From the March 1973 issue of Car and Driver.
As an introduction, let us tell you that there is absolutely nothing radical nor innovative about the Civic. And that should be reassuring beyond measure to all of you potential customers who failed to appreciate the racket of the 600’s unique air-cooled, upright 2-banger engine. Or who couldn’t quite master the clever dash-mounted shifter. Nor is the Civic another one of those Japanese micro-cars that tremble fearfully as they cut through the bow wave of a Peterbilt. Instead, it’s what Honda likes to think of as the perfect urban car (hence the name Civic, if you can follow that logic). But before you can finish stuffing the Civic into that pigeon hole, Honda spokesmen are quick to point out that it’s perfectly at home on freeways and cross-country expressways as well. Another half-size car for all seasons . . . if we are to believe the manufacturer’s glossy descriptions.
Earlier it was mentioned that there is nothing radical about the Civic’s mechanical layout. It is, in fact, absolutely conventional in the Mini/Austin America/Simca 1204 mold of small cars. The Civic’s in-line, 4-cylinder engine is transversely mounted in front where it drives the front wheels. The suspension is independent all around, in this case done with MacPherson struts and coil springs. The transmission is a 4-speed, all-synchro device with a 2-speed Hondamatic optional. Brakes are discs in front, drums in back, and power assisted. All of this machinery is attached as simply and efficiently as possible to a passenger carrying compartment of four persons capacity. The idea is to keep mechanical intrusions to a minimum and Honda engineers have been particularly successful in this because, in addition to the absence of a drive-line tunnel which is inherent in this type of design, the wheel arches are also commendably small. The Civic is perhaps the only car of this size in which the driver doesn’t have to angle his feet toward the center of the car to avoid the left front wheel housing. And it also has a full-width rear seat. So, in general, the Civic scores excellent marks in space utilization.
There are limitations however. The front seats are fine. They are comfortable with reclining back rests and a good range of fore-and-aft adjustment. Adults in the six-foot range will have no complaints about leg, hip and head room. But the same cannot be said for the back. By compromising front leg room somewhat the same adults will be able to accommodate their knees in back but there is no solution to that lack of rear head room. About 5’10” is the height limit for rear seat passengers. Which strikes us as a poor trade off. Little shoe box sedans do not rely on beauty for their appeal and even if they did, ballooning the Civic’s roof up an extra inch or so wouldn’t have destroyed what the critics would call classic proportions. But it would have made the car more useful and that, it would seem, is what this kind of machine is all about.
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