is the clear winner when it comes to driver's prerogative, but in all other aspects, the Ford Lynx would be the better buy.  So, if you're sick and tired of seeing too many anime-looking cars in our roads today (just like I am), then just go for the Ford Lynx.  It's more luxurious and safer too.  Is it just me or are my car choices an indication that I'm growing old?  Maybe…but at least with dual airbags and ABS, I'll get able to live longer to find out.

P.S.  A message to Honda: makes ABS and airbags standard on the Civic, especially the blistering fast SiR!  Please, for the sake of safety!

3 comments:

  1. this civic design is outdated..Mazda rules!

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    Replies
    1. You do realize that this is a 1995 design right? It being 23 years old says a lot about the "dated" design.

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    2. But a 1999/2000 model civic sir can beat your mazda

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