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The 2003 Honda Civic was an excellent vehicle in its day and is still a solid choice 20 years on. Regardless of trim, they are undeniably down on power compared to their modern equivalents, but significantly lighter and perhaps even more nimble and engaging than their 2022 counterpart. What is lost in safety is more than made up for in reliability and simplicity. Unfortunately, the reputation of the 7th generation Honda Civic is marred by widespread transmission issues. Thankfully, those issues are largely relegated to the 2001 model year. 

Is the 2003 Honda Civic still good?

An inside view of the 2003 Honda Civic interior
2003 Honda Civic Hybrid interior | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Having recently driven a 2002 Civic EX, it is hard to deny just how fun these early 2000s Civic’s are. They are impossibly light by today’s standards. The lightest of the 2003 models coming in a hair over 2400 lbs, reports AutoBlog. To put this into perspective, the NB Miata (1999-2005), tips the scales at nearly an identical figure. This has the effect of making the 2003 Civic EX’s 127-horsepower 1.7L VTEC engine feel quite eager under load, even with the optional 4-speed automatic. That said, the base 115-hp non-VTEC engine is still decent, especially when paired with Honda’s excellent 5-speed manual transmission.

Is it economical?

2001 Honda Civic at a used car lot
2001 Honda Civic | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Though the 2003 Civic does not benefit from the last 20 years of improved efficiency, it still does quite well. Equipped with the automatic, its least efficient form, the 2003 Civic will get 25 city and 34 highway mpg, reports Edmunds. With the manual, the Civic will achieve 27 city and 35 highway mpg. Granted, this isn’t quite at the 33 city/42 highway mpg of the 2022’s 1.5L turbo, but solid nonetheless. 

Lacking in luxury

Compared to its modern equivalent, the older Civic falls short in features. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has experience with older economy cars, but could be an important factor depending on the needs of the potential buyer. The base DX is pretty barren, reports AutoBlog. You basically get a radio and nothing more. If you want air conditioning, you have to jump to the LX. The top trim EX gets you a power sunroof, 15” rims, and even a key fob for remote keyless entry. If you need more tech, installing a carplay head unit wouldn’t be very expensive.

Common problems

Honda had some very serious issues with their automatic transmissions back in this era. The 7th generation Civic was hit hard in its inaugural year. CarComplaints shows 898 complaints regarding the automatic transmission in 2001 but by 2003, that number was down to 66. This doesn’t mean the issue was eliminated entirely. But, if anyone is in the market for a 2003 Honda Civic, they can rest more easily knowing the issue is far less widespread. That said, a Civic fitted with the 5-speed manual gets a more engaging driving experience, better fuel economy, and infinitely less transmission anxiety.

Less costly, yet worth noting: peeling paint/clearcoat. Yes, another 2000s Honda problem. The paint thing is not unique to the Civic, but it is the second most commonly reported issue on CarComplaints for the 2003 model year with 33 reports.

2003 was a good year for the Civic

The 2003 Honda Civic may be afflicted with the 2001 model year’s reputation, but it is certainly not afflicted with the same failures. The 5-speed manual is the better option for a variety of reasons. However, despite some crappy paint and minimal features, the 2003 Civic is a solid car regardless of transmission choice.


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