“Civic” is a well-known nameplate in the automobile world and one of the longest-running ones as well. The story of this legend started 48 years ago in Japan and ironically, the global oil crisis which began in 1973 was the reason for the widespread popularity of Honda Civic.
The first-generation Civic was a humble little car which was mainly focused on providing people with cheap and fuel-efficient travel. But little did Honda know that the Civic would transform from a simple fuel-efficient car to one of the most loved and longest-running nameplates in the world. India received the 8th Gen Civic as its 1st Gen back in 2006 and the 10th Gen as its 2nd Gen, recently, in 2019.
We didn’t, however, receive most of the cars from the evolution of the Civic, up until 2006. We were treated with the 8th-Generation Civic as the first generation for India. Better late than never, right! It was unlike any other car available in India at the time and so quickly became a sensation in its right terms.
The sleek design language and futuristic interiors were its attracting factors and not to forget its wider bandwidth of reliable accessible power which made it a talking point among enthusiasts. This generation of Civic was sold till 2013 after which it was unfortunately discontinued due to dull sales and rapidly evolving audience.
The first-generation Civic was powered by a sole 1.8L naturally aspirated petrol engine that produced 130 bhp and 171.62 Nm and was coupled to either a 5-Speed manual or a 5-Speed automatic gearbox. This setup made it the cheapest available car of the time that could cross 200 KMPH! The automatic gearbox was a sluggish unit but we had the 5-Speed manual for the go-fast experiences.
This was a beautiful combination that provided balance in performance and reliability at the time. Mileage, however, took a hit as the naturally aspirated engine was a thirst unit and returned just 9.8 KMPL for the automatic variant. The manual gearbox was a saviour in this sense as it returned an improved 14.8 KMPL.
The exterior design language was a bold new chapter in the Indian automotive scene. There was no other sedan at the time that had such a sleek looking design. It was low slung, had a tapering roofline which gave it a coupe-like design. It looked like an eagle bolting forward from the front and was designed with a balance of edgy and subtle looks.
The rear was subtle yet carried forward the same sleek design language as the front end. Taillights were a split setup with movable brake lights fitted onto the tailgate. The first Gen Civic was a low car and that had both benefits and downsides. The low slung design enabled it to handle like no other sedan with impressive high-speed stability and cornering grip. But the downside was that it was in India! We had the most unpredictable roads, still do, and taking a low car like the Civic for a drive was not a task for the faint-hearted. Scraping of underbodies and bumpers were a common sight with these Civics.
The interior was also beyond anything that was available at the time and had a very futuristic touch to it. This was the first car in India to flaunt a split instrument cluster with the top portion displaying the speed digitally and the bottom half having the tachometer and other vital vehicle operations. It gave you a proper cockpit feel with all of the LCD backlight cluster and the driver-centric dashboard design.
Seating was not everyone’s cup of tea as you would be sitting very low due to its laid back seat design and the lower ride height. It had a proper performance car-centric sitting posture for the front seats which was new for us. The rear seats were comfortable and provided with ample legroom but then again, the stance made you sit back and low. Fit and finish were top-notch and there was no complaining here.
The first Gen Civic was a killer car and had everything going well for it. But for a dynamic and ever-growing market of India, Honda couldn’t hold up with the changing demands. We have compiled the main reasons for the decline in interest for one of the best cars to enter India at the time.
Majority of car buyers in India belonged to either the lower or middle class during this time and were very vocal of their choices with pricing as the priority. People would go for more value for money mid-size sedan rather than a costly big sedan like the Civic.
Then there was cannibalism by Honda itself! The top variant of Honda City and base variant of Honda Civic had a very fine line in terms of pricing and feature listing. So, buyers went for the full packed City instead of the bare bone Civic which would cost around Rs. 10-12 lakh.
This segment had limited takers and a lot of competition and it was awkwardly positioned between the compact midsize sedans and the premium crossovers. This made it lose its value rapidly.
Its competitors at the time were rapidly evolving and most importantly were offered with a diesel powerplant as well, which was what people wanted at the time. Honda failed gravely in this as the Civic was only available with a petrol engine and mileage was not even satisfactory.
Honda learnt from its mistakes with the First Gen Honda Civic and had brought back the iconic car in its 10th generation in 2019. The car on sale in India is at par with the international variants with minimal changes. Most importantly, it gets a new diesel power plant as well, which for the time being has been discontinued due to BS6 norms. Unfortunately, there is no provision for an enthusiastic manual transmission as all the petrol variants are offered with a CVT.
The enthusiasm is dull with this one, but there is still a section of the audience in India who are emotional of the “Civic” nameplate. They will surely point out the current generation’s bland nature and why the first generation Civic of India(8th-Gen) will always have a special place in their hearts and always have a cult following.