The suspension changes made to the seventh generation "EM" Civic have rubbed a lot of people in the aftermarket the wrong way. It has little to do with technical snobbery. Sure, it'd be nice to have double wishbones on all four corners, but the new MacPherson strut front suspension works fine in day-in, day-out driving. And struts themselves have been used in many performance suspensions.
It has to do with the particular way that Honda chose to implement its struts. Normally, the steering box on a car is mounted low in the vehicle's engine bay. The steering rods are relatively short, and they attach to the wheel spindle. In the Civic's case (and the RSX, too), the steering rack is mounted high in the engine compartment. The steering rods are extremely long (to help combat bump steer, Honda says), and they attach to a beefy arm that's part of the body of the strut itself. This means the normally easy to upgrade MacPherson struts have a huge built-in roadblock to improvement in the Civic.
Strut makers have two choices, and neither one is ideal. First, they can make struts which include the steering hardware. This would mean a lot of money in tooling, higher manufacturing costs, and subsequently a price that would be out of reach of the average enthusiast.
On the other hand, they can make a strut insert that would fit into the stock housing. This is less expensive, but it means cutting up the stock strut. Not only is this method a pain in the neck, it eliminates the chance of quickly returning the car to stock, and it also puts it out of reach of the do-it-yourselfer.
The latter option does have one big advantage, however. It can be done now. Koni has chosen this route, and is the first to have a replacement strut for the Civic on the market. The strut itself is Koni's familiar adjustable strut. Rebound is adjusted by using the included handle to turn a screw on the top of the strut. This allows the driver to adjust ride quality and handling easily and quickly. It's the method of installation that's different.
This one is best left to a professional Koni installer, in our opinion. The precise measurements and heavy-duty tools needed will frustrate the backyard mechanic. And when you take your car to the shop, be prepared to spend some extra dough. Cutting the struts and installing the inserts adds at least a couple of hours to the procedure. It should be pointed out that with a pro doing the work, the installation procedure was virtually snag-free.
Our suspension upgrade included more than just Koni's struts, however. We combined them with Eibach's Pro-Kit springs and camber adjustment kit. The Pro-Kit is Eibach's street spring, designed to offer firmer handling and a lower stance, but without compromising the ride quality or safety of the vehicle. Eibach is quick to point out that the Pro-Kit springs are exhaustively engineered for each application, and are not just shorter, firmer versions of the factory spring. In addition, Eibach's North American spring kits are designed for North American versions of import vehicles to ensure a proper fit.
The camber kit provided for the Civic is elegantly simple and very effective. The kit consists of a smaller top bolt for the lower front strut mount. This smaller bolt has a small cam on one side of it. By orienting the bolt in the hole, it pushes out or pulls in the spindle, quickly adjusting the camber. It's always important to have your suspension professionally aligned after an upgrade, doubly so with a camber adjustment kit installed. If you take the car to a different facility for alignment, make sure you tell the shop that your suspension already has a camber adjustment kit.
Our test Civic was a great candidate for the Eibach/Koni upgrade. Having been the test bed for several suspension alternatives, the stock struts were basically destroyed. One was leaking terribly, and the others were simply worn out at only 22,000 miles, another reason to think hard about what springs you're going to put on your car. The owner had decided it was time to quit the guinea pig game and go with a combination that was sure to offer the ride and handling he wanted. The differences were immediately noticable. The ride was smooth, but still firm. The car's stance was improved significantly (it had a severe case of droopy butt before the install), and although it was no longer in the weeds, its stance looks better to our eyes.
Sure, you say, it works great on a car with a screwed-up suspension. How does it compare with the stock car? With extensive experience behind the wheel of all forms of EM Civics, we can tell you that the car's ride is much better controlled. Additionally, the car's cornering capabilities are also improved, allowing the car to take better advantage of its sharp steering. Note that you aren't going to be pulling massive g numbers with this combination, but that's not the point. You will notice a more finely honed feel on the road, with a slightly stiffer ride, but one that is still plenty comfortable. Definitely worth the effort.
Koni North America