We’re in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the winter – I think – of 1975/1976, and the co-owner of an independent repair shop is driving a warmed-over Civic hatch. It’s coated in minimalistic silver, with lowered suspension, wheels filling the wheelwells and an exhaust that does justice to the descriptive. It is, in short, just the thing for a guy too young – in 1967 – to buy a new Mini when Americans could still buy a new Mini. And while my wife and I didn’t purchase a Civic then, the seed was planted for myself and literally thousands of enthusiasts. Almost forty years later, the tangible fruit of that seedling, Honda’s Civic Si, is still on U.S. showrooms.
The trigger was pulled on my own Honda ownership with the purchase of the base Civic 2-door (no hatch) in 1979. Those were the days when you placed your order, waited a few weeks before your new Honda arrived, and then – upon its arrival – hustled down to the showroom to prevent it from being sold to someone else. Had there been such a thing as a J.D. Power survey of customer care, I think the feedback would have flatlined somewhere near zero.
Satisfaction with the actual car, of course, was through the roof. Despite having but 1200cc, the Civic was reasonably responsive, adequately spacious and amazingly direct. And our ongoing satisfaction with this Honda – and Hondas in general – resulted in the eventual purchase of two ’89 hatchbacks, followed by a ’94 EX sedan. The sedan performed beautifully, but we missed the flexible utility of the hatch. And we still can’t quite figure out why Honda essentially abandoned the Civic hatchback, given all that the Civic did to establish the hot hatch segment.
Today’s Civic Si, available in both 2-door coupe and 4-door sedan, omits the hatch but (happily) delivers the ‘hot’. After a much-reported refresh soon after its 2011 debut, Honda’s product team has upgraded most of what was so heavily criticized on the earlier intro, with changes made to what Honda describes as a host of “safety, feature, comfort, chassis and interior styling enhancements.” We didn’t join the piling-on when Honda first rolled out the ’11, but we’d be among the first to note that the competitive environment is hugely different today than it was forty years ago. Chevy – forgawdsake – has two competitive entries in the Civic’s price category, beginning with the Sonic hatch and concluding with a diesel-powered Cruze. Add Ford’s Focus, the Mazda3 and who-knows-what from Hyundai and Kia, and the consumer has a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of vehicular choices. Who’d have thunk?
Of course, what’s offered today by Honda is vastly different from what appeared in U.S. showrooms forty years ago. Gone are the abbreviated hood, vertical windshield and slab-sided proportions. In their stead is a mid-engined proportion to the Civic Coupe, with the driver and front seat passenger positioned in an almost cab-forward manner, while the Civic’s hood and windshield are both aero-tuned with a penetrating nose and aggressive rake. And while the previous 2-door coupe had an almost distinct separation of roof and decklid, in this iteration the roof flows uninterrupted into the rear deck. Subjectively, we’d prefer the Civic’s lines to be less organic, but then, a more traditional 3-box profile is delivered by the Civic 4-door.