Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
The post World War 2 motorcycle manufacturer first ventured into the automobile
industry with the creation of the S500 sports car, however to break into the lucrative international markets Honda needed to produce a vehicle perceived as 'economical', having the appeal of the venerable Mini, while offering new levels of ride and comfort.
With fully independent suspension
, a light alloy engine, good performance and a reasonable price tag the Civic became an instant success in Europe and the US, and Honda was now perceived as a serious car manufacturer and competitor. More upmarket version of the vehicle followed (Accord/Prelude), but it was the humble Civic that enabled Honda to become the car giant that it is today.
The Civic Wagon
The problem with the original Honda Civic was that it was only available in a three door, and that made it a little impractical for most families. Australians were keen to own a 2nd car that was economical, well built and safe, and that usually also meant Japanese. And any car to fill the role of school drop off vehicle would need more than 2 doors. A four door version was needed, but the shape of the Civic did not exactly lend itself to such a design. Strangely, Toyota thought the Echo was suitable for just such an extension, and how woeful that was. Thankfully Honda designers knew a tacked on boot was never going to look sharp, and instead opted to create a five door wagon.
But a wagon version of the Civic was no guarantee of success, as Honda’s previous attempts had proven. Perhaps not as downright pug-ugly as the Echo sedan, but they were certainly not beautiful. Thankfully the original Civic wagon, introduced with the 2nd generation Civic, provided plenty of sparkle in styling. In terms of interior space it was well up with most medium sized cars so that, for all practical purposes it could be considered a five door sedan as much as a wagon.
Though mechanically it shared power unit, transmission and front end with the three door, it lacked rear independent suspension. A simple beam axle mounted on semi elliptical leaf springs replaced the MacPherson struts, while the wheelbase was extended 70 mm to achieve the increases in carrying capacity normally expected in a wagon over its sedan counterpart. It also sat on 13 inch wheels rather than 12 inch, providing a higher vehicle to allow for settling under load. Even so, with the rear passenger seat in position the cargo area was hardly more generous than a medium car's boot. If you were serious about making the car capable of carrying any sizeable load you would need to lay the seat flat.
But even then, it was hardly a wagon by the standards set by Holden and Ford. Where the Civic Wagons strength really lay was in the additional doors, that turned the 2 door into a 4 (or 5 if you include the tailgate). When the Civic Wagon was introduced it was priced at A$5999, which was only A$250 more than the sedan, and that was brilliant value considering the extra space and improved rear seat passenger access. Interior trim and layout was exactly the same as the three door, complete with the impression of airy roominess that has been captured so well by the designers. Weight was up by 90 kilograms, but that was not a problem as far as its driving characteristics were concerned. If anything it did result in a slightly less economical petrol consumption and a small drop in acceleration and top speed, but it was no biggie, especially as the Civic would likely spend its entire life in the suburbs. You could option air-conditioning
, and even when fitted consumption would only drop to 9.6 litres/100 kms (29.3 mpg). Normal driving around city and suburbs was usually as low as 8.1 litres/100 kms (34.9 mpg).
We doubt too many purchasers asked the zero to 100 km/h time, but for the record it took just a poofteenth under 15 seconds – which was comparable to some two litre cars from the era. At highway speeds, which by necessity included higher revs, there was extra noise when compared to the sedan, but most owners understood that sound suppression by use of weighty deadening material was not so easy in the wagon. Thanks to the slightly longer wheelbase, steering was nothing like as nervous as the sedan. It still had rack and pinion precision and excellent response, but it also felt more steady, especially in the straight ahead position. Front wheel drive understeer was initially the prominent characteristic in corners. But this would soon become a gentle roll-oversteer as the extra weight concentrated mostlv at the rear, bore down on the leaf springs, forcing a small amount of rear end steer. With a full load this was accentuated further, but again, it was nothing to fuss about as the Civic's road holding was well up to the engine's potential power output and performance.
Behind the Wheel
General ride was, if anything, better than the sedan, thanks to the extra length and bigger 13 inch diameter wheels. Those rear leaf springs didn’t detract from the level of comfort either. On rougher gravel roads the Civic sedan’s suspension was unable to avoid bottoming, and the same went for the wagon. Under brakes
- discs at the front, drums at the rear - the wagon wasn't able to equal the excellent performance of the sedan. Again, there was extra mass to be taken into consideration, but slightly over 58 metres to stop from 110 km/h would today be considered dangerous, and then very disappointing. Power came from the usual transversely mounted 1335cc four cylinder engine, driving through a four speed all synchromesh manual gearbox. The five speed unit was not available on the wagon, but top gear was an overdrive anyway. The two speed "Hondamatic" transmission was an option, but taking full advantage of the miserly fuel consumption potential, and ensuring you had what little power was on offer, made the manual a far better bet.
The engine required very little anti-pollution gear as it ran very cleanly without it. Only the bimetal intake air heater, plus evaporative systems and PCV were fitted. This made for excellent throttle response, foot controls in general being light and easy to use. Gear-shifting was a pleasure, using the stiff little centre console lever which was complimented well by easy operation of the clutch. Everything was well placed for the driver, instrumentation was unobscured, thanks to the two spoke steering wheel, and major controls hardly a finger tip away, mounted on steering column stalks. To the left were wiper/washer controls, while to the right were the headlight and indicator switches. The tailgate was fitted with a windscreen washer system, as well as a heated element for defogging. With a very low bumper height loading up, heavy items did not have to be lifted far, while the tailgate itself was mounted on gas struts which, once the door was opened, rose more or less by itself. There was a remote release placed down beside the driving seat.
The Civic was popular in Australia, and understandably so. It could be argues that Honda had set the standard among the Japanese for quality. They had good panel fit and neat, properly finished interiors. The wagon version looked good, was very economical and had the all important rear doors which made it perfect for school runs and more. Honda had trouble meeting demand for it – and we can understand why.