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I purchased a new 1990 Civic hatchback that year, a two-door, five-speed model without air conditioning. It was $7,000 and worth every penny. I drove it for 54,000 miles over four and a half years and never had to do anything more than change the oil and tires.
In late 1994, I decided to trade up to a car with air conditioning, and I briefly owned a base Saturn SL four-door sedan. It was a five-speed but had air conditioning. I liked Saturn's no-haggle policy (though I found that Saturn dealers *do* haggle over the amount they will give you on your trade) and was pleased with the buying experience.
I wasn't pleased with the car. The fit and finish were severely lacking; I couldn't close the front driver's-side door without literally slamming it. And the engine was as noisy as anything you'd care to imagine. I returned it within 30 days under Saturn's 30-day money-back guarantee.
(This is where I need to fast-forward a bit, but suffice to say that then I bought a '95 Civic DX hatchback that I ended up selling six months later because I couldn't swing the payments. I went without a car for nearly a year until November '96, when I bought a 1997 four-door, five-speed Saturn SL, primarily because it was a little cheaper per month than the Civic and was a little less expensive to insure than the Civic.)
I drove that Saturn for four years and 29,500 miles and really didn't need another car. But the engine noise hadn't improved from the '94 model, and the front leg room was lacking, even though I am only a 5-foot-7 male. The Civic model no matter what the year always had more leg room in front, even if the cars' brochures claimed the same length.
I didn't have any problems with the fit and finish on the '97 Saturn, and at the time I needed a car for my job, so I was willing to tolerate the engine noise and cramped leg room (I always had to angle my left foot so I looked pigeon-toed while sitting in the car, or else hook it under the clutch pedal while driving). The only mechanical issue I had with the SL for the time I owned it was a recall a couple of years ago involving the steering mechanism, but it wasn't urgent, and I took care of it when I got my annual inspection.
I also had never had any problems with the service department at Saturn, though I have not had some of the problems that other Edmunds users have--goodness, those stories are horrible enough to curl hair! I was always treated courteously and fairly by my Saturn dealership's service department.
But I always had it in the back of my mind that I would buy another Honda when the time was right. So last week I test-drove the 2001 Civic DX, and I was impressed with the leg room--I could stretch my left foot all the way out and just barely have the sole of my foot lie flat against the footrest--and the spoked steering wheel (the one on my Saturn was shaped in a way that wasn't conducive to gripping it for long drives with just the thumb and index finger, as I like to do). The seats were comfortable, and the car drove nicely and quietly. All-around visibility was excellent, as usual for a Civic.
In terms of quibbles, I did think the speedometer layout was a bit weird, as it delineates only every 20 m.p.h. and doesn't even highlight 55 m.p.h., as almost every speedometer I've ever seen does. In a country where most speed limits have "5s" at the end of them, it's not really convenient to have to guess whether you're going 35 or 25 or 45 or a little above that. Also, the position of the radio to the driver is utterly inconvenient; the driver has to reach quite a ways to his right--almost to the middle of the dashboard--to turn some of the buttons. (It might look convenient on the Honda Web site's 360-degree-view page, but trust me, once you sit in an '01 Civic's driver's seat, you'll know what I'm talking about.) Also, I found that I had to make an effort to rest my left elbow on the door elbow rest, which doesn't sound as if it would be cause for complaint. It's not that uncomfortable; I just ended up resting my left arm in my lap while steering. I was pretty sure I would get the Honda anyway, despite what I felt were relatively minor quibbles, because of Honda's overall reputation for quality and high resale value.
Just for the heck of it, though, I went to the Saturn dealer from which I bought the '97 SL and test-drove the 2001 L100 four-door automatic-transmission sedan. I was very impressed! The car's ride was smooth, the engine had more pep than the '01 Civic's (135 h.p. compared to 115 h.p. for the Civic), and there was just as much leg room as in the Civic. The steering wheel had been reshaped a bit so I no longer had to hook my fingers awkwardly. The speedometer was bigger and a bit easier to read, and it was delineated in a more normal fashion, every 10 m.p.h. The driver's door's elbow rest was closer to me and thus a bit more comfortable than in the Civic. The radio and other controls were closer to the driver than in the Civic. And to top it off, the L100's engine was as quiet as, if not quieter than, the Civic's. Saturn had addressed my major complaints--engine noise, leg room, uncomfortable steering wheel. I read one review of the L100 that compared it favorably with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, saying that the L100 gave those cars a serious run for their money. Off my test-drive impressions, I can see why.
But in a possible prelude of things to come, I twice had a problem pulling the demo L100's shifter into Reverse from Park. The button on the shifter wouldn't go in all the way with normal pressure; I had to exert quite a bit more than one would think would be necessary. Other than that, though, I had no complaints about the L100 and was seriously considering buying it.
My Saturn dealer offered me about $1,500 more for my trade than the Honda dealer offered, but the L100's sticker was $2,000 more than the Civic's. I probably could have haggled the Saturn dealer down $500 if I had wanted to (remember, Saturn does haggle on the trade-in value of your present car), but in the end I bought the '01 Civic DX four-door sedan, automatic tranny with air conditioning, thinking it was probably best to go with my original instinct about Honda quality and resale value.
But then on a 115-mile drive home, I noticed what seemed to be wind noise, enough to make me pull over and make sure that all the doors and windows were closed and rolled up (they were). And after I went over a few bumps, something seemed to come loose in the driver's side door and now rattles with vibration. I started wondering: Did I make the right choice? I had never had *anything* to complain about in a Honda before. Should I have gone with the L100?
I could probably sell the '01 Civic if I wanted to for close to what I paid, maybe even back to the dealer from which I bought it, even though Honda doesn't have Saturn's money-back-guarantee program. The Civic only has 115 miles on it; I'm sure dealers sell demos with fewer miles. And it's garaged.
What do you people think--would I be insane to dump the '01 Civic in favor of the '01 Saturn L100? I haven't seen any posts here at Edmunds about the L100, possibly because it's a relatively new model line.
Logging on here has been entertaining, because I found almost as many people who had problems with Civics as had problems with Saturns. Likewise, I found almost as many people who praised Civics as praised Saturns. I've been blessed not to have had problems with either brand, but I suppose there is a first time for everything.
Well, thanks for reading, anyway!
The first car I ever test-drove was an SL1, three years ago. Impressions: the interior didn't sit well with me, the handling was awkward, and the car was SLOW. At one point in the drive, I had to go up a fairly steep hill. The car started losing speed; I floored it, the engine made a TON of noise, the car lost speed a little slower, and oddly enough, the salesman commented on the "torquey engine." (Maybe a manual would have fared better--I was driving an automatic.) The salesman was bad at giving directions, so a couple of times I had to swerve around to make turns. With most cars, this wouldn't have been a huge deal, but the Saturn was hard to control and sharp turns were a white-knuckle affair. To make matters worse, the salesman was "nice" enough to drive an hour to pick me up and let me drive the car back to the dealership, but the result was that I was stuck at the dealership. It wasn't until I physically walked off the lot to call a cab that they realized I wasn't going to buy a car and decided to get some lackey to drive me home. Customer experience my butt.
My ex bought a Civic last summer. We were going to buy a Nissan Sentra SE but the sales people were real pieces of work (long story). The Honda people were great. I guess when you go through as much inventory as Honda does, you don't have to jerk your potential customers around. Anyway, I didn't much like the Civic at the beginning, but it grew on me. I thought the interior was cheap because of the bland appearance, but it's really roomy, functional, and well-made. The engine could use some more juice but it's still way the heck better than a Saturn. I also think it's a good looking little car. If I was shopping in that price range, I'd probably get another.