Sci-Fi Civic a Runaway Success for Honda in Europe
Honda’s factory at Swindon in the UK is just celebrating the milestone of a million Civics produced since it opened in 1994. Demand for the latest model – perhaps the bravest Honda styling effort ever – is running at a record high.
The visual contrast between the Civic sold in North America and the one in Europe couldn’t be greater, although they are the same basic car underneath. Europeans much prefer hatchbacks and the Honda’s success has been built on the futuristic-looks of its five-door, recently augmented by a stylish three-door.
Ironically, the best-loved and remembered Civic up to now has been the tiny 1973 original, which was one of the first Japanese cars to be taken seriously, providing a real rival for early small hatches like the Fiat 127 and Renault 5. It had a very real style of its own, and it is this ingredient which Honda seems to have finally rediscovered in Europe in its eighth generation.
Recent versions of the long-lived Civic nameplate were good, worthy cars which sold steadily across Europe but failed to make much of an impact on the roads, having bland and instantly-forgettable styling. So much so that the Civic became notoriously associated with older drivers, who loved the car’s dependability and high resale value.
The Civic wasn’t the first Honda to be built in the UK – that honour goes to a now-forgotten four-door saloon called the Ballade, built for the Japanese company by its then partner, Rover Group, which had its own version, the Rover 213. It took another decade for Honda to build its own plant, and the Swindon factory made just 6,652 Civics in its first year. In 2007 the annual capacity of 250,000 is split between the Civic and the CR-V sport utility.
The average age of a British Civic buyer back in 2005 was 58 but the launch of the latest generation has seen that plunge by more than a decade, such has been the successful reception of the new car’s styling. Futuristic, even “sci-fi” were the terms used to describe it at its launch, and two years on the market haven’t dimmed its freshness very much – in fact it was recently voted one of the most recognisable cars on British roads in a public poll.
At a time when increasingly stringent regulations mean many new cars seem to end up looking pretty similar, that is no mean achievement. The Honda makes that other British-built Japanese hatchback, the Corolla-succeeding Toyota Auris, look timid and uninspiring. Suddenly the Civic has become a major player, providing real competition in the heart of the family car market for the likes of Ford’s Focus, VW’s Golf and Renault’s equally daring-looking but much less stylish Megane.
The glassed-in front panel and swoopy rear are the Civic’s trademarks, with neat detailing like triangular themes to the front fog lights and repeated on the exhaust pipes. The five-door manages to look like a three-door thanks to concealed rear door handles.
The spilt rear window is also a visual success, even if it makes reversing a little tricky.
In its less familiar three-door form, the Civic is only sold as the sporty Type-S and the full-on Type-R. The latter has a 198bhp 2.0-litre i-VTEC engine which revs up to 7500rpm, deliver 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds and storms on to 146mph.
Better still, any boy racer driving it won’t feel like he’s borrowed it from his grandparents.
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