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A Civic Duty: Check Out Hondas

Golden Oldies

The company's mighty mite of the mid-'90s is a solid option for inexpensive transportation.

March 27, 2002|SCOTT DOGGETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Used-car shoppers often are advised to buy the newest model they can afford.

But budget-conscious consumers seeking a pre-owned Civic should disregard that aphorism and instead focus on the wide selection of Civics created during Bill and Hillary's first term, the 1992-95 models.

The reasons are many, and among the most important are cost, quality and abundance of aftermarket parts.

Honda introduced the now ubiquitous Civic in 1973, the same year eight cents bought you a first-class postage stamp. The original Civic cost about $2,000 and came as either a two-door sedan or a three-door hatchback, both little bigger than a shoebox and barely more impact-resistant.

Among the swollen sedans, muscle cars and station wagons that ruled U.S. roads back then, the puny 50-horsepower Civics were the butt of many jokes--until gasoline prices started chasing Skylab in October '73. Suddenly, the EPA mileage champion Hondas didn't look so silly.

The Civic received its first overhaul in 1980, getting a larger engine and 13% more interior room. A year later, a sedan model entered the lineup.

The third generation of Civics debuted in 1984 and featured sportier styling, fuel injection and the two-seater CRX.

The fourth-generation Civic premiered in 1988 and was the first produced domestically--at Honda's plant in Ohio. Major improvements had been made to the chassis, motor, clutch and suspension, and offerings now included a four-wheel-drive wagon. Power ranged from 70 horses in the base engine to 105 in the wagon and sporty CRX Si models.

Which brings us to 1992 and Civic, Generation Five. The '92 Civic featured an all-new body and came in a three-door hatchback and four-door sedan with a wide selection of engines and amenities. Gone were the CRX and the wagon.

Also gone was the old ride, which compared with the new seemed a case study in vibration. The Gen5 Civics' solid ride was produced, in part, by improved aerodynamics, longer wheel bases and a new front suspension. A driver's side airbag and ventilated front disc brakes, standard on all '92 Civics, helped make it a safer car.

Those improvements and Honda's reputation for reliability make 1992-95 Civics a good choice for those seeking solid transportation in the used-car market.

But the Gen5 Civic also has appeal for the younger buyer seeking an affordable car that can be personalized.

There are zillions of low-cost aftermarket parts for the '92-'95 models; you don't have to take on a roommate to be able to personalize one with custom body kits, taillights and the like. Performance-enhancing parts also are relatively cheap.

Just ask members of Team Import Revolution, a car club that uses I & R Auto Accessories in Los Angeles as its base of operations. Almost all drive Civics, and most of those are '92-'95s for reasons previously mentioned.

Most team members have replaced their stock mufflers for aftermarket ones for that street racer sound, and some have spent thousands of dollars on custom seats, sound systems, spiffy wheels and the like.

It's easier to find the cash to pay for custom equipment when the base product is relatively inexpensive.

Private-party prices for the oldest of these pre-owned vehicles, the 1992 models, typically range from $1,700 for a CX hatchback in good condition to $2,750 for a healthy EX sedan; expect to pay $500 to $1,000 more if you get your '92 Civic from a dealership.

For the 1992 model year, Civics came in seven models: the CX, DX, VX and Si hatchbacks (priced at $8,100, $9,850, $10,550 and $11,900, respectively), and the DX, LX and EX four-door sedans ($10,555, $11,385 and $13,575). A five-speed manual transmission was standard; a four-speed automatic was available in the DX hatchback and all three sedans for $800.

The CX came with a 1.5-liter, 70-horsepower, 8-valve engine; the DX with a 102-horsepower, 16-valve version of the same engine; and the VX with a 92-horsepower, 16-valve version with variable timing for better fuel efficiency.

The EX and Si models were sold with a more powerful 125-horsepower, 1.6-liter, 16-valve four-banger with variable timing.

The high-performance Si also has rack-and-pinion steering, power mirrors and cruise control.

Among the sedans, the LX and EX models came with power windows and door locks, cruise control, a digital clock, a tachometer, and a front center armrest with storage compartment. All three sedans have power steering.

All Civic models from 1992 through '95 also have Honda's genetic reliability and enviable gas mileage, typically ranging from 27 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway for the EX sedan with automatic transmission to a whopping 48 mpg city and 55 mpg highway for the VX hatchback with a stick. Wear and tear on the engines, of course, can affect those mileage ratings.

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