Pros: HX model has the best mileage, I believe 34/38, and it's affordable.
Cons: It's a 4 cylinder.
I bought my 1999 Honda Civic HX Coupe brand new as my very first car and I'm loving it. So far, the only problems I've had were a couple of extremely minor ones:
- There was an extra piece of plastic rattling in my vent.
- My fuse box cover needed replacing.
...and one major one:
- The transmission needed replacing two years into ownership.
All of the above problems were taken care of at my dealer's service center free of charge, as my Civic was still under warranty.
Before buying my Civic, I drove my parents' car, which had a little more power with its V6 engine. It took a little getting used to the smaller engine after that, but to compensate, the HX model has a special second gear for a burst of power when needed. I've used it quite a few times to get past slower cars on the road, or to make that quick left turn off the road.
The Civic HX model's engine is somewhat like a traditional automatic engine, but it is a little bit different. They call it CVT - constantly variable transmission. The design allows for smoother automatic shifting, which means you hardly notice upshifts while accelerating. By comparison, the car I drove before could really jerk when accelerating through gears quickly. (Hey, sometimes you need to moooove!) This car rides very smoothly and quietly.
Now, as for the cause of the problems resulting in the necessity of total transmission replacement, I can't explain that, but I'd like to think that a subtle problem with my particular one must've been overlooked at the factory.
The car drove fine for about a year or so, then I started noticing a slow, but steady increase, over time, in the half-second vibration of the car when starting to drive from a stop or crawl. As the months went by, it got rougher and rougher until I started to worry about serious problems and notified my dealer.
The dealer couldn't determine the cause, but per Honda's suggestion, they completely flushed the trans fluid about 2 or 3 times. This seemed to work, but in another 6 months, the problem returned, accompanied by a new sound.
This time, after repeating the flushes and calling Honda for advice, the dealer was told the transmission was "bad" and needed to be replaced. The parts were ordered and I had my new transmission installed within a couple of weeks.
It was a one-day job, completely covered by the warranty, and I was given a free rental car to use in the meantime. I haven't had any complaints since the replacement.
Unfortunately, the A/C is not standard, so plan on spending another grand on that. I didn't want to finance that in with the price of my car, so I saved up and waited a year to have mine installed and paid for it outright. The A/C is great - I don't recommend doing without it if you get summers where you live. It was a rough summer the first year without A/C!
The above problem with the piece of plastic stuck in the vent may have had something to do with installation of the A/C, by the way, since I hadn't had any problems before A/C was installed. No damage resulted.
It also comes with a Honda AM/FM stereo, which as fine, but I got myself an aftermarket CD player installed because I wanted to choose the model myself and shop around for sales, rather than simply tack on Honda's version.
There are some useful little features that come with this car:
- When the engine is off and the keys remain in the ignition, the driver's side door will not lock, even if you try to force it down, so you can't lock your keys in the car.
- There is a handy lockable fold-down rear seat that connects to the trunk, for transporting any longer items that don't fit completely in the trunk. It's a lot safer than trying to drive with stuff sticking out the back of your car with the trunk blocking your rearview mirror.
- You can lock the trunk with your master key to keep valets, repair people, or other car borrowers out of it. You keep the master key with you and hand over the valet key to them.
- There's a small pin on the floor under the seat holding down the driver's side floormat in place, to prevent a dangerous sliding of the mat into the pedal area.
- When defogging your windshield, the recycled air button is automatically reset to be off, to prevent further condensation on your windows and speed the defogging process.
- The spare tire is hidden in the trunk under flat carpeting, for increased storage in the trunk. (I put my extra windshield fluid bottle in with the tire so it doesn't roll around.)
One thing I couldn't stand (and this is so minor) is the plush seating causing a lot of static when getting out of the car. I'd always get a zap every time I touched the door to close it. I had the same problem in the last car I drove, and using Static Guard spray only seemed to make it worse.
The easy remedy I found (thanks to a friend's suggestion) was getting one of those wooden beaded seat covers to put over the front seats. It greatly reduces the friction and has pretty much eliminated the static problem completely, so I'm back to being a happy driver. (Another plus to the beads is more air circulation to reduce stickiness on your back and legs in the hot summertime. (WARNING: these beads can really heat up in the sun!) It also feels more comfortable, in my opinion. I got my black, wood, beaded seat covers for $8 each at SuperTrak.)
I really did my research before deciding on the Civic. For the price, I think the Civic HX is the best choice. I was considering a Nissan Sentra, but you also get Honda reliability and innovation along with the Civic. Like I said, the ride is quiet and steady, and the HX model gives you extra smooth acceleration, as well as fuel economy.
This past year, the transmission roughness started up again and built up slowly until finally, last August, I'd gotten worried enough to take it into the dealer to see if anything could be done about it. My hesitation, although not necessarily the smart approach in this case, was due partly to my not being sure if the vibrations was really as bad as I thought it had become, and partly to the fact that my warranty was up on the car. I needed an oil change anyway, so I asked a service person to take a ride with me and give me his assessment.
Sure enough, as soon as he accelerated out of the service bay, the vibration occurred. He took a brief trip up a side street and back and told me he was almost positive that the transmission needed to be replaced (again). Of course I was disappointed. As I can definitely tell you all from my two experiences in the past, this is a big job, takes a week, and costs thousands of dollars when not covered by a warranty. Luckily, my first two transmissions were still covered, but I knew this one would cost me a bundle.
Estimated cost of replacement given to me that day was $4,000-$5,000, not to mention the frustration of having to find other transportation to and from work and school every day. I was not a happy camper. I brought up the tranny history and begged for some compassion or loophole, but was disappointed to hear that this one would cost me. I was not even allowed to drive the car back home to think about it, as I was told the car was unfit for safe driving. My only option was to rent a car and have them work on replacing the darned transmission AGAIN. Ordering and replacing the transmission would take about a week.
So I called Enterprise (the dealer's recommended rental place) and asked to be picked up in one of their cheapest rentals. I, of course, lamented about my misfortune and managed to get a free upgrade, along with a 10% discount, thanks to their relationship with my Honda dealer and the referral. That helped a little. I ended up driving a brand new 2004 Dodge Stratus, which was nice, too. Anyway, back to the Honda deal...
So halfway through the week, I've discussed my tragedy with various friends and coworkers, then I get a call from the dealer. The service dude apparently took some initiative and called Honda Corporate to see what could be done for me. Surprisingly, Honda authorized a free replacement of my faulty transmission - FREE! Hallelujah! That made my day. They mentioned that this was a one-time "good will" courtesy service and all that stuff, but it saved me thousands and I was grateful.
I called up Honda Corporate, per my service dude's suggestion, to see if I could get to the bottom of the recurring problem with the tranny. I was expecting to be on hold for a few minutes, and that I would have to beg some customer service rep to help me. Amazingly, I did not hold at all, was connected to a very courteous and compassionate customer service representative, who actually made a difference and a very positive impression on me.
Unfortunately, I could get no answer on the transmission problem, but was assured that if there was a problem worth recalling, that Honda would contact me about it. That part is still a mystery to me. I can only speculate that, since my HX has a CVT tranny, that perhaps it was not given any special care that may be required during routine maintenance. I have no evidence to back that, it is pure speculation, in the absence of any facts.
After my Honda dealer refused to foot the rental bill for me (can't hurt to ask - besides, I didn't BREAK the trans or drive wrong or anything), I thought I'd ask Honda Corporate if they could pay for my car rental. Long-shot, I know, but to my surprise, the customer service representative, Marisa, was actually eager to take care of that for me. Yes, she had the authorization to do that! Isn't that amazing? She told me it would be no problem, and that all I needed to do is fax the bill to her. I did that, and eliminated another cost (about $200 for the week's rental).
But wait, there's more! Like any car owner, I wanted some sort of reassurance that this next transmission would not flake out on me in another couple years, like the previous two did. Since I did not pay for my last transmission replacements, there was no extended warranty on them. Now this one would be free again, and I worried I would not have any kind of warranty to cover any future problems, should they occur. When I explained this to Marisa, she offered me an extended warranty on the new transmission. "For free?" I asked. Again, I was amazed that, yes, this would be free to me. This transmission is covered under a special extended warranty that is good until 5/18/2006, which is 7 years after the purchase of my vehicle, or until my car hits the 100k mile mark.
Bottom line with Honda Corporate is, ask and you will receive. They are very accommodating, even when it seems like the odds are against you.
Bottom line on this car, however, is that it's a great car - when the transmission is not crapping out. I cannot tell if it is a problem with my model's design or with my vehicle in particular, but 3 transmissions within about 4 years on a new car is a little crazy, don't you think? Hopefully, I will have moved onto another model by the time the extended warranty on this transmission runs out.
I'm still driving this HX. This time the tranny held up and I'm still getting at least 32 mpg, even with all the traffic I sit in most days. Someone rear-ended me at a stop light last year and managed to wreck the bumper and damage the frame. It was very close to getting "totaled" by the insurance company, but they chose to have it repaired. After several weeks in their shop, "Nestor" (I named my car) is back with me and almost as good as new. (The idiots at the shop put the "HX" badge on upside down, so now it's an "XH". The muffler also needed some adjusting later, but that's fixed, too.)
I'm at about 77k miles on the odometer now and I just got the battery replaced. I'm sure it's got plenty of life in it yet. These cars last!