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Introduction - Honda Civic: A brief history

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Honda Civic: A brief history

Believe it or not, the current Civic which we know and love is actually the 8th generation of the Civic. The name Civic is over 30 years old and only the Toyota Corolla has been in production longer although this will soon end with the launch of the rather anonymously named 'Auris' later in 2007. The Civic is a name synonymous with words like 'reliable', 'quality' and for good reason...

Mk1 Civic

The first Honda Civic to reach the UK was back in 1972 in familiar 3-door guise. The basic layout and construction would determine hatchback design for years to come, in fact fundementally little has changed even to this day. Honda's supermini was powered by a transversely-mounted, all-alloy, sohc 8-valve 1.2-litre engine that developed 54bhp at 5500pm. Power was sent to the front wheels via a four speed manual transmission or a clever two-cog automatic gearbox, dubbed Hondamatic, that did without a torque converter, enabling Honda to offer it at a lower price to traditional autos. Later Honda would offer a 'hot' variant, unusually named 'road sailing' or 'RS' using a tweaked 1.2-litre that was good for 75bhp at 6000rpm, which back then, was quite a lot. Performance models would always feature in the Civic line-up. Unfortunately rust usually brought a premature end to most early civics although this was not unique to Honda vehicles at the time.

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Mk2 Civic

After pretty phoenominal success with the first Civic, Honda launched a second, updated model in 1979. Despite being better designed, more aerodynamic and more economical it was a flop. The styling had taken a turn for the worse, no longer did it stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately this would become a stigma attached to the name for years to come. The second generation broadened the Civic range. It saw the introduction of the first Civic 5-door hatchback, and an estate version followed, while the lean-burn engine grew to 1.5 litres in capacity and produced 70bhp at 5,500 rpm. Like the first model, the second Civic could be had with either a four-speed manual or two-speed automatic gearbox, these later upgraded to five- and three-speed transmissions. It was more versatile too, featuring a split rear bench, gas struts for the hatch tailgate and more interior stowage space. Ride and handling were also improved

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Mk3 Civic

Just four years after the launch of the Mk2, Honda placed the Mk3 on sale. Undoubtedly after the relatively lukewarm reception the Mk2 recieved. A four year life cycle for any car was unprecedented at this time and placed competition under stress to update their own models. Generation three introduced four different body styles built on one versatile platform - the Civic hatchback and saloon, the people-carrying Shuttle and the sporty CRX coupe, all based on the same running gear. The new styling came with more advanced engine technology. All models were fitted with a new all-alloy engine with a unique 12-valve, dohc head, which improved combustion characteristics, reduced fuel consumption and served excellent torque. There was a wider choice of engines too, starting with a 55bhp 1.2-litre, followed by a 71bhp 1.3-litre and topped by a 1.5-litre engine producing either 85 or a robust 100bhp. In 1985, the engine range switched from carburettors to electronic fuel injection in conjunction with catalytic converters. The first cat-engine, the 1.5 litre unit, produced 90bhp at 5800 rpm.

It was the CRX that began to earn Honda a serious reputation as a maker of sporting cars, a development that would eventually lead to today's wild Type R. Its stubby coupe styling and range of high-revving engines made it a hit with younger, performance-oriented buyers, particularly in the US where its low price brought it within reach of well-off (or spoiled) students. Fitted with a 100bhp 1.5-litre engine, it accelerated to 60mph in less than 10 seconds and onto a top speed of 125mph, which felt rapid in a car this small. For 1985 Honda installed a hot new 1.6 litre dohc 16-valve engine. With 130bhp on tap at a shrieking 6500rpm, the CRX hooked itself up to the fast-riding hot hatch train, adding extra impetus with the scalding 150bhp version. This CRX could bolt to 60mph in 7.5sec and hit 130mph, and remains a prized used buy even today.

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Mk4 Civic

The fourth generation of Civic was unveiled in 1987 and continued production until 1991 in 3-door hatch, 4-door saloon, Shuttle and CRX variants. The styling continued the trend towards sharp creases and a dart-like profile. With its steeply raked windscreen, chiselled nose and longer wheelbase, the Civic backed up its good looks with some serious firepower, courtesy of its VTEC engines. The simplicity of its four letter acronym doesn't begin to encapsulate the cleverness of Honda's variable valve timing and electronic lift control system. An elegant solution that met the conflicting requirements of exceptional fuel economy, sprightly power output and low exhaust emissions, VTEC disengaged one of the inlet valves when the car was driven slowly, creating fast-swirl, lean-burn conditions for the optimal mixture combustion. At higher revs or under full throttle openings, the fourth valve was brought into play, actuated by hydraulic link-pins in the valve gear, while the cam profiles were switched to enable the engine to breathe deeper. As anyone who has driven a Honda with a high output VTEC engine can confirm, the point when the engine gains that second set of lungs is one to be savoured. Just as legendary is the VTEC system's reliability. Honda has never had a recall on the variable valve timing set-up.

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Mk5 Civic

More boring Honda? The Mk5 marked a significant change in design direction for Honda. Out went the edgy wedgy look and in came more mature, curved styling. It divided opinion, but whether you thought it more modern and contemporary with its softer lines and smaller greenhouse, or less interesting without its taut, creased look, it still packaged a vast amount of innovation into a small package. In came a more powerful and more miserly range of engines, airbags and anti-lock brakes, and few will forget its daft split tailgate. This pointless rear hatch layout answered a question no one had voiced

Mk6 Civic

Honda modestly called it the Miracle Civic when it was introduced in 1995, but for European tastes it was anything but. Like the model it replaced, it lacked the visual dynamism of earlier generations. Bigger, safer and with an ever-broadening range of sophisticated lean-burn VTEC engines, the sixth Civic may have been a sales success but it still failed to capture the excitement of its mid-80s predecessors. All that engineering excellence was wrapped up in too-conventional a package.


One of the engineering high points - and it wasn't that lofty - was the introduction of a new electronically controlled Multi-Matic constantly variable transmission in the 1.6ES model. IN 1998 the Civic series was augmented by the introduction of the family-friendly Aerodeck estate. The sixth Civic sat on principally the same platform as the funky CR-V but shared none of its street cred. The news wasn't all bad though. A Japan-only Type-R was launched, its hyper 1.6-litre VTEC engine producing a phenomenal 185bhp at 8200rpm.

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Mk7 Civic

The model predating the current one was something of a return to form. Honda clearly reeling from the backlash of criticism over previous models designed a new one that could genuinly compete with the Focus, Golf, Astra from its primary rivals. There was also a change of philosopy with the inclusion of diesel engines in the range, borrowed from other manufacturers, but a sign Honda were thinking of customer needs again. Probably the most important Model in the range was the new CTR (Civic Type - R) the frantic hatch gained cult status among enthusiasts all over europe. A 200bhp 2.0-litre engine, capable of catapulting it to 60mph in 6.8sec and onto an impressive 145mph.

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Mk8 Civic

I don't think I really need to say anything here!

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