Classic CARmentary: 1998 Honda Civic HX Coupe

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

What I found interesting about this car is that it was Nissan that went all-in on CVTs less than ten years later while Honda is still cautious on which models and trims receive a CVT.  Was it because the HX was a slow seller?  I’m not sure, but even this early CVT clearly impressed me with its smoothness and improvement in gas mileage.  If there was the usual droning under acceleration that seems to be the main complaint of those that drive a car with a CVT, it either wasn’t there or not annoying enough to bother me.

One omission I regret is not stating the fuel economy of the HX in the context of the other models.  Checking the revised numbers on, the four-speed automatic in the DX/LX achieved 25 city/33 highway, while the five-speed manual achieved 27/34.  The CVT, with a revised 29/35 rating, is very impressive by those measures.  However, the HX also employed several other fuel saving changes over the DX/LX, and the five-speed manual HX knocks it out of the park with a revised 30/39.

Prior to the HX, I believe that no one else had attempted to market a CVT in the U.S. since the Subaru Justy.  Please correct me if I’m wrong.

Ask yourself, “Am I willing to give up a little performance for a major improvement in smoothness and fuel economy?” If the answer is yes, then take a look at the Honda Civic HX, a stylish little coupe with the smoothness of a much larger car and the gas mileage of a much smaller one, but with a small penalty in performance.

The current generation Civic, one of the best-selling compact cars in the country and available in various two, three, and four door configurations, has been around since 1996. While all other Civics are available with a four-speed automatic transmission, the HX Coupe is the only one that offers Honda’s revolutionary Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

While the idea has been around for decades, quality and drivability problems in the past have kept the application of CVTs minimal. In a nutshell, rather than the four set ratios of the regular automatic, CVT uses a drive belt connected to two conical pulleys that continuously alter the drive ratios for maximum efficiency as you accelerate. Honda’s version differs in that it includes “S” (Second) and “L” (Low), which gives the driver a higher set of ratios that provide slightly better acceleration and can be used for traction or driving down steep grades. Although not seamless, “shifts” are almost imperceptible and a nice break from the jerking of most regular automatics.

Inside, laid out amongst the well-thought-out interior, is a shifter that looks like any other, with a standard P-R-N-D-S-L layout. Shift into “D” and drive it like you would any other car. Although not lethargic, the Civic HX still accelerates like it’s 20 horsepower short of the advertised 115, and the engine feels strained under hard acceleration. Mileage, however, is an astounding 34 city/39 highway.

Otherwise, the HX Coupe, like all Civics, is nearly perfect. Handling is way above average, and the car overall has a solid feel with good control. The trunk is large, and the rear seats fold for even more space.

In my book, the performance is a small price to pay for the gas mileage, smoothness, and incomparable Honda quality found in the Civic HX.

For more information contact 1-800-33-HONDA ext. 737


Type:2-Door Coupe
Engine:115-horsepower, 1.6-liter inline-4
Transmission:Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
EPA Mileage:34 city/39 highway
Tested Price:$14,874