Since 1972, you or someone you know has probably driven, owned, or fallen in love with a Honda Civic. And there’s good reason, too. From its sensible interior space, efficient engine options, cute but understated Japanese styling, and accessible entry-price, the Civic has proven to be a safe, economical, reliable, and sometimes sporty transporter for millions of drivers around the world.
But if there’s one thing that stingy consumers and rice-rocket enthusiasts can agree on, it’s that the Civic hatchback has always been the more endearing trim in the Civic’s lineup. So, with the newest Civic in its ninth iteration, we thought it’d be a good idea to take a peak back and compare today’s drool-worthy European hatch (sadly, the US has not had a Civic hatch since the fifth-generation Si in 2005) with the three-door coupe that started it all.
When the Civic debuted in 1972 as a ’73 model, the sub-compact was noticeably slimmer than many of its American counterparts. At 138.9-inches long, 59.3-inches wide, and around 1500 pounds, it needed little by way of motivation to scoot around town. The original 1.2-liter 4-cylinder made around 50 hp, an impressive figure for the car’s size, but more importantly, the first Civic supposedly achieved better than 40 mpg on the highway.
As a precursor of things to come, the following year saw Honda rework the bumpers for America’s 5 mph bumper impact standard. As a result, the 1974 Civic grew 7.1 inches in length. By 1980, the 55 mpg highway-rated second-generation Civic grew to 148.0 inches long and more than 2.0 inches in width to 61.6. In 1987, by the end of the third generation, the Civic Si hatchback grew another 2.0 inches in length, and another 2.3 inches in width to accommodate European styling cues, and a sportier suspension. Of course, the story doesn’t end there, either. The 1990 Civic Si (this guy’s favorite body style) grew an astounding 7.1 inches over the previous model, and then 3.1 inches for the ever-popular 1994 model year (EG6). The list continues: another 4.3 inches in 1999 (EK), 1.1 inches for 2003 (EP3), and finally, another 2.5 inches for the 2008 European Civic Type-R (FG), which carries the same dimensions as the newest, ninth-generation European hatch.
In total, the Civic hatchback has grown 28.3 inches since 1973, one-fifth of its original length, and 11.0 inches in width, nearly one-fifth there, too. But why is this? Since 1973, Honda has quadrupled the Civic’s horsepower by doubling the engine’s size (in displacement, not cylinder count). It weighs almost twice as much (1500 lbs. vs. 2800 est.), but has room for five adults, and meets all of today’s most stringent safety measures, including 5-star crash test results in all of the NHTSA’s crash tests but one.
The result is a car that has adapted to meet changing consumer needs, yet still offer everything it has always promised, including value. And relatively speaking, it’s still a compact, just a bit thicker in the right places. Like most Americans. Though the current generation Civic is not the top dog in its segment, Honda’s prestigious record, build quality, and reliability can never be counted out. Just don’t count on a Type-R hatch coming stateside anytime soon…