Used 2003 Honda Civic Review

Edmunds expert review

If you're shopping for a small car and you skip the 2003 Honda Civic, you're doing yourself a tremendous disservice.

What's new for 2003

A host of minor changes bring the Civic into 2003. On the inside, all models gain improved seat fabrics, rear adjustable outboard headrests and new four-spoke steering wheels. On HX, LX and EX Civics, you'll find improved gauge illumination. There's a new center console for LX and EX, and a CD player is standard for HX and LX. On the outside, the 2003 Honda Civic has freshened taillamps and new wheel designs. Also, there is a Hybrid Civic available for the 2003 model year.

Vehicle overview

Model HistoryEver since its introduction in 1973, the Honda Civic has been one of America's most popular cars. Thanks to its frugal and clean engines, spunky performance and reputation for excellent reliability and durability, the Civic has been a consistent benchmark for the economy car class. It was last redesigned in 2001 and was the best-selling small car for that year. For 2003, the Civic Hybrid will bolster the Civic's already high prestige.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and OptionsFor now, the Civic Hybrid is offered in sedan format only. In terms of features, the Hybrid is similar to the regular EX trim. Nearly everything is standard, including power doors, locks and mirrors; automatic climate control; a CD player; keyless entry; and cruise control.

Powertrains and PerformanceThe concept for the 2003 Civic Hybrid's powertrain is grounded in simplicity -- use a highly efficient gasoline engine and supplement the performance with an electric motor. On the surface, the system may appear complex, but the Civic Hybrid powertrain provides a simple solution for the seemingly incompatible task of combining both efficiency and performance.

Honda's solution is its Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system, which is also referred to as a "hybrid" system because it uses two power sources -- gasoline and electricity. This system first appeared on the Honda Insight. It allows the Civic Hybrid to use a smaller gasoline engine (compared to other Civics') without any significant loss of performance.

The Civic Hybrid IMA system is more advanced than the Insight's, though it is still comprised of the same basic components: a gasoline engine, an electric motor and an energy storage device. The engine is a 1.3-liter four-cylinder. Though it has one overhead camshaft and just two valves per cylinder (when was the last time you heard of a Honda car engine with just eight valves?), the engine is one of Honda's most advanced creations. Nearly everything on it has been designed to promote combustion efficiency and low fuel consumption. It even goes as far as shutting down up to three cylinders during deceleration to improve recharging. By itself, the engine develops 85 horsepower and 87 lb-ft of torque.

The electric motor is positioned between the engine and transmission. With its 13 horsepower and 46 lb-ft of torque, the motor assists the engine when accelerating and recaptures energy when braking or decelerating (regenerative braking). The nickel-metal hydride battery, contained within what Honda calls the Intelligent Processing Unit (IPU), is located between the rear seats and trunk.

Most of the vehicle's propulsion comes from the gasoline engine with the electric motor providing assist as needed. Combined, the engine and motor put out 93 hp at 5,700 rpm and 116 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a continuously variable transmission is offered as an option. If the CVT is ordered, torque output drops to 105.

Though no speedster, the Civic Hybrid's acceleration is comparable to a regular Civic's. Equipped with a manual transmission, the car averages 46 mpg in the city and 51 mpg on the highway. Cars with the CVT have a 48/47 mpg rating. The EPA has certified the Civic Hybrid as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV).

SafetyThough the Civic Hybrid has not been tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Civic sedan in general has earned very high marks in crash testing. It has a five-star rating for frontal impacts and a four-star rating for side impacts. The IIHS has given the Civic a "good" rating for frontal offset crash results. Standard safety features include dual-stage front airbags, side airbags and antilock brakes.

Interior Design and Special FeaturesOne of the main attractions for the Civic Hybrid is that its interior is virtually identical to a regular Civic's. This means plenty of room for front-and-rear passengers, pleasing ergonomics and high-quality interior materials. Exclusive Hybrid interior features include a digital and analog gauge cluster with an IMA system display, a two-tone dash, special console trim and premium seat fabrics. The only noticeable sacrifice is trunk space -- the Hybrid's trunk holds 10.1 cubic feet of cargo, while a regular Civic sedan can hold 12.9 cubic feet.

Driving Impressions/OpinionsUnlike the two previous hybrid vehicles offered in the U.S. -- the Insight and Toyota Prius -- the Civic Hybrid is a fully functional vehicle for everyday use. Road feel in the Civic Hybrid is comparable to that of other Hondas of this ilk -- a little on the numb side, despite stiffened springs and increased shock-damping rates. On tight mountain curves, there is some body roll, though this is expected considering that the Civic Hybrid is about 200 pounds heavier than the Civic LX. Overall, though, the ride is very comfortable. This Hybrid uses the same MacPherson strut front suspension and reactive-link double-wishbone rear suspension as other Civic models.

The IMA's operation is transparent to the driver; just push on the accelerator and the car goes. And just like the Insight, the Civic Hybrid features an Idle Stop feature. This feature automatically turns off the gasoline engine during complete stops under most circumstances, allowing the Hybrid to use even less fuel and emit fewer emissions.

If you're fond of new technologies, the Civic Hybrid will likely satisfy. It's clean, frugal, well equipped and drives pretty much like a regular Civic. It also qualifies for a $2,000 federal tax deduction. Be aware, however, that if gas prices stay low, the financial gains from the Hybrid's increased fuel mileage are offset by the car's more expensive MSRP. For comparison, a 2002 Civic HX coupe has a 36/44 mpg rating, ULEV certification and costs about $6,000 less.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.