I recently inherited a family member’s Civic and have been commuting to work with it and contemplating the best 2002 had to offer (OK, 5th out of 10 per Car and Driver, but who’s counting?)
Exterior: 5/10 - The exterior is Peak Honda, after the differences inspired by Sochiro’s engineering had been worn away and before Honda lost the plot. Anonymous like the Corolla was anonymous before Toyota decided to make it look like it was manufactured in the former Soviet union, except with cleaner lines. There’s nothing to object too.. yeah. That’s it.
There’s some mismatched colors between metal and plastic, and the panels all feel flimsy. The trunk lid exposes metal below the rear window and catches debris. Those big plastic headlights look fine until they turn yellow in the sun, and the car seems to be have dazed, half smiling at you.
Interior: 6/10 - Here’s where the minimalism of Honda’s vision at the time really comes home to you. It just looks like it took half the parts to put together of any other car. It’s not poorly made, and in fact it had good ergonomics for the time. There’s cup-holders buried in front of the gear shift and a CD player, and vanity mirrors until they fell off. The back seats fold down and there’s even a driver’s armrest. Not bad.
Overall it’s a boredom inducing error-free space except for the hard plastic ridge on the center console that digs into my calf and the way the visor hangs in front of my eyes when I’m driving towards the sun. All the QA engineers were probably shorter than me. I have to add here that my 1993 Sentra was more comfortable by far, and let’s not compare it to my Audi.
Ride: 7/10 - Reviews from the day complain that it is a soft tune, and it is certainly softer than my Audi’s, but it feels well composed. The car is so light and small that you never feel disconnected - it doesn’t jar you or wallow. It isn’t modern-day Americna luxury like a toyota either. Well done.
Handling: 6/10 - this was the first generation of the Civic to have conventional McPherson struts up front instead of the double-wishbone. Again, the Sochiro magic was fading, but Honda still new its business. The car feels light and well connected to the driver. I feel confident and in control, but there’s no fun. The steering communicates perfectly well that I am pushing against a pile of understeer and it does what I want with a shrug. Competence is the word.
Performance: 5/10 - 1.7 liter SOHC, 115BHP, 2450 pounds. the 4-speed automatic is adequate, but it saps whatever excitement was left out of the driving experience. The flip side of phenomenal fuel efficiency (27/35 MPG in my hands, and I’m a leadfoot) are tall ratios and reluctance to speed up. It’s superior to most old-school 4-speeds, however - it doesn’t clunk or shudder or go wildly off-track and sit at the redline like the woeful unit in our Hyundai Touring.
My 1993 Sentra had a technically superior engine and was far more fun. On the other hand it couldn’t touch the simplicity and reliability of this engine.
Economy: 10/10 - EPA rated 26/30/35. I’ve seen 27/35 so far. The fruits of careful engineering and light weight in the old school. The car is the size of a Fiesta, but lighter, which means the little 1.7 SOHC four is fine without direct injection or turbos or Grill shutters etc etc etc. I’d like the chance to beat these numbers with a stick. Or beat them to death with a stick and see if I can wring any fun out of an engine that goes 0-60 in nine seconds.