The Honda Civic turned 40 this year. AYFKM? 40? Porsche 911, Ford Mustang (Ed.: close enough – we’ll connect it in a minute) and/or Lamborghini minus 10? This is amazing for one model.
Entire car companies/makes have come and gone (Saturn, Geo, Merkur, DeLorean, Vector (Ed.: close enough – we’ll connect it in a minute)) while the Honda Civic keeps plugging away. It’s both a testament to longevity, a cultural touchstone of the times in which it was designed and a tribute to the pathogenic resistance model of car manufacturing. The thing won’t die, regardless of what Honda does to it. At various times Honda ignored, starved, mutilated it. Almost as often, Honda acted like it really loved the car and wanted it to be the best small car out there. It is almost like the Star Trek movies: every other one sucks, but the franchise refuses to die (see Vector), no matter how bad the off years.
Here is the breakdown:
- First generation (1973–1979) – This is the successor to the 600 pictured at the top. I was such a fan. Having discovered cars the way teen boys do, but having lived through the 1973 oil embargo and the followup gas shortages of ’78, I was torn. Puberty demanded that I lust after anything with a wide track and a crazy rear spoiler the Porsche 930 Turbo with its sub 5 second 0-60 and homicidal handling quirks, but my inner hippie leaned towards the 54/41 mpg EPA ratings of the CVCC Civic. Win.
- Second generation (1980–1983) – Yes, the ’80 Civic was Motor Trend’s Import Car of the Year. Yes, it could beat a 1980 Mustang “Cobra” (Ed.: we said we’d connect it) with an impotent 255 cid V8 0-60. Otherwise, meh. A crazy new design it was not. Just a soulless evolution of the previous theme, much like the Datsun 210 of the same era.
- Third generation (1984–1987) – back to a box office win. This was the LSD spaceship Civic. It was so wacky I remember where I was the first time I saw one. Mom had the wagon version, which was cranked to 11 on the wackiness scale.
- Fourth generation (1988–1991) – Once again, a cheesy ripoff. Rough edges smoothed, but still, another Rocky II/Austin Powers Spy Who Shagged Me rehash.
- Fifth generation (1992–1995), Sixth generation (1996–2000), Seventh generation (2001–2005). These can all die. The theme was new, but it was cribbed from Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra: “Generic, inoffensive Japanese sedan.” VTEC was cool, but the Civic stopped trying to be small and light. Sort of like America.
- Eighth generation (2006–2011). Whoah. Honda stylists discovered medical marijuana (the the PTSD and guilt from making versions 5-7). It lacks the batshit craziness and sea change of the ’84, but just look at this dash. Not concentric speedometer and tach-crazy like the first Prelude, but still conjuring the Civic as spaceship vibe that made their best efforts so memorable. Win(-ish).
- Ninth generation (2011– ) OK, here we go again. Honda has a standout car, so what does it do? Rehash. Tweak. Sand the edges.
If Honda wants to play with the big boys, it needs to push the envelope. Stop trying to be like the others. Be the outlier. Be 1984 Civic. Be 2013 Fusion, following a great car with an even better car that doesn’t get lost parked next to its predecessor. Do that, and maybe I will tell mom to leave Camry and buy another one.