A revamped Civic lineup debuted for 1996. The new body featured larger light clusters fore and aft, a grille (chrome-accented on sedans) and a crisp character line that ran the length of the car. Hatchbacks now had the 103.2-inch wheelbase of the coupes and sedans, and overall length was up around 2 to 4 inches, depending on body style.
Sedans were again offered in DX, LX and EX trim levels. A new coupe, the HX, joined the DX and EX coupes. The HX coupe essentially replaced the VX hatchback, offering high mileage figures from a fairly powerful engine. The revised VTEC-E engine (now at 1.6 liters) in the HX put out 23 more horsepower (for a total of 115 ponies) than the previous version but now "only" scored mileage figures of 39 in the city and 45 on the highway. A gearless continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that promised seamless performance and manual-transmission fuel economy was introduced later in the year as an option for the HX. The hatchback lineup was trimmed down to two models, the CX and DX. A new 1.6-liter 106-horsepower engine that earned Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) certification powered the CX, DX and LX, and a slightly more powerful 127-horsepower VTEC-assisted version was found in the EX models.
Excluded from the redesign, the del Sol was now in its fourth year and got a host of tweaks to keep it current. The base model (S) got the new 1.6-liter 106-horse engine fitted to the new Civic, Si models got the beefier suspension of the VTEC, and all versions got a freshened front fascia.
In 1997, all Civics came with 14-inch wheels, DX models got full wheel covers, the LX sedan received air conditioning and, strangely, EX coupes with manual transmissions no longer had the option of antilock brakes. As this would be the last year for the del Sol, Honda made no changes.
Not much happened in 1998, save for new wheel covers, an exterior handle for hatchbacks and the addition of map lights.
A slightly revised front fascia and taillights, along with redesigned climate controls updated the Civic for 1999. A "Value Package" for the DX sedan debuted that included features that most buyers wanted, such as air conditioning, a CD player, power door locks, automatic transmission and keyless entry, at a substantial savings when compared to the separate option prices.
Midway through the year to the joy of pocket-rocket enthusiasts everywhere, the Civic Si returned, now in the coupe body style and sporting a potent 160 horsepower from its 1.6-liter VTEC engine. A firmer suspension, front strut tower brace, 15-inch alloy wheels wearing 195/55R15 rubber and four-wheel disc brakes completed the hardware upgrades for the Si. A front spoiler, side sills and subtle bodyside graphics set the Si apart from the other Civic coupes, and the standard equipment was generous and similar to that of the EX.
Other than the shuffling of paint choices, the Civic stood pat for the year 2000.
The biggest news is the availability of a Hybrid Civic sedan, which has a more powerful gas/electric powerplant system than in Honda's groundbreaking Insight. This environmentally friendly vehicle offers the room and comfort of a Civic sedan with mileage estimates of 46 mpg in the city and 51 mpg on the highway. Although
There are now three body styles to choose from: coupe, sedan and hatchback. Conservative styling for the sedan and a slightly more aggressive approach for the coupe help to differentiate these two body styles, while the hatchback presents a snub-nosed, city-car look. The hatch is only available as the sporty 160-horsepower Si, while the others are available in familiar DX, HX, LX and EX trim levels.
A more spacious cabin features Honda's trademark large, simple controls but greater use of hard plastic trim seems to indicate that the company may be resting on its laurels a bit.
The newest Civics ride on a stiffer platform that decreases chassis flex and thus provides better handling and increased crash protection. But to the chagrin of hard-core enthusiasts, Honda replaced the front double-wishbone suspension setup with a more space-efficient McPherson-strut setup, which isn't as easy to "slam" as the double-wishbone design. Steering now boasts a quicker ratio along with variable power assist, which makes parking easier while allowing more road feel and response during spirited driving.
Under the hood, the engine's size has been increased slightly (from 1.6 to 1.7 liters) to provide more torque, and transmissions were tweaked for improved shifter feel and greater efficiency.