Our review of the redesigned 2022 Honda Civic sedan is coming on 6/16, until then we decided to look back at the Civic’s greatest hits and how Honda’s iconic compact car has evolved over the years.
From the March 1984 issue of Car and Driver.
When it comes to the harsh realities of living within our means, we get just as depressed as the next poor slob who’s been denied his rightful station in life. Maybe even more so. After jetting to Paris, dashing down the autoroute to the Cote d’Azur to catch the races at Paul Ricard, dining on quail eggs en croûte, and letting someone else pay the bills, it’s heartbreaking to come home to dog rocks on the basement floor, mildewed clothes in the washing machine, and tube steak in the freezer. With the aid of such recipe books as And You Thought You Didn’t Like Spam…, eating within the budget can be managed. But finding an affordable car that will satisfy our highly developed motoring palates is difficult indeed.
We’ve found it. The new Honda Civic has taken Car and Driver by storm. In its various guises—two-seat CRX, three-door hatchback, four-door sedan, and five-door wagon—it is absolutely irresistible. It is stylish, innovative, functional, spry, economical to operate, and unbelievably cheap. It has completely captured our fancy—and what better rave review could we offer than to go out and buy a few with our very own cash money? The last car to inspire mass ownership by our jaded staff were the Mazda RX-7 and the old Civic. We own three of each. Before we completed the testing of our ’84 Civic, Honda had one firm order from 2002 Hogback and two serious maybes.
The first Civic to come under C/D scrutiny on this side of the Pacific is the three-door hatchback in “S” trim. (We chose the S rather than the base model or the snazzier DX because of its combination of sporty black body-side moldings, 1.5-liter engine, five-speed transmission, and miscellany of extras.) The hatchback’s most obvious feature at a glance is interior volume; you will find it almost impossible to reconcile the amount of usable space with the Civic’s dinky exterior dimensions.
Honda engineers went to considerable lengths to achieve their goal of maximum volume in a minimum package. Extending the roofline (a proposal forwarded by Honda’s U.S.-based design team, which also worked on the CRX) solved the problem of rear-seat headroom, and carving out the door panels did wonders for elbow space, but most of the added real estate was wrested away from needless overhang and from the engine compartment. First, the wheels were pushed out to the far corners of the body. Second, the engine was shortened with the use of a Siamesed-cylinder block design. Honda also ditched the classic MacPherson-strut front suspension of past Civics for separate struts and a pair of torsion bars tucked below the floorpan, identical to the CRX layout (C/D, December, 1983). A little more floor space was gained by shrinking the catalytic converter into a small oval canister and mounting it in the engine bay. The rear shock absorbers are shorter as well, so they don’t eat up much cargo space.
In all, the three-door Civic is only 1.6 inches longer than last year’s hatchback, but it gains more than five inches of precious wheelbase length. According to SAE interior-volume measurements, the front-seat area is now just two cubic feet shy of a Ford LTD’s. The rear seat, on the other hand, is classified in the let’s-pretend-we-can-really-sit-back-there category, along with the Porsche 944’s—but this just goes to show you that the SAE system isn’t perfect. What it fails to take into account, since it measures both front and rear volumes with the front seats slid back as far as possible, is that the Civic’s seats slide back farther than most. The Civic, in fact, offers more front-seat travel than most six-footers will ever want to use, so it actually has adequate kneeroom for big guys in the rear as well.
The added space isn’t squandered. A mini-spare fits in a hidey-hole under the small cargo hold. The rear seatbacks fold down independently, so you can stow a kid and his bike back there at the same time. They also recline, and in the S-model the rear seat slides fore and aft—a new high in pampering woebegone back-seat passengers. Actually, though the recliners are a great idea, no full-scale human would dream of sliding the rear seat forward. Still, it does give the kids something to screw around with, and it’s a great way for Honda to illustrate the unobtrusiveness of its new rear-suspension components.
The Civic’s feeling of spaciousness is enhanced by its expanses of glass and by the fact that you can see nothing but road when you look through the windshield. Further, Honda refrained from cluttering the front of the cabin with a heavy bulwark of instruments and heater ducting. Instead, a slim stretch of controls is topped by a separate binnacle that houses a reasonable selection of analog gauges. A narrow air duct nestled at the base of the large windshield curves around the cockpit from door to door. Below the dash, there’s nothing but-pedals and shifter: no console, no low-hanging stereo system, no bulky heater ducts, no giant wheel wells, just lots of stretch-your-legs-and-relax floor space.
At some point you get used to the room and begin to notice how cleverly and attractively the whole car hangs together. The interior of our silver hatchback combines variously shaded and grained gray and white plastic, vinyl, and fabric, along with black semi-gloss plastic accents (door handles, vents, radio, heating and lighting controls, etc.). The general level of finish and detailing is exceptional, even for a Japanese car. The floor and the cargo area are carpeted, fabric insets grace the doors, and no bare metal is allowed. Not only are all the controls easy to operate, but they look smashing as well. From the instrument panel to the hatch hinges, the Civic fits together like a Japanese puzzle of perfectly crafted pieces.
The exterior of the Civic was wind-tunnel tailored with the same attention to detail. Doors that wrap into the roof, flush glass, flat hatch hinges and door handles, front and rear bumpers that are expertly integrated with the body, a front air dam, and a small flip of a rear roof spoiler are all part of the wind-soothing design. The result is a remarkably low drag coefficient of 0.35 (according to Honda) and another creative triumph for project leader Hiroshi Zaima (one of January’s “Ten Best Unsung Heroes”). Perfection would come with the addition of a set of nifty alloy wheels to the options list.
If the Civic hatchback were a slug, all 60,000 tagged for U.S. delivery in 1984 would sell out anyway on the basis of value for dollar alone. We, on the other hand, are not interested in slugs, so we’re glad that Honda put as much energy into improving the hatchback’s all-around performance as it put into polishing the design.
Though this year’s Civic S is both longer and wider than the 1983 S-model, its weight is identical (1980 pounds), while its power is up by fourteen percent. The brand-new bantamweight 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine features an all-aluminum block, a sixteen-valve aluminum CVCC head (Honda calls it a twelve-valve head, choosing to ignore the little torch valve in each cylinder), a new die-cast aluminum carburetor, and a lofty 6500-rpm redline. The Siamese-quadruplet cylinder layout saves weight as well as length, and a small, high-rpm-efficient trochoid-tooth oil pump is fitted directly onto the crankshaft for the same reasons. The engine block’s skirt has been lowered to provide rigidity and reduce vibration. As light as it is, the engine is pretty well behaved until about 5000 rpm, when certain frequencies become pronounced (as our wide-open-throttle sound-level reading indicates).
ABS-polycarbonate bumper covers and a molded-plastic air dam also save weight, giving the engine’s 76 horsepower a chance to flex some muscle. From zero to 60 miles per hour the Civic S outruns not only the 1983 S (by half a second), but also the Toyota Tercel SR5 (by almost three seconds) and the Nissan Sentra (by over one second). The Civic S also tops the Sentra, the SR5, and last year’s S in the standing quarter-mile, as well as in 30-to-50- and 50-to-70-mph top-gear acceleration. Although the fuel-injected, 110-hp engine available in Japanese and European Civics would do more to satisfy our lust for thrust, we do appreciate the new Civic’s improved straight-line speed. At the same time, the Civic matches the Sentra’s exceptional 35-mpg EPA city rating. (We fell well short of this estimate in our driving, however, averaging only 25 mpg during 1500 miles of early-winter evaluation.)
The highlight of the Civic S’s track testing came on the skidpad, where it showed only mild understeer up to the breakaway point, with no twitchiness at the limit, and registered an impressive 0.79 g. We’re talking sports-car territory here. Its Michelin MX L radials, which managed only 0.70 g when fitted to the Mercedes-Benz 190, and which are advertised in Europe as everything but high-performance tires, have apparently found their home.
For all its newness, the Civic hasn’t abandoned the traits that have kept it near the top of our “Cars under $10,000 to Recommend to Friends and Relatives” list since it was restyled only four short years ago. The clutch is as sweet as always, the five-speed’s shifts are still silken, and the Civic still feels stable and strong at its power peak. And now, it’s more fun to drive than ever. The seats are longer and more supportive, the S-model’s steering wheel adjusts, and the pedals couldn’t be better placed for hotdog downshifting. The redesigned suspension tones down the Civic’s ride harshness without adversely affecting its responsiveness—no mean feat in such a lightweight car. Even the engine’s low-speed stumbling has finally been cured.
Damn, she’s a fine one! The Civic S does more of so many things better than any other car in its class that we just can’t afford to pass it up. Our orders are in.
The small-car builders of the world whose applications for sainthood are continually being rejected will be pleased to hear that Saint Honda’s new three-door is less than perfect. Conceptually, this is a small station wagon, and it suffers station-wagon niggles: the fold-down seats and the load-floor panels rattle. In addition, other rustles and squeaks around the interior are contrary to Saint Honda’s image of quality. And it should be noted that Saint Honda has yielded to the stylist’s pleasure in sculpturing the roofline about an inch too low in back for all-American headroom. Moreover, the front suspension is a bit short of travel.
Given the brevity of this bitch list, we car critics might just as well complain that Honda is trying to put us out of work. As small cars go, this one is huge inside. And as economy cars go, this one is darn quick. And when you just want to go out and grab some street, who offers more joy at the price? Nobody that I know of. So, as far as I’m concerned, Saint Honda’s halo is still in place. —Patrick Bedard
This may be the, I repeat, the perfect economy car. I point-blank refuse to call the Civic an econobox, because that suddenly sounds much too abusive. When it comes to appeal, this little Flying wedge is no box. It is a magnificent car. The first ’84 Civics I drove were at Honda’s home proving ground (beware of testing automobiles at site of development, C/D tester rule 1A), so I waited until Honda handed one over for real, and then I fell straight to the floor in full quiver. This car does everything right. It’s fun to drive, it’s comfortable, it’s spacious (and looks and feels spacious as well), and it thumbs its handsome nose at all but about one in a thousand gas stations. I’ve always hated vinyl roofs, but if Honda could figure out a way to cover the Civic entirely in waterproof silk, nothing could be more appropriate. I’d like to think that Honda tapped every detail of my wildest dreams of grand but inexpensive touring and came up with the Civic, but, alas, only one of us is so smart, and it ain’t me. —Larry Griffin
Thinking about this new Honda is like considering the old riddle about the tree falling in the forest: A tree falls in the forest and no one hears it. Does it make a sound?
In this journal, there’s a fair amount of fantasizing about spectacularly expensive cars. But can a car truly be great if hardly anyone can afford it?
I humbly submit that the beat car in the world is one that is more than just a joy over the road, more than comfortable, stylish, roomy, efficient, and reliable. It’s got to be accessible to a lot of people. Just between you and me, I can’t afford a car that costs as much as a summer house—and, according to our computer, neither can most of you readers.
This egalitarian train of thought brings me to the Civic S. What we have here is the blueprint of the car for the 1990s. It does everything well, and it carries it off with the kind of flair that car nuts love. It fits together like a Rolex. It even looks great on you. And it’s dirt-cheap. I can’t say enough about the sheer goodness wrapped up in this package. Well, actually, I can: this is the best car in the world. —Rich Ceppos
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