Honda Civic marks 45 years on America's roads

By Peter Hubbard


(June 24, 2017) Can anyone out there remember a time when there were NO Honda Civics puttering along America’s highways and byways?  If you can, you have to be at least 50 years old or older?  Why?  Because Honda Civics have been purring along our nation's highways and byways since July 11, 1972 — 45 years ago next month.

During that time Honda has managed to sell over 10 million Civics in the USA — 10,611,947 by the end of 2016, to be exact.  And Honda will probably hit 11 million by the end of this year. Of that total, over 7 million were built right here in America, by American factory workers.

Honda has sold over 22 million Civics worldwide, making it the second best-selling car of all time, surpassed only by the 40 million Corollas that Japanese rival, Toyota, has sold since 1966. 

However, it only recently climbed into the second spot, having surpassing the original Volkswagen Beetle’s record of 21,529,464 sold worldwide between 1938 and 2003.

The Honda Civic is also the third best-selling car model ever sold in the US — trailing only Corolla and the iconic Ford Model T.  Henry Ford started churning out his “Tin Lizzies” in 1913, and by the time production ended in 1927, there were 15 million Model T’s on the roads.  So within 10 years or so, it’s not unreasonable to believe the Civic could even top that figure.

The Civic may not have been manufactured for quite as long as the Toyota Corolla (1966) or Volkswagen Beetle (since 1938), or been around here as long as the Bug (68 years – since 1949) but Honda has sold twice as many Civics as VW has sold Beetles.

Given these facts, the Civic can rightfully take its place right alongside the other three cars for playing a unique and historic role in American automotive history — and not just on account of its longevity and popularity.  Each in their own way — the Model T, the Beetle, the Corolla and the Civic — have each had a dynamic impact on America’s motoring public, and helped change the way in which cars have been viewed and used by the masses. 

1975 Honda Civic CVCC

The Model T was a very practical and durable automobile for its time, thanks to the economies of Henry Ford’s assembly line that made it affordable for the common man. It quickly became prized for its low cost, durability, versatility, and ease of maintenance. Assembly-line production allowed the price of the touring car version to be lowered from $850 in 1908 to less than $300 in 1925. At such prices the Model T at times comprised as much as 40 percent of all cars sold in the United States.

The Beetle during the 1960’s and 70’s became a symbolic touchstone for an entire generation and one of the most iconic cars in the world. It literally became a symbol of uniqueness and freedom and was transformed into being not just a car, but an integral part of America’s cultural fabric.

From custom paint jobs to open-top Dune Buggies, the Beetle fit perfectly into the counter-culture of the 1960s. By 1968, over 400,000 Beetles a year were sold in the United States. In 1977, the last “Type 1” Beetle rolled off the production line in Wolfsburg, Germany.

The very first subcompact Honda Civic 2-door sedan and hatchback were introduced in 1972, shortly before the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. With its revolutionary Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion (CVCC) engine, it changed the way compact cars were viewed in this country. Consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles soared at the time. 

1985 Honda Civic sedan

Since the CVCC engine was able to run on either leaded or unleaded fuel, it gave drivers fuel choice flexibility over other available models. The engine’s head design allowed for more efficient combustion, and as a result, the Civic’s powertrain did not require a†power-draining catalytic converter or unleaded fuel in order to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new emissions standards for hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, established in 1975. The following year, Honda introduced the 4-door Accord.

Like the Beetle before it, the Civic became a type of rolling symbol of an emerging environmental and “green” movement in America. While perhaps not quite as closely linked to the environmental movement today as it once was, the Civic has grown in size and evolved somewhat in its identity. Yet it maintains its position as the most popular compact car in the country, a title it’s held since 2007.

And of course, it’s not JUST the Civic that’s made Honda’s popular with American car buyers. Close behind in popularity are the Accord sedan and the Honda CR-V crossover, based off the Civic platform. 

In fact, Honda and its premium Acura brand enjoyed its best sales year ever in 2016, setting an all-time sales record of 1,637,942 in the U.S., a 3.2 percent increase over the previous record high, set the previous year.   

2017 Honda Civic sedan

Without question, the Civic is the brand’s perennial sales leader (occasionally switching places with the Accord) and carrier of the Honda identity in many ways.  So how has the car developed over the years? And what’s new and improved for 2017?  Well, let’s take a closer look, and examine our 2017 4-door Civic Touring model a little closer to find out.  Naturally, it’s grown larger and more powerful over the years. 

The original car came with a 1.2-liter, 55-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine, and huffed and puffed going uphill. Today’s compact version in just the second year of the 10th generation, Civic comes with two engines, either a normally aspirated 2.0-liter generating 158 horsepower (over 100 hp more than 45 years ago), or a 178-hp, 1.5-liter turbo engine. 

There are five models in the range for 2017. Ours was the premium 4-door Touring model, equipped with the turbocharged four-banger.  The Touring also comes with a CVT — continuously variable transmission.  If you want the turbo with a 6-speed you can have it, but need to request the Civic EX-T model. 

With that many ponies pulling you along, unlike models from the 70’s, none of them huff and puff going up hills any longer.  In fact, the turbo launches quite nicely, thanks.  And the CVT handles the power surge quite nicely as well.  Since I’ve been reviewing mainly trucks in recent years, this was my first experience with a CVT in quite some time. And I have to say, engineering development has improved their performance substantially. 

The 2017 Honda Civic lineup expands with a stylish hatchback, and the availability of the 6-speed manual transmissions for the up-level turbocharged engine in standard models as well as the new performance-focused Civic Si and Civic Type R variants.

All-new sheet metal and the addition of a host of high-tech gadgets, gizmos and safety features allow the expanded Civic line to remain competitive with such longtime Japanese rivals as the Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra, as well as such new-comers as the Chevrolet Cruze and Kia Forte. 

Among the plethora of new features, perhaps our favorite is what the company calls “Honda Sensing.” It’s a bundle of safety features and driving aids which includes adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, road-departure mitigation, forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist and the Collision Mitigation Braking System, which automatically applies the brakes if a frontal collision seems imminent.

Being the top-end model, our Touring Sedan came fully equipped, and carried an MSRP of $26,600.  The only item added to the ticket was the fright of $835, bringing the total to $27, 435.


The 2017 Civics come in three distinct shapes — hatchback, coupe and sedan. The sedan and coupe models are arguably the most stylish and fetching, though the new hatchback stands out nicely from the crowd as well. Ironically, we believe the coupes and sedans could also be mistaken for fastbacks, given their wedgey shape and elegantly sloping rear roof.  We were especially fond of the new “boomerang” shaped taillights.

Other distinguishing features include a high-mounted spoiler and gaping fake vents on each side of the rear bumper. For many years, automotive scribes would carp over the fact Honda’s styling changes between each generation of Civics and Accord was so modest and mild, you nearly needed a magnifying glass in order to spot them -- but no longer.  Both front and rear are sleekly sculpted with even the sideview mirror making a fashion statement.  Overall, these new Civics give the impression they’re moving, even when standing still.   


This latest-generation Civic is longer than the previous model, and boasts about the best interior volume available on a compact.  In fact, according to the EPA it’s NOT.  By their definition a mid-size car fits the following criteria. Its size is between 110 – 119.9 cubic feet.  So legally, I suppose, the new Civics should be bumped up a class, since they provide the required 110 cu. ft. of interior and trunk space — 95 in the cabin and a generous 15.1 in the trunk. But if you don’t tell Washington on them, I sure won’t.  

The cabin of the Touring was nicely leather-lined and swathed in a variety of premium materials and top-notch plastics. The car’s navigation system runs through a 7-inch, easy-to-read screen, which also serves as the control center for the car’s audio, CarPlay and climate control systems. Naturally, it also comes with Bluetooth and available Pandora interface and Sirius XM Radio.  Rear-seat legroom is impressive in the sedan, but you may find the sills to be a bit wider than necessary.


The potent little 1.5-liter turbo motor offers creditable if not blistering acceleration with not so much as a hint of turbo lag.   As noted earlier, Honda’s CVT in our Touring models was among the best at mimicking a traditional one. While our test Civic didn’t quite match a Mazda3 in cornering dynamics, it's still among the best in its class … as is its steering.

For those craving more of a sports car set-up, try stepping up to the Civic Si.  It takes things to a higher level of corner-carving exhilaration.  Complementing its 205-horsepower engine and slick shifting 6-speed manual is a limited-slip differential and a full sport suspension that includes Honda’s first-ever use of driver-adjustable, 2-stage adaptive dampers on a Civic.

But if you REALLY want to have some fun — and have the budget — made the leap up to the new rally-inspired Civic Type R, equipped with an extra 100 horses — 306-horsepower to be exact.  Then you’ll have enough power and torque to curl your eyelids back, without all that much effort.  We eagerly look forward to that test drive. 


Given all the luxury, safety and high-tech goodies crammed inside cars like today’s Honda Civic is a genuine bargain.  In fact, any model that’s top-of-the-line and under $30,000 is not that easy to find. It’s more than competent, and economical to purchase and own.  So it’s no surprise this new Civic has snapped up a bunch of “best” awards, including being tapped by Kelly Blue Book as their tops-them-all, Best Buy Award Winner.   

We won’t descend into excess flattery and adulation here, but given the car’s long history of satisfying nearly 11 million customers in the USA over the last 45 years, it’s a safe bet the Civic Touring — or any model you select — is sure to please for as long as you decide to keep it.  And that could mean a motoring affair lasting 10 years or more, depending on how well your care for it.


Honda has produced and sold nearly 22 million Civics globally. Civic is the most popular vehicle in its segment with individual car buyers in America — and has led the segment in each individual year since 2007

Civic is the second most popular car with under-35 U.S. car buyers over the past decade, surpassed only by the Honda Accord in 2014.

Approximately 75 percent of Civics sold in America since 1991 still remain on the road; making Civic the most durable, longest-lasting car in its class.

Nearly 7 million of the 10 million Civics sold in America have been produced at the company's plants in the U.S. and Canada using domestic and globally sourced parts.

North American production of Civic began in 1986 in Marysville, Ohio, and has now surpassed 9 million units.