Los Angeles-- Small cars are supposed to be a tough sell in the United States, but nearly a thousand Civics roll off the lots of Honda dealerships every day, making it the bestselling small car in America. This is not to say that the introduction of the seventh-generation car last year was without controversy, as plenty of critics (both within Honda and at this magazine) questioned the new car's soft personality, which was more like that of a big car than like the swift, sure-footed Civics we've all loved. Fortunately, Honda has retuned its bread-and-butter small car, and the 2002 model drives in a much better way as a result.
This is still a small car that wants to feel like a bigger car, which is in keeping with the greater spaciousness of the new-generation package, but it no longer corkscrews up and down over the bumps of the freeway as if it were a tired old taxicab. A suspension make-over is the reason, and it includes firmer damping (notably at the front, which is 30 percent tighter than before). A ten percent increase in roll stiffness delivers quicker response to steering inputs, and the steering itself has a stronger on-center feel thanks to refinements to the power assist and some reductions in friction. As a result, the '02 Civic feels adept and positive instead of slack and unsure.
At the same time, the big-car side of the Civic's personality has been usefully enhanced. Additional acoustic insulation and a thorough retuning of the interior's harmonics mean that the inside of the car no longer shakes and buzzes loudly when the long-stroke, sixteen-valve 1.7-liter SOHC engine approaches its power peak, which is above 6000 rpm for all Civic sedans and coupes.
The '02 model drives a little more like the Civics we remember with such fondness, and we think that's a good thing. After all, a Civic is more than just generic transportation. It is meant to have a spirit of honest practicality, just like Honda itself.