Over almost two-and-a-half decades, the affordable compact has gone from curiosity to sales powerhouse

While Honda first came to Canada in 1969, it was not until 1973 when the Honda Civic arrived and made its presence fully known. This is, after all, the car credited with saving Honda as a car company — in the sixties it was famous for its motorcycles, but less so for its cars of the day. The then-new Civic took conventional wisdom and, like the Mini before it, shattered it.
In its first year in Canada the Civic got off to an inauspicious start selling just 747 units. However, since then it has gone on to become the best-selling passenger car in Canada, a ranking it has enjoyed for 23 straight years.

  • 1995 Honda Civic CX Hatchback.
  • RealTime Racing’s Civic concept racer on display outside SEMA 2005.
  • 2010 Honda Civic EX-L Sedan with Navigation (exterior matches Civic EX Sedan)
  • 2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe HFP with dealer installed Honda Factory Performance Accessories on display at the 2011 SEMA show.
  • Honda introduces the 2016 Civic Coupe Concept at the 2015 New York International Auto Show on April 1, 2015.
  • 2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition

While it’s impractical to do a complete review of every one of the 11 generations, there have been a few milestones along the way.
The second-generation Civic arrived in 1980. To broaden its appeal, Honda offered a four-door sedan and, of course, three or five-door hatchbacks. The world also got the Civic wagon. Its tall, upright stance made it versatile, but it was also one seriously ungainly looking piece. To its credit, however, it did get four-wheel-drive.
The third-gen arrived in 1984 with a sleeker style and the two-seat Civic CRX. The fourth-gen was better looking and introduced the CRX Si with a 1.6L engine that made 105 horsepower. The handling also took a big step forward with the introduction of a new double-wishbone front suspension. This made the Civic one of the most agile small cars on the road at the time.
In 1992, the fifth-generation Civic continued to grow stylistically and the range now included an oddity in the form of the Del Sol. It was essentially a Civic coupe with a removable roof panel. As the replacement for the much-loved CR-X, it did not fare so well.
Del Sol
In 2001, the seventh-gen Civic landed. It was equally controversial, as the double-wishbone suspension was replaced by MacPherson struts. The uproar focused on the fact the former was supposed to be better than the latter in terms of outright handling. History has shown the design works. The 2017 Civic Type R, using essentially the same suspension, lapped the famed Nürburgring in 7:43.8, a time comparable to a 2010 Nissan GT-R, which I remind you, boasted 485-horsepower and all-wheel-drive!
Another memorable Civic moment came in 2002 when Honda brought the Civic SiR to Canada, imported from the company’s Swindon plant in the UK. It shared its platform, 160 hp 2.0L i-VTEC engine and manual transmission with the Acura RSX. It was also the first Civic to feature electrically-assisted steering.
2002 Civic SiR
On the subject of Acura, the Civic went upscale in 1996 when the Canadian-only Acura EL arrived; at the time, this Civic-based model offered an affordable way into Honda’s upscale portfolio. Shortly after the new millennium dawned, Honda introduced the first Civic Hybrid. It picked up much of its technology from Canada’s first gas/electric hybrid, the 1999 Insight, and offered a posted average economy of 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres.
Honda is not beyond making a gaffe. The Civic introduced in 2012 was instantly reworked in 2013 because of the poor response to the refresh. It was then reinvented again for 2016 — it was a complete makeover that touched everything. Key was the fact it eliminated the two-tier dash so many disliked and introduced turbocharged power to the Civic for the first time.
Part of Civic’s appeal is the fact it’s been produced in Canada since 1988. Honda Canada Manufacturing (HCM) is based in Alliston, Ontario, just over 100 kilometres from Toronto. Thirty-three years later, Honda is still building the Civic in Canada — the longest run for any car at any Honda plant worldwide. In all, more than nine million Honda cars and light trucks have been produced in Canada with over five million of them being the Civic. The latest running down the line is the all-new 2022 Civic reviewed elsewhere.
2022 Civic
Twenty years after the doors opened in 1986, HCM’s four-millionth vehicle rolled off the line. Not surprisingly, it was a Civic, as was the five-millionth car off the line in 2009. In 1998, HCM added a second plant, which doubled the production capacity to 390,000 units per year. A decade later an engine assembly line was added. This nugget underscored Honda’s reputation as an engineering company — it remains the world’s largest producer of engines.
Over the years, the Honda’s engine innovations have included Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion (CVCC) and Variable Valve Timing & Lift Electronic Control (VTEC).
In the beginning, one of the Civic’s key attributes was the CVCC engine. When introduced in 1975, the 1.5L four-cylinder produced 53 horsepower. More importantly, it reduced emissions and improved fuel economy. With the oil crisis and stricter emission regulations coming into effect the Civic’s ability to meet these new rules without needing emission controls made it an instant hit, as did the fact it could burn both leaded and unleaded gasoline.
1975 Honda CVCC.
Meanwhile, the Detroit-based manufacturers were struggling to get emissions under control. While Chrysler and Ford licenced the CVCC technology, GM dismissed it as “some little toy motorcycle engine.” This irked Soichiro Honda so much he shipped a Chevrolet Impala with a 5.7L V8 to the company’s headquarters. After some tinkering and installing reworked cylinder heads based on the CVCC design, the big V8 was cleaner than the stock engine and it did not need emission controls — the catalytic converter was rapidly becoming the go-to technology to clean up emissions in the mid-seventies. Of course, the Honda-ized Impala also got better gas mileage, too.
The thrust behind VTEC is to deliver better performance at high rpm while reducing fuel consumption at low engine speeds, and it does this using different cam profiles. Later intelligence was added (I-VTEC). It incorporated cam phasing, which brought even better performance and lower emissions. Of late, Honda has shifted to turbocharging to deliver better power and greater efficiency. The Civic Type R is the epitome of the new breed — 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm pretty much says it all.
2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition
The other intangible is the ability to make the Civic whatever the owner wants — particularly when it comes to performance. This aspect runs from a re-flashed chip and cold air intake (adding around 30 horsepower) to the insane.
The middle ground is found in the hot-rodded Civics found on floor at the SEMA show in Las Vegas. The wide array has included everything from the likes of RealTime Racing’s Civic concept racer shown in 2005 to a Honda-prepared unit in 2011. The Civic Si HFP (Honda Factory Performance), which arrived in 2012 as a limited-edition model, included a body kit, lowered suspension and HFP wheels wearing Pilot Super Sport tires.
For those with a fertile imagination, the work extends to insanity. A Civic with a blue-printed 2.2L turbo-four that runs 60+ pounds of boost pressure is a prime example. It produces 1,500 hp, gets to 96 km/h in 1.1 seconds and has a quarter-mile time of 7.45 seconds with a terminal speed of 186.79 miles per hour. That works out to 299 kilometres an hour Canadian! Yes, this Civic drives all four wheels, but who’s counting?