The Honda Civic has a special place in the car maker’s history books: the Civic has been heralded as being responsible for making Honda better known as an automobile manufacturer instead of a company famous for their racing motorcycles. Since its debut in 1973, the Honda Civic has undergone many transformations in order to remain one of the top-selling passenger vehicles in the United States.
At the time of the Honda Civic’s inception in the 1970s, drivers were moving away from their love of gas-guzzling muscle cars to more economically friendly vehicles. The Honda Civic’s compact design and high fuel efficiency rating of 40 mpg on the highway gave the vehicle mass appeal. Although the initial design was compact: the first Civic had an 86-inch wheelbase and 139-inch overall length, the design of the vehicle allowed for plenty of interior space. The extra room was attributed to the placement of the small 1,169cc/50hp engine, the compact 12-inch wheels, and the front-wheel-drive configuration. Transmission types offered in the first Honda Civic models included four-speed manual or Honda’s version of a two-speed automatic. The "Hondamatic" was the carmaker’s first version of an automatic transmission and operated off of a two-speed gearbox.
The most successful styling of the 1973 Honda Civic was the three-door hatchback style. However, other style types from that period included a coupe, five-door hatchback, and station wagon. Standard equipment included with the early Civic was front disc brakes, vinyl-covered reclining bucket seats, and wood-grain dashboard accents. Customer upgrades offered were air conditioning and AM/FM radio.
Although the Civic was well-loved by the public, the car did have a few early design quirks that were later worked out. For instance, the 1973 Civic’s turn signals were bulky and unattractive. Also, within the center of the grille, Honda placed a bulging divider that stuck out oddly.
The price tag of the Honda Civic gave the car widespread appeal. Honda was able to meet emissions standards in 1975 by the introduction of the Honda Civic CVCC. The environmentally friendly engine in this model abided by the standards of the U.S. Clean Air Act without requiring the installation of catalytic converters—therefore permitting Honda to pass the significant savings onto their customers. Honda was recognized for their design achievements on the first generation Honda Civic by winning “Motor Fan” magazine’s Car of the Year Award for three straight years.
The second-generation design of the Honda Civic is more reminiscent of the body style that is known today. A major design overhaul was done on the Civic for the 1980 release year. Honda wanted a sleeker body style with a more powerful engine in place. The CVCC engines became standard on all models in order to abide by emissions regulations. The base model of the 1980 Civic had an engine size of 1,335 cc and a horsepower of 55. A more powerful version was offered to customers with the introductions of a 1,488cc/67hp engine. Options for the 1980s version of the Honda Civic included a clock, tachometer, side moldings, and radial tires. The windows of the Honda Civic went through some changes during this period too. For the first time ever, a rear window defroster was added as well as a set of rear window wipers. For the windshield, intermittent wipers were a significant upgrade compared to past models.
Due to customer demand for more room, Honda began to offer a four-door sedan version of the Civic in addition to the three-door hatchback and two-door coupe models. Besides being bigger, the new Honda Civic had a more boxy body type with sharper angles than its predecessor. In 1982, more body style adjustments were made with the addition of rectangular headlights and black bumpers.
During the mid-1980s, Honda released several new trim levels of the Civic. The Civic FE allowed for a significant boost in gas mileage with a 55-mpg highway rating. A sporty version of the Civic was released under the S line. This version had a stronger suspension than the base model, an upgraded high-performance engine, and sportier tires.
In the mid to late 1980s, Honda made some changes to their third generation Civic lineup. One standout was what was known as the Honda Civic Wagovan. The Wagovan had a design style that took components from station wagons and passenger vans. The Wagovan had front-wheel drive with a four-wheel drive push button option. Design features included rear bench vinyl seats, a large cargo area, metal bars across rear windows, and mud flaps.
By the 1990s, many safety and style features were added to the Honda Civic in order to keep the car relevant. The wagon was dropped from the model lineup and instead of an angular body style, the Honda Civic was redesigned to appear more aerodynamic. Technological advances allowed for the addition of anti-lock brakes, power locks and windows, cruise control, map lights, and side airbags.
In 1999, the Honda Civic Si was a popular two-door sporty coupe released by the manufacturer. This model was designed with high performance in mind with the inclusion of a 160hp engine, a front and rear spoiler, 15-inch alloy wheels, and a super tight suspension. Also, in 1999 the DX trim of the Civic offered many standard features that drivers had come to want at a low price point such as air conditioning, CD player, keyless entry, and power doors, locks, and mirrors.
During the first decade of the 2000s, the seventh generation Honda Civic came in three standard trim levels: the DX, LX, and EX. Most of the models used a 1.7-liter engine with 117hp. More space was added to the interior by redesigning the rear floor to a flat style. The seventh generation of the Honda Civic received the honor of winning Japan’s Car of the Year Award.
During this generation, the very first Honda Civic Hybrid was introduced to the world in 2002. The gas/electric engine used a manual transmission and was rated at 51 mpg for highway driving. In recent years, Honda has required original equipment (OE) replacement windshields for post-2014 Civic Hybrid models. There reason behind the recommendation is that non-OE replacements may not be compatible with their latest driver-assist technologies such as collision warnings, adaptive cruise control, and driver lane assistance.
The ninth generation of the Honda Civic appealed to drivers who wanted a luxury compact car by adding in Bluetooth capability, Internet radio, rearview cameras, and Honda’s Eco Assist to help better control fuel economy.
In April of 2015, Honda debuted the Civic Concept at the New York Auto Show. The current generation of Honda Civics will include some of the best styles of the past: a Si trim and a five-door hatchback as well as the standard coupe and sedan body types. Upgrades to the newest version include LED headlights and taillights, amber turn signals, turbocharged engine options, and a dual pinion steering system.