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Mk1 Honda Civic vs. Honda e: City car confrontation

There’s a new brand Honda Civic en route to UK showrooms, but for all its technology and charm, it’s unlikely to match the historic significance of the first car to proudly wear the Civic badge.

The Civic was launched in 1972 and was a game changer for a company that until then had not been globally successful in four-wheelers. With its late sixties sales mostly of small city cars and a larger pickup truck in the doldrums, two rival groups of engineers in the company were tasked with creating out the car Honda’s motobike should build instead. It was meant to be a contest between a group of young innovators and their older pool of technical talent, but according to Honda’s history, both teams came up with nearly identical ideas. : “A light, fast and compact world-class car”.

Thus, Civic was born, and subsequently named as a sign of its primary role as a populist. urban race. It seems to be the perfect moniker for what is a fun yet simple and unobtrusive small car, designed to provide the ultimate in affordable practicality for the budget-conscious buyer. yes, a role it excels at.

The Civic may be a practical and affordable choice, but despite its simplicity, it has no shortage of innovation. Appeared in an era when hatchback rear doors are just beginning to take root in the mainstream market, Honda has bet on and offers both saloon and hatchback versions of the Civic, although both share the same two-box body design.

But the company skipped a limb with suspension by opting for an independent rear axle instead of the familiar (and cheaper to do) beam setup, while the smooth 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and refinement are offered with a four-speed manual transmission or a two-speed Hondamatic automatic. The 1.5-liter option was soon added, and Honda’s small success was assured in 1973, when the OPEC embargo against the countries that supported Israel’s Yom Kippur war. gasoline prices spiraling up 300% of pre-crisis prices.

Honda has also introduced cylinder head clean-burn technology on the Civic, which means the car doesn’t have to run an expensive and energy-intensive catalytic converter, giving it a big advantage in the US market when restrictions apply. on the environment comes into effect.


To celebrate Civic’s 50th anniversary, we captured a beautiful yellow survivor from Honda UK, and a Honda e Electric supermini, on a day out to Milton Keynes. Why ‘MK’? Because this so-called new town development is being shaped by planners right at the time the original Civic is being developed on Honda’s drawing board in Japan. In addition, the expansion of Milton Keynes today seems to be ideally suited to Honda eundertake urban commuting.

Add the fact that MK is bursting with civic pride after being promoted to city status as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, and the destination is a ceremony. Oh, and we needed somewhere you could be comfortable on a single charge, and Milton Keynes is located 75 miles from Honda’s Bracknell HQ via the M4 and M1.

As you read in Auto Express, the latest Civic is a very different monster from previous generations. Aside from the obvious technical advancements, it has evolved considerably over the years, to the point of arguably entering the larger gap in the UK lineup left by the once popular watch. . Fit.

This means battery powered The Honda e is a much closer spiritual successor to the original Civic, and when it was revealed back in 2019, Honda admitted that the new five-door model EV pays homage to its seventies predecessor with some neatly shared design cues inside and out.

As an introduction to what Honda can do with its EV technology, the e is at least as impressive as the Civic has returned to its heyday and is undeniably more luxurious. Buying a Japanese economy car in the early seventies is more likely a budget-enforced choice, rather than a lifestyle statement, while this electronic has a sense of fashion. Fascinating classic future. Is it realistic?

Well, yes, except for e’s limited battery range, as a Honda enthusiast, I’d imagine that reflects the company’s sole focus on engineering rather than a seriously misguided oversight.

With market research showing that urban commuters only drive tens of miles a day, it’s easy to imagine Honda project engineers developing a great engineering solution to meet short-term needs. most efficient compact, with the lightest and most efficient battery possible. Seen from that angle, the e’s 122-mile range can be considered a virtue. But from the perspective of a typical UK car buyer, we can’t pretend that’s not a challenging number.

Indeed, even with a 97% battery charge and over 120 km displayed on the e’s impressive full-width electronic dashboard, I set off for the MK in a way that Auto Express colleagues all too often force have to accept while behind the wheel of flashy new electric models. In other words, slowly, with the speed limiter set to 65mph, to ensure enough range can be used from whatever battery we’re trying to save.

At the very least, the steep cost of fossil fuels means other drivers have slowed down as well, so a more comfortable speed is less inconvenient, relatively speaking. On the highway, our e passed both Porsche Cayenne and a Mercedes-AMG G 63 running at 55mph, showing that fuel costs are falling at all levels – an interesting parallel to the oil crisis of the ’70s, during which the first Civic flourished.

However, when I’m traveling in comfort but charm to MK, I can’t help but think that someone who made a similar journey in 1972 could get there and back faster in the original Civic, yes. may not even need to stop to ‘splash and go’ . Sticking to our ‘Civic Pride’ theme, I envisioned a trendy young architect or town planner preparing for a rush-site meeting in the newly opened town wide quickly, with their feet firmly planted on the floorboards at 85mph in fourth gear, and a little eager The 1.2-litre engine tenses happily under the bonnet.

In the Honda e, aside from the range-worrying speed limit, I had 30-40 minutes of loitering waiting to get to the MK suburban toll booth near the bus station before I could begin my return journey. about. That’s progress, obviously. At least the snack bar opened in time for our sunny weekday afternoon, but I wouldn’t want to linger there on a cold break.

Of course, it’s not like our original Civic was beaten back by Milton Keynes and turned around at 85mph, because in keeping with Honda’s flagship heritage, it moved in the luxury of the car. own trailer. The Civic is in rudimentary health, but sourcing parts for any classic Honda is a challenge and the garage team understands they want to reduce mileage. Okay.

As a 1976 model, it’s not one of the first cars produced since 1972, but for all intents and purposes it’s the same car, and not just any old model. This is a machine featured in Honda UK marketing brochures, featuring the famous Carnaby Yellow colorway, and bought in-house by an owner and lightly remodeled a few years ago.

As Honda celebrates the launch of its newest Civic, you can also see the older car in some of the latest marketing materials. Never say that a Civic doesn’t offer great value for money.

We were allowed to get behind the wheel of a prized old Honda used to be unloaded when we saw The Point, an iconic MK building that hasn’t aged half as much as the Civic. Sparkling in the sun on the tarmac, the Civic’s two-box ‘quick truck’ form is instantly recognizable, but it’s surprising how small it looks today. Another surprise is how spacious the car feels inside; I’m nearly 6 feet 4 inches tall and found the steering wheel to be a bit of a hindrance when getting in and out, and once seated there’s plenty of leg room and headroom – and space for a couple of kids in the back.

A twist of the key activates the engine, the engine switches to a muted humming under the low bonnet and it takes a few seconds to grasp the controls. To be fair, there aren’t many of them, with the headlights and indicator lights sharing a single right stub, and the wipers on the left.

Dipping the clutch pedal requires minimal effort, shifting gears is a breeze and you can’t say the powerless steering is ‘heavy’ even at parking speeds. As well as everything it’s very user-friendly, because even though the engine is ready and eager to rev, with only 50bhp or so, you need to use regular gears between the MK’s roundabouts.

Still, the Civic was nimble and had no trouble keeping up with traffic, while engine muted and road noise underpinned those seventies engineers’ achievements.

Always driving new cars, often EVs or hybrids with automatic transmissions, it’s easy to forget what a complicated performance driving a car used to be. In the e, with an active lane-keeping assistant that constantly nudges the wheels to remind you you’re driving, a seamless powertrain, a reversing camera, and blind-spot assist, you’re missing out on much that makes up the experience. Attractive driving. It eliminates the work of balancing pedals and gears, cutting much of the tangible link between the steering wheel and the runway, instead rewarding you with a complex and potentially frustrating set of digital infotainment functions. distraction, while everything else goes on without you.

Back in the late ’80s, I briefly contemplated buying a Mk1 Civic when I was fresh out of school. It wasn’t the state of rust that disappointed me then, because everything within my budget was covered in tin fungus, although early Civics were particularly susceptible. It makes more sense that a Civic won’t provide much inspiration or appeal to an eager young driver. After working with Honda’s charismatic survivor, I’ve pretty much revised those eighties to fit a sentence I caught my eye in an old pamphlet. It tells the story of Civic’s latest advancements in design and technology resulting in a vehicle that will perfectly suit all the driving needs of today and tomorrow.” I don’t think they’ve gone that far from the landmark!

Now read ours review of modern Civic

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