The best Honda Civics ever

Graham Hope

26 Jan 2022

Honda's huge seller is 50 in 2022. Here are six reasons why it's been such an amazing success

2022 marks 50 years since the launch of one of the most famous cars of the modern era, the Honda Civic. During that time, an incredible 20 million Civics have been bought, making it one of the best-selling models ever, and it’s spawned some of the most stupendous performance cars in recent memory in the shape of the thrilling Type R versions. Here we celebrate five phenomenally successful decades by taking a closer look at six of the best, most important Civics ever.


Mk 1 (1972)


It may be stating the obvious, but had Honda’s first version of the car not been such a resounding success, perhaps the Civic story would have been over before it had started. But timing can be everything in the car market, and with sales getting under way in 1972, the Civic was subsequently well placed to capitalise on the global oil crisis of 1973, when a trade embargo to certain countries sent prices soaring and saw car buyers start to seek out smaller, economical models. Having embarked on its journey manufacturing cars ten years previously, in 1963, Honda had its first true hit on its hands. The transverse mounted, front-engined, front-wheel-drive layout set a template that other makers were to follow, and numerous engine upgrades and bodystyles, including saloon, hatch and estate options, kept the Civic competitive during its nine-year lifespan – although present day buyers tempted by Honda’s excellent reliability record may be surprised to learn that the first-generation model picked up a reputation for rust in the US.


Mk 3 Si (1984)


By the time of its third generation, the Civic was well established and Honda was confident about widening the scope of the range. Although sporty versions had been offered previously, arguably the first model to truly investigate the Civic’s performance potential was the Japanese market Si, which was launched in 1984. Those two letters –essentially denoting fuel injection and which can be seen on the back of the hatch below – became a calling card for affordable fun, and paved the way for the more extreme Civics we now know and love. The Japanese Si was fitted with a 1.6-litre engine that delivered 118bhp, broadly on a par with the hot hatches of the era, and proved such a hit that the badge made its way into other markets (albeit on Civics fitted with less powerful engines). It was the start of a major success story, with Si models gaining a devoted following, particularly in the US, for their engaging driving dynamics and high-revving engines.

Type R (1997)


While the likes of the Si had demonstrated that the Civic knew how to have a good time, the arrival of the first Type R, on the sixth-generation model, was when Honda started to get serious about performance. The car was endowed with a 182bhp 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine and focused on saving weight, eschewing the likes of air-con and electric windows in a bid to up the fun factor. The result was sensational, with a blistering 0-60mph time of 6.7 seconds and 140mph top speed complemented by a supremely pure driving experience. This Civic even added some sporty design touches, including red seats and a leather steering wheel, to add some visual appeal (although seen in retrospect it actually looks pretty tame when you consider what the Type R has become). The downside? The model was never officially made available in the UK, although such was its burgeoning reputation, plenty of grey imports found their way from Japan on to British roads.


Type R (2001)


This Swindon-built brute was the first Civic Type R to be made available officially in the UK – and what an impact it made, delivering addictive, raw, hot hatch adrenaline that left its rivals looking somewhat tame in comparison. The naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine encouraged drivers to keep the revs high by producing 197bhp at 7,400rpm, while an excellent close-ratio six-speed gearbox and clever multi-link rear suspension completed an impressive mechanical package. The result was a car that offered excellent grip and composure, but more importantly loved to be driven hard – and was genuinely fast, dispatching 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds. A true game changer in terms of perception of the Civic, and one that really cemented the Type R legend.



Type R (2017)


One glance at the latest iteration of the Type R tells you all you need to know about what is on the menu. This, truly, is a Civic on steroids, with the huge vents and daunting rear wing not just there for show, but serving a serious purpose in cooling the engine and providing plenty of downforce for enhanced stability. Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-litre 316bhp engine, and it’s hugely effective, providing a 0-62mph time of 5.7 seconds, while a healthy torque figure means it doesn’t have to be worked quite as vigorously as previous versions. Right from the outset, it was clear that Honda wanted to make a statement with this Type R, and it did so in some style in 2018, claiming a lap record – at the time – for a front-wheel-drive car on the 12.9-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife, by completing the circuit in 7:43.80 seconds. Who’d have thought such excess was on the cards when the humble first-generation model was launched in 1972?


Mk 11 (2022)


While the Type R models have often set the benchmark in the hot hatch class, it’s fair to say that some generations of the ‘standard’ Civic haven’t fared so well, lagging behind mainstream rivals for desirability despite excellent engineering and bulletproof reliability. However, the signs are pretty strong that’s not the case with the 11th generation model, which is already on sale in the US and arrives in showrooms across Europe later this year. Across the pond, the Civic has impressed sufficiently to be named North American Car of the Year for 2022, with jurors praising it for its value, comfort and fun-to-drive nature. We’ll get a slightly different version here – the UK Civic will be hybrid only, using the same 1.5-litre engine seen in the Jazz and HR-V, paired with two electric motors – but it’s already clear that the portents are good. Fifty years after its launch, one of the industry’s most redoubtable names is still going strong.

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Graham Hope

26 Jan 2022