By Jeremy Cato
If beauty is found in the details, Honda’s whole line of Civic subcompact cars has proven to be a collection of masterpieces.
Numerous quality surveys back up claims about top-notch Civic standards in fit and finish. Consumer Reports, J.D. Power & Associates, you name it; when the consumer researchers ask, owners give the Civic five stars. And it’s that quality and reliability that keeps ownership costs for the Civic among the lowest of all automobiles.
For 1996, Honda substantially re-made its whole Civic line–hatchback, sedan and coupe. Certainly, the leaner styling was a statement about the ’90s, but I’m more interested in all the small things Honda did to improve this automobile compared to the ’92-’95 model.
Among other things, accelerator travel was shortened slightly for greater driver comfort. The brake pedal was firmed up. Engine vibration was reduced by fitting a hollow steering shaft. And all Civic models were given more headroom, too.
The sportiest of the Civics was the Coupe Si. It came equipped with a 127-horsepower version of the less-powerful 1.6-litre, multi-valve engine standard in all Civic models. (The base version, lacking race-car-like variable valve timing, produces 106 hp.) Mated to a standard five-speed manual transmission, the lightweight Si (1,117 kilos or 2,483 lbs) is a quick, sporty package.
If you find a used ’96 or newer model with an automatic transmission note the difference in shift quality versus older Civics. Civics from ’92-95 had a hard-shifting autobox that tended to hunt badly when driving up and down rolling hills. For ’96, Honda gave the autoshifter a bigger electronic brain (16-bit processor) capable of monitoring throttle position, road speed, brake activation and rate of acceleration or deceleration. Much better.
Meanwhile, for ’96 Honda added insulation and beefed up the body structure with more braces, improving the body’s resistance to both twisting and bending. Not surprisingly, the Si feels solid and ride quality is very quiet for a small car.
What changed little for ’96 was the suspension system. But it had always been comfortable, sure-footed and predictable. The Si feels tightest of the Civic bunch and the power-assisted steering is precise and not over-boosted. Look for it as a sporty used car.
As for the cabin, in ’96 Honda made small changes, relocating the sound system controls above the heating and air conditioning and enlarging the radio buttons. Also note that the lockable split fold-down rear seat gives the coupe wagon-like versatility.
Civic Si models came with plenty of standard equipment: power moonroof, power mirrors/windows/door locks, AM/FM stereo, cruise control, tilt steering and tinted glass. But be aware that anti-lock braking (ABS) was an option.
Prices, of course, have stayed strong on the used market, in part because few people part quickly with their Civics. There have also been a few small issues with water leaks, troublesome cupholders and the seatbelts, so inspect those areas carefully.
That said, if you find a used Civic-especially an Si-you’re looking at an exceptionally well-built, reliable, completely driver-friendly runabout with a history of low long-term ownership costs.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.