Should I be disappointed with my 1997 Civic's fuel economy?

westcoastbrokeApril 1, 2006

We just bought a 1997 Honda Civic LX. We wanted the higher-efficency HX, but the HX is only available in a two-door coupe and we needed the four doors. As a four door, we could get the DX, LX or EX. Because we wanted simplicity, we wanted the DX, but could not find one, so we got an LX. It's got the non-VTEC 1.6L engine, 5spd transmission, 115,000 miles, looks and runs like new. But, at 115k miles you expect a Honda to be all original anyway.

In my mixed city/highway work commute, I'm getting 33mpg, and on the one highway trip we've taken, we got 38MPG. I am very much NOT impressed. My last Civic was a 1990 LX, that one even had an automatic, and it got 38 city and 44 highway (not EPA figures, that's what I actually measured). The 1990 was so underpowered as to be dangerous, particularly in the mountains. The 1997 isn't quite so bad, but close. It's still not a safe car in the mountains, due to the low power. The 1997 is also noisier than the 1990, which seemed fairly refined and the handling of the 1997 is not quite as good as the 1990 was. Before the 1990, I had a 1986 Civic CRX HF which routinely got 65 miles per gallon highway.

Why is this younger Civic such a gas hog? A little buzzy, bouncy car like this seems like it should be 50+ MPG, no?

For what it's worth, the car we're replacing is a 1989 Audi 200 Turbo Quattro. The Audi is simply taking more repairs than we want to deal with - that's sort of the norm for old Audis. The Audi has twice the horsepower of the '97 Civic, a lot more interior room, handles and corners better, has all-wheel drive for mountain safety and is a lot quieter. And, driven carefully, gets 31 MPG highway and 28 city. For the huge step-down in performance, we really hoped the Honda would be a big jump up in MPG compared to the Audi.

The dealer and owners of other similar Civics tell us that ours seems to drive just like theirs, and that they don't get any better MPG.

What's up with this generation of Civic that the gas mileage is so poor?


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I'm not a honda person. I would suggest you look up how they compare size/weight, engine size, and gear ratio's of the two vehicles if you can. My guess is the lesser gas mileage car is heavier, has a larger engine, and/or is geared differently.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2006 at 10:26AM
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The Civic has grown each time a new version has been introduced. The current Civic (just introduced) is the size of the Accord when it was introduced 30 years ago. Your '97 is larger and heavier than your '90. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- the Civic is a nice car, it pollutes less now than ever, and the LX has lots of goodies compared to your earlier Civic. But even Honda cannot violate the laws of physics; larger, heavier objects simply take more energy to move.

That said, I would expect more than 38 mpg when driven steadily on the highway. Don't forget, though, that even driving at a steady 70 mph will dent mileage seriously compared to 55-60 mph. Tire choice makes a difference, too -- tires can "cost" you 3-4 mpg. Has the car been inspected by a mechanic? If not, I'd have it checked to make sure the engine and transmission are in good shape and nothing is "slipping" when it shouldn't be.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2006 at 8:56PM
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Since when did a Civic EVER get 50 mpg that wasn't a CRX HF or an Insight ? Did you do your research before you bought?Obviously not! Sorry,but the miracle car you're looking for that climbs mountains with torque to spare and gets 50 mpg doesn't exist yet!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2006 at 11:33PM
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Sorry,but the miracle car you're looking for that climbs mountains with torque to spare and gets 50 mpg doesn't exist yet!

Dunno ... Volkswagen's TDI comes mighty close: lots of torque down low and 50-55 mpg if you can keep it under 55 mph. And I'm sure there are other small turbodiesels out there that can do that. We just can't buy many of them in the U.S. Yet.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2006 at 10:27AM
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I had an 87 Nissan Sentra with a carburator and a 5 speed that got a consistant 41 mpg,even though I drove it pretty hard most of the time.My friend's GMC crew cab pickup with the duramax deisel gets 20 mpg.Now if something that huge can get 20 mpg,you wonder how much more diesels can get in a small car and why there aren't more of them sold in the U.S.?

    Bookmark   April 3, 2006 at 2:55PM
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Now if something that huge can get 20 mpg,you wonder how much more diesels can get in a small car and why there aren't more of them sold in the U.S.?

We can't because saving fuel is not a priority in the U.S. In Europe and much of the rest of the world, diesel cars are far more prevalent. Diesel is simpler to produce; diesel cars get better mileage; their engines last longer; and, for the kind of driving most people in the U.S. do, they're easier to drive. Europe (especially) has been willing to gain all those advantages in exchange for two disadvantages: diesels produce more NOx and more soot than gasoline engines. Ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel (which we won't get in the U.S. until this fall) helps with both of those, and so does fitting soot filters (European diesels already have them). With those, it's almost impossible to tell a diesel from a gasoline engine. In fact, among the bigger prestige vehicles in Europe, the turbodiesel often is the top of the line. They're quiet, they don't rattle or stink, and they definitely are not slow.

I suspect/hope that, once ULSD fuel is common in the U.S. and if this country ever gets serious about saving fuel, diesels will become far more common. And that's A Good Thing. :-)

    Bookmark   April 4, 2006 at 8:36AM
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I'm sort of a Honda person and have seen the same type of thing. I think the posts above have it figured out - the '97 is a slightly bigger car with slightly more power and may be geared differently. My daughter has a '92 civic and it can easily get in the upper 30's mpg.

For me, my '98 accord gets worse gas milage than my still running '86. But the '98 has way more power. It's worth the trade-off, for me.


    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 5:12PM
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To nin7xbam: I wasn't expecting 50, but I expected to be better than 40, comfortably. As I said already, my 1990 did get better than 40MPG, even when I drove at 80MPH...and it was an automatic.

I have also previously owned a 1986 CRX HF and you are right; those are the fuel economy champs in the Honda lineup. If I drove it a steady 40-45 mph on the road, I could squeeze just barely better than 65 mpg out of it. On my usual somewhat daring mountain trips to/from work (I lived in the Colorado high country at that time), I saw regularly about 55-58MPG.

But I also owned, for a time, a 1980 Civic CVCC 1.3L, a two-door hatchback. The penalty with that car was that it was very slow, but it rewarded with fuel economy never worse than about 45, and a few times, better than 50.

So, some of my research is actual measurements from Civics I have owned in the past.

As far as comparing weight, etc, between cars, here's how it compares between the new 1997 and the old 1990:

1990 engine: 1.5L, 92HP, throttle-body injection
1997 engine: 1.6L, 106HP, multi-point fuel injection

1990 weight: 2480 pounds
1997 weight: 2438 pounds

1990 EPA estimate: 31/34 MPG (actually got 38/44)
1997 EPA estimate: 29/35 MPG (actually getting 33/38)

So we see that the 1997 actually weighs LESS than the 1990, but not by much. I do think the exterior of the car has grown, so it's probably having to push a lot more wind out of the way. I was expecting to do better than the 1990 since my '97 had a manual trans. Also, the EPA estimate for the 1997 is slightly higher than for the 1990 on the highway, but I'm doing worse.

As far as maintenance, yes, I had it to a mechanic. Shortly after the purchase, it was time for the routine timing belt/water pump replacement (gadzooks that is one EXPENSIVE routine maintenance!!!) and as long as he had it, I asked him to check over all other items that could impact economy or performance. He replaced the air filter, and tested the O2 sensor and pressure under load of the exhaust. It only has 115,000 miles on it, and I've certainly never had Honda problems that young. My 1990 had 125k when I bought it and 240k when I sold it; my 1980 1.3L and 1986 CRX were similarly "vintaged" when I owned them. Now that I think about it, it's probably been 30 years since I have owned a car with less than 100k on the clock. It's just not a spooky amount of miles with today's improved-reliability cars.

I do not like "extra toys", fortunately the LX really doesn't have that many. The only annoying toys are the power windows and door locks. The windows are making crunchy noises as they go up and down; the dealer confirms that they do have to replace those motors on occasion. Thankfully, it is devoid of built-in cell phones, remote CD players, power/heated seats, has simple plain steel wheels and is overall a nicely dumbed-down car. When I look at the things that I've had to repair/replace in my cars as they approach 300,000 miles, a tremendous amount of it is "the toys". Engines/trans these days just don't wear out any more.

In terms of power, my '97 seems to be about equal to a 1990 with 5 speed. In fact the 1990 that I tried recently is better at high speeds, this possibly due to the smaller wind resistance. I think the '97, due to the MPFI gets a bit more low-end torque, so it feels faster off the line, but for safety, you want the power at high speeds for safe passing. Low-end torque is good for impressing the gang as you peel out of the Dairy Queen, something that has not crossed my mind since I had my 1969 Z-28 in the 70s.

I bought a Civic because I wanted a very simple car and very high gas mileage. The '97 is no barn-burner when it comes to acceleration, but there's just a little to spare (at least at sea level - at altitude, it's probably a real dog) and I would happily give it up in exchange for 10 more MPG.

I think this is just a reflection of the American desire for more, more, bigger, bigger, more complicated. If a manufacturer actually made their newer models get BETTER fuel economy, the buying public would hate them because they were slower.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 4:06PM
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I don't even think that the Honda Insight hybrid can match the CRX HF in terms of fuel economy. Stricter emission controls,air bags,side impact beams,more torque and horsepower have all driven down gas mileage over the years.On the plus side though,cars are now safer than ever,even the small ones as my 03 Matrix has a 5 star crash rating.In the fall of 2001 I took an 89 CRX HF (with about 130K mi.) for a test drive and with it's sparse cheap looking plasticy dash,it seemed much older than it's 12 years. Once out on the freeway ,it was downright scary,full of squeaks and rattles(and a clunk from the rear) small,light and underpowered it got blown all over the road when big trucks flew by.Today's cars may not get that kind of mileage,but the build quality is much better,they pollute less,and will protect you much better in event of a crash.When I want to get 45 or more mpg I ride my motorcyle,too bad I live in the north where riding year round is not an option!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2006 at 12:57PM
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See, I think even that cheap feeling CRX is probably safer in a crash than a motorcycle. Consumers should have that choice.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2006 at 9:01PM
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Actually it was the car seeming dated more than being unsafe that turned me off the deal,oh and that thunking noise from the rear suspension was the deal breaker! And motorcycles,as well as cars are only as safe as their operators . There is actually a new CRX coming out in 2007 based on the new Civic!Can't wait to see this one,had a new 88 CRX and loved it!

Here is a link that might be useful: 2007 CRX

    Bookmark   April 10, 2006 at 9:21PM
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