My friend bought a new 1998 Honda Civic in January and asked me to drive him to the airport in it. Since he would be gone for the weekend, he told me to keep the car while he was out of town.
When I came back home, the first thing I noticed was the fuel gauge needle had barely moved.
Of course, I was driving the Bayshore in rush hour traffic on a Friday night, staying in the right lane to get used to the car.
When I saw a clearing in the middle lane, I made a move. I gave the coupe more gas but it didn't want to drink.
A big Buick was baring down on me and rather than get back in the right lane again, I floored it. The little Civic engine surged just in time as I moved into the left lane and stayed two car lengths ahead of the Buick.
Then, another opening in that mind-bending traffic, and I went back into the right lane for the rest of the trip.
This is a common-sense car with a great small-car ride and solid handling. It has excellent braking from its power-assisted front disc and rear drum brakes.
Introduced in 1973, Honda has not tinkered with its successful Civic since the car underwent a serious make over for the 1996 model year. There's no need to tinker since there are few complaints about the coupe, sedan or hatchback versions.
The estimated range on a single tank of gas (11.9 gallons) is 458 miles - a rate of 39 miles per gallon in highway driving. My trip to the airport and back is proof of that economy.
Today's Civics are rated among the best small cars by auto safety experts. Safety features include passenger and driver front airbags, side-impact beams and excellent roll-cage construction.
The Civic is a small car with a mission - to get you from point A to point B as cheaply and safely as possible.
You just have to remember its a small car that is more comfortable in the right lane for freeway driving. The Civic isn't built for speed, but it is perfect for commuting.
The engine comes in three versions: DX, HX (which I drove) and EX in the coupes. For those who want Civic dependability in a more-upscale package, the Civic EX sedan, starting at $16,489, might be the way to go.
With the EX model you get a livelier 127 horsepower engine which eliminates driving in the right lane and can get you into freeway traffic more enthusiastically. Civic engines typically run problem-free for years with solid engineering for economy.
The hatchback starts at $10,500, though a bigger engine and additional equipment can push the cost above $18,000.
There are compact cars with more flash and dash, but none with more competence, comfort and economy.
After driving the Civic, I have more respect for my friend.