Prior to 1973, Honda was a company known more for its motorcycles than for its cars, which were tiny two-cylinder 600cc runabouts. This changed when the Civic debuted for 1973. The Civic offered amazing space efficiency in a fun little car that achieved more than 40 mpg on the highway. Room for four passengers was quite a feat for a car that possessed such diminutive dimensions as an 86.6-inch wheelbase and 139.8-inch overall length. A small transversely mounted engine and front-wheel-drive layout (an arrangement that was something of a novelty to the American car market) and 12-inch wheels maximized interior room. Indeed, early ads for the Civic boasted that it had more passenger room than many larger cars. Two similar body styles were available, a hatchback and a "sedan." These Civics were identical, even the rear of the cars looked the same, except that one had a hatchback and the other had a small vertical panel that opened to allow access to the "trunk." The early Civic had a few style quirks, such as turn signal lights that looked as if they were added on after the car was already built and a bulging center divider in the grille. Standard equipment included power front disc brakes, vinyl seating, reclining bucket seats and a woodgrain-accented dashboard. The hatchback added a fold-down rear seat, an AM radio and cloth upholstery. Options were minimal, consisting of air conditioning, an automatic transmission, radial tires and a rear wiper for the hatchback.
A 1,169cc (or about 70-cubic-inch) inline four-cylinder engine motivated the first-year Civic and put out 50 horsepower. This was an impressive output when considered in terms of power per unit of displacement: The Civic had 0.71 horsepower per cubic inch. And with a weight of only around 1,500 pounds, a whole lot of power wasn't needed to propel the Civic. Transmissions offered included a four-speed manual or a two-speed "Hondamatic" automatic gearbox. An all-independent suspension made the Civic an agile econobox that could run circles around American-built competitors like the Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega.
The Civic's base price was around $2,200 and Honda's early slogan, "It will get you where you're going," emphasized the practical and economical mission of the Civic and made no pretenses otherwise.
For 1974, the Civic's engine size grew slightly, to 1,237 cc and power went up to 52 horsepower. In order to meet the new 5-mph bumper impact standard, the Civic's bumpers grew, as did its overall length, which was now 146.9 inches.
The CVCC (or Controlled Vortex Combustion Chamber) engine debuted in 1975. Offered alongside the standard Civic engine, the 53-horsepower CVCC engine displaced 1,488 cc and had a head design that promoted cleaner, more efficient combustion. The CVCC design eliminated a need for a catalytic converter or unleaded fuel to meet emissions standards. (Nearly every other U.S. market car for this year underwent the change to exhaust catalysts and the requirement to use only unleaded fuel.) Due to California's stricter emissions standards, only the Civic CVCC was available in that state. A five-speed manual gearbox became available this year, as did a Civic station wagon (only with the CVCC engine), which had a wheelbase of 89.9 inches and an overall length of 160 inches. Civic sales topped 100,000 units for this year.
1978 brought slight cosmetic changes, such as a black grille, rear-facing hood vents (that replaced the sideways versions) and new turn signals. The easiest way to tell a '78 from an earlier example is to look at the front signals: Prior to 1978, they looked like foglights mounted in the Civic's grille, whereas in 1978 they were smaller and mounted under the bumper. The CVCC engine was now rated at 60 horsepower.
Apart from a minor increase in horsepower that brought the base engine to 55 horsepower and the CVCC to 63 ponies, little changed for the 1979 Civic.
A new, sleeker body and increases in wheelbase and base-model engine size marked the 1980 Civic. The wheelbase now measured 88.6 inches for the hatchback (the two-door "sedan" was dropped) and 91.3 inches for the wagon. All Civic engines now used the CVCC design; the base 1,335cc ("1300") engine made 55 horsepower, while the 1,488 ("1500") produced 67 horsepower. Three transmissions were offered: a four-speed manual (on base models), a five-speed manual and a two-speed automatic.
The Civic 1300 and 1500 came in base and DX versions, and the latter featured a five-speed manual, rear window defroster, intermittent wipers and a cigar lighter. The 1500 GL added radial tires, a rear window wiper/washer, tachometer, clock and bodyside moldings. The Civic wagon came in a single version that was tantamount to the DX trim level.
A four-door sedan debuted for 1981, as did a three-speed automatic transmission that replaced the primitive two-speed unit.
Rectangular headlamps and black bumpers appeared on the 1982 Civic. A new gas-sipping model, the five-speed "FE" (Fuel Economy) was introduced and was rated at 41 mpg in the city and 55 mpg on the highway.
The sporty new Civic "S" replaced the 1500 GL in 1983 and was fitted with a firmer suspension (with rear stabilizer bar) and 165/70R13 Michelin tires. A red accent encircled the S and set it apart from the other Civics.
The Civic grew up in 1984, not only in size, but also in terms of design sophistication. A new wheelbase of 96.5 inches represented an increase of 5 inches, making Civic four-doors and wagons identical to the Accord in this dimension. A new 1.5 liter-engine (formerly referred to as 1,500cc) with 12 valves (three valves per cylinder) and 76 horsepower was found underhood, except on the base hatchback, which had a new 1.3-liter 60-horse unit. Transmission choices were the same as previously: four- and five-speed manuals and a three-speed automatic. A revamped suspension, though no longer with an independent rear setup, offered a space-efficient design along with fine ride and handling characteristics.
The lineup consisted of three hatchbacks (base, DX and S), a sedan, a tall wagon and a new two-seater called the CRX. As before, the base car was fairly spartan. The DX came with the five-speed manual, bodyside moldings, a split/folding rear seat, rear window defroster/wiper/washer and tilting steering wheel. The S had sport seats, reclining rear seats and the same hardware upgrades, such as a rear stabilizer bar, as before. The sedan and wagon were again equipped similarly to the DX hatchback.
The new CRX was basically the Civic chassis under a sporty body. Two models were offered: the base CRX and the CRX 1.5. The chief difference between the two was that the base CRX had a 1.3-liter engine (which allowed the car to score amazing fuel economy ratings of 51 in the city and on the 67 highway) and the CRX 1.5 had the 1.5-liter engine. All CRXs had a two-tone paint scheme, comprised of White, Blue or Red with a Silver lower bodyside and bumper treatment.
A neatly chiseled exterior devoid of gimmickry, an intelligent interior design with supportive seats, large gauges and high-quality fit and finish made the 1984 Civic line attractive and an immediate success. Dealers would routinely have slim pickings on their lots, and, as a result, they didn't have to discount the cars too much, if at all.
Introduced in 1985, the hot-rod CRX Si came ready to run with a fuel-injected version of the 1.5-liter engine that pumped out 91 horsepower. Able to hit 60 mph in less than 9 seconds, the Si also boasted handling enhancements, such as 14-inch alloy wheels with 185/60R14 high-performance tires. A power sunroof was standard on the Si, as were a monotone paint scheme and sport seats.
A CRX HF (High Fuel economy) model replaced the CRX with the 1.3-liter engine. The HF had an eight-valve version of the 1.5-liter engine that produced just 58 horsepower but offered more torque and thus better acceleration around town. Mileage figures for the HF stood at 52 in the city and 57 on the highway.
The other Civics continued unchanged for this year, with the exception of the wagon, which, later in the model year, became available with four-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox. As the Civic's reputation for quality, clever engineering and steadfast reliability continued to grow, so did the little Honda's popularity, as sales figures that topped 200,000 annually attested.
Flush-mounted headlights made it easy to tell the 1986 Civics from the older models. Other changes included a four-speed automatic and an Si version of the Civic hatchback, the latter geared toward those who wanted the performance of the CRX Si but needed a four-seat vehicle. Other perks for the Civic Si hatchback included a removable glass sunroof, a full-width taillight panel and color-keyed front airdam and roof spoiler. The CRXs received the same updates as the other Civics, including the flush headlights.
For 1987, the four-wheel-drive (4WD) system for the Civic wagon was revised. "Real Time" 4WD automatically channeled power to the wheels that had optimum grip and did away with the driver having to decide (and then move a lever) if four-wheel drive was needed.
A sleeker and more powerful Civic lineup debuted in 1988. All Civics (except the CRX) rode on a longer 98.4-inch wheelbase. The CRX's wheelbase was increased to 90.6 inches.
A lower hoodline, increased glass area and lower wind drag were functional advantages of the sleeker body styles. A family of new engines complemented the stylish Civics. Power for the DX hatchback/sedan, new LX sedan and the wagon came from a 1.5-liter 16-valve engine that produced 92 horsepower. The base hatchback had a less powerful 70-horsepower version of that engine. The fuel-economy champ CRX HF had an eight-valve 62-horse version of the 1.5 that could go up to 56 miles on a gallon of gas. The standard CRX had the 92-horse engine. A high-performance 1.6-liter 16-valve engine that kicked out 105 horsepower was installed in the CRX Si and Civic 4WD wagon. All Civic engines were now fuel injected. Previously, only the "Si" models had the injection.
A double-wishbone suspension system was used at all four wheels. Inspired by Formula One race cars, this design promoted agile handling and a comfortable ride by precisely controlling wheel travel and keeping the tire's contact patch square to the road surface.
One model departed (the Civic Si hatchback), as a new one, the Civic LX sedan, was introduced. The LX loaded up a Civic sedan with features such as power windows, locks and mirrors; a tachometer; and intermittent wipers. U.S. production for the Civic began this year in Ohio, making it easier for Honda to satisfy America's appetite for its gem of a small car.
The Civic Si hatchback returned for 1989, now with a power moonroof and once again with the same potent engine (increased to 108 horsepower for this year) installed in the CRX Si and the 4WD wagon.
Revised bumpers and taillights identified the 1990 Civic. Hatchbacks received larger reverse (white) lights, and sedans adopted a horizontal taillight theme. An EX sedan joined the Civic family and took its place at the top of the sedan lineup. The EX had the Si's engine, 14-inch wheels and all the features of the LX (which now included cruise control). Four-wheel disc brakes appeared on the CRX as did a slightly revised dash-board (with softer corners and larger instruments) for all Civic models.
The 1991 Civics were virtually unchanged, and this was the last year for the spunky CRX.
Along with acquiring a more aerodynamic wedge-shaped body, the Civic was expanded in dimensions and trim levels for 1992. Wheelbases now measured in at 101.3 inches for the two-door hatchback and 103.2 inches for the four-door sedan. The wagon was dropped.
Trim levels for the hatchback included the CX, DX, VX and Si. The CX was fitted with a 1.5-liter 70-horsepower engine; the DX with a 1.5-liter 102-horsepower engine; the VX with a 92-horsepower 1.5-liter with variable valve timing tuned for economy (VTEC-E); and the Si with a 125-horsepower VTEC engine. The VX, which also came with lightweight alloy wheels, managed fuel economy figures of 48 in the city and 55 on the highway nearly the same as the old CRX HF in spite of 30 more horsepower and five-passenger capability. Sedans came in the same trim levels as before: DX, LX and EX (which added a power moonroof to its list of standard luxuries). The DX and LX had the 1.5-liter 102-horsepower engine, and the EX sported the 125-horse 1.6 from the Si. A five-speed manual was standard across the board, and a four-speed automatic was optional on the DX hatchback and all sedan models.
The level of safety increased with the new Civic via a standard driver-side airbag for all models and standard antilock (ABS) brakes on the EX sedan.
A two-door notchback coupe, which shared its 103.2-inch wheelbase with the sedan, debuted for 1993 and was offered in DX and EX trim levels. The DX was outfitted the same as the DX hatchback, and the EX coupe had the same features as the EX sedan, including the 125-horse engine and power moonroof. An option package for the EX coupe added a passenger airbag and high-power stereo with cassette player. The EX sedan had a few more items added to its already generous standard features list, including air conditioning and the high-power sound system with cassette player.
Also this year, the del Sol debuted as a belated replacement for the CRX. Built on a wheelbase 8 inches shorter than a Civic hatchback's, the del Sol featured a removable targa-style top, a snug two-seat cockpit and one of two engines, either the 1.5-liter unit with 102 horsepower or the 1.6 sporting 125 ponies, depending on whether one chose the base S or more sporting Si version.
1994 brought safety advances and an LX version of the Civic sedan. A passenger-side airbag became standard on all Civics, and antilock brakes were now optional on the EX coupe, Si hatchback and LX sedan. The new LX sedan filled the gap between the basic DX sedan and loaded-to-the-gills EX. Power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; a tachometer; a stereo with cassette player; and 14-inch (versus the DX's 13-inch) tires were all standard on the LX.
On the del Sol front, a new model debuted called the VTEC. Named after its 1.6-liter DOHC engine that boasted a sizzling 160 horsepower, this del Sol came with bigger brakes, a firmer suspension and high-performance (195/60VR14) rubber. Apart from the addition of a passenger airbag, the rest of the del Sol line continued as before.
There were no changes for the 1995 Civics except on the del Sol models, which got a few improvements. Upgrades included standard antilock brakes for the VTEC, power locks for the Si and VTEC, and a remote trunk release for all trim lines.
A revamped Civic lineup debuted for 1996. The new body featured larger light clusters fore and aft, a grille (chrome-accented on sedans) and a crisp character line that ran the length of the car. Hatchbacks now had the 103.2-inch wheelbase of the coupes and sedans, and overall length was up around 2 to 4 inches, depending on body style.
Sedans were again offered in DX, LX and EX trim levels. A new coupe, the HX, joined the DX and EX coupes. The HX coupe essentially replaced the VX hatchback, offering high mileage figures from a fairly powerful engine. The revised VTEC-E engine (now at 1.6 liters) in the HX put out 23 more horsepower (for a total of 115 ponies) than the previous version but now "only" scored mileage figures of 39 in the city and 45 on the highway. A gearless continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that promised seamless performance and manual-transmission fuel economy was introduced later in the year as an option for the HX. The hatchback lineup was trimmed down to two models, the CX and DX. A new 1.6-liter 106-horsepower engine that earned Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) certification powered the CX, DX and LX, and a slightly more powerful 127-horsepower VTEC-assisted version was found in the EX models.
Excluded from the redesign, the del Sol was now in its fourth year and got a host of tweaks to keep it current. The base model (S) got the new 1.6-liter 106-horse engine fitted to the new Civic, Si models got the beefier suspension of the VTEC, and all versions got a freshened front fascia.
In 1997, all Civics came with 14-inch wheels, DX models got full wheel covers, the LX sedan received air conditioning and, strangely, EX coupes with manual transmissions no longer had the option of antilock brakes. As this would be the last year for the del Sol, Honda made no changes.
Not much happened in 1998, save for new wheel covers, an exterior handle for hatchbacks and the addition of map lights.
A slightly revised front fascia and taillights, along with redesigned climate controls updated the Civic for 1999. A "Value Package" for the DX sedan debuted that included features that most buyers wanted, such as air conditioning, a CD player, power door locks, automatic transmission and keyless entry, at a substantial savings when compared to the separate option prices.
Midway through the year to the joy of pocket-rocket enthusiasts everywhere, the Civic Si returned, now in the coupe body style and sporting a potent 160 horsepower from its 1.6-liter VTEC engine. A firmer suspension, front strut tower brace, 15-inch alloy wheels wearing 195/55R15 rubber and four-wheel disc brakes completed the hardware upgrades for the Si. A front spoiler, side sills and subtle bodyside graphics set the Si apart from the other Civic coupes, and the standard equipment was generous and similar to that of the EX.
Other than the shuffling of paint choices, the Civic stood pat for the year 2000.
The redesigned seventh-generation Civic debuted for 2001. Riding on a 103.1-inch wheelbase that was virtually identical to the outgoing model's, the new Civic had nonetheless undergone substantial changes. Chief among them were a new front suspension design, with a comfort-oriented MacPherson strut design instead of the previous sharper-handling double-wishbone setup. This Civic also boasted a flat rear floor, which made sitting in the middle seat more bearable.
The regular Civic was available in coupe and sedan body styles, as well as a two-door hatchback style for the Si model. Honda offered its typical mainstream trims — DX, LX and EX — plus a few specialty trims such as HX and GX. Most models had a slightly enlarged 1.7-liter engine good for 117 hp or — in the EX model — 127 hp. Exceptions were the coupe-only HX, whose efficiency-biased 1.7-liter mill made 115 hp, and the natural-gas-powered sedan-only GX. Transmission choices consisted of a five-speed manual, a four-speed automatic and (on GX and — optionally — HX models) a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
A more spacious cabin featured Honda's trademark large, simple controls, but a more widespread use of hard plastic trim seemed to indicate that the company was resting on its laurels a bit. Also, while the redesigned Civic rode on a stiffer platform that decreased chassis flex, Honda's decision to replace the front double-wishbone suspension setup with a cheaper and more ride-biased MacPherson-strut setup disappointed enthusiastic drivers. Although an admittedly small percentage of the buying public, those enthusiasts appreciated the race-inspired double-wishbone design and the ease it afforded for lowering the suspension.
For 2002, the big news was the arrival of the Civic Si. Based on the European-built hatchback body style, the new Si featured a rally-inspired dash-mounted five-speed manual shifter and a high-revving 160-hp engine. Performance numbers were actually down a smidge from the previous-generation Si coupe, and this version of the hopped-up Civic, although still fun to drive, was softened a bit in terms of handling compared to the previous, harder-edged Si coupe. Other changes for '02 included a revised steering box for improved feel, added sound insulation and slightly tweaked suspension tuning.
2003 marked the advent of the hybrid model, as well as rear adjustable outboard headrests and a new steering wheel design for all models. Improved gauge illumination appeared on HX, LX and EX Civics.
The hybrid, which mated an 85-hp 1.3-liter four-cylinder gas engine to a 13-hp electric motor, offered the room and comfort of a Civic sedan along with mileage estimates (at the time) of 46 mpg in the city and 51 on the highway. Although Toyota brought out its four-door Prius hybrid a few years prior to this Civic's debut, Honda loyalists now had a practical hybrid they could call their own. However, previous gas-powered Civics were even stingier at the pump, such as the 1992-'95 VX model, rated at 48/55.
LX and EX models received a revised center console, and a CD player was made standard on the HX and LX. All models were treated to freshened taillight styling and new wheel designs.
2004 brought further styling refinements, including restyled front and rear bumpers, hood, headlights and grille. Inside, the stereo speakers were upgraded and extra sound-deadening material was added. The LX received an upgrade to 15-inch wheels as well as standard keyless entry. A new value package for base models grouped together air-conditioning, a CD player and a new center console. The Si was treated to larger 16-inch wheels, and the hybrid got a height-adjustable driver seat.
2005 was the last year of production for this generation Civic. A Special Edition package was introduced for both sedan and coupe, featuring an upgraded audio system with MP3 capability, a six-disc CD changer and an auxiliary audio jack. The new SE model boasted a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a wing spoiler and alloy wheels.
After a series of conservative redesigns, Honda positively went nuts with the eighth-generation Civic. The compact hood and radically raked windshield gave both sedan and coupe models a spaceshiplike appearance, and this theme continued inside, where drivers were treated to one of the funkiest dashboard designs this side of George Jetson's personal conveyance. While still as ergonomically sound as ever, this layout featured such oddities as a bilevel gauge arrangement, with the tachometer in its traditional location behind the steering wheel and a recessed digital speedometer readout situated high on the dash. Moreover, thanks to the extreme angle of the windshield, the dashboard itself was one of the deepest in recent memory. The new design didn't do any favors for interior space, either — legroom and trunk space in the coupe was actually down a bit from the previous model. Nonetheless, consumers took a liking to this futuristic Civic, as its Honda DNA had for the most part been left intact.
The eighth-generation Civic was available in either sedan or coupe form, and Honda's familiar trim levels (DX, LX and EX, along with the specialty trims) were again offered. In a change from Civics past, the DX, LX and EX models were all powered by the same SOHC 1.8-liter, inline four-cylinder engine featuring Honda's i-VTEC system. This engine generated a respectable 140 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque while returning very good fuel economy. A five-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual was offered.
Although the previous Civic Si hatchback was a relatively lukewarm performer, its replacement — initially available only in coupe form — packed a zesty 2.0-liter, 197-hp engine and came equipped with a sport-tuned suspension, a six-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip differential. The GX, which was endowed with a conventional five-speed automatic this time around, employed a natural-gas-fueled version of the 1.8-liter mill that made 113 hp and 109 lb-ft. Finally, the hybrid sedan, outfitted as before with a CVT, was powered by a 1.3-liter, four-cylinder gas engine and an integrated electric motor for a combined horsepower rating of 110. Laudably, the hybrid's fuel economy actually increased to 50 mpg city/50 highway using the EPA's ratings at the time.
Despite this Civic's polarizing exterior and interior styling, most agreed that it remained at or near the head of the compact-car class. The sporty Si model, in particular, garnered rave reviews from those who reveled in its sports-carlike handling and didn't mind winding out its rev-happy motor to the 8,000-rpm redline. Even ordinary Civic models were praised for their composed handling, well-equipped interiors and frugal fuel consumption relative to the competition. On the downside, excessive road noise — a Civic trait since time immemorial — continued to plague Honda's venerable compact offering, as did the increased use of hard plastics on the dashboard.
Changes for 2007 were limited to the introduction of a sedan version of the high-strung Si model.
For 2008, the EX model could be equipped with leather upholstery — an all-time first for the Civic. Models so equipped were designated "EX-L." Also, the limited-production Mugen Si sedan debuted, boasting numerous aesthetic upgrades over the regular Si sedan but little in the way of worthwhile performance enhancements.