The only Honda name more familiar than the Accord is its smaller sibling, the Honda Civic. The Civic was Honda’s first mainstream offering and is responsible for the company quickly gaining a reputation for building quality cars with high reliability and outstanding fuel economy. Over the years the Civic has grown larger, safer, and more family-oriented, but it also has a sporty fun side that shows up in models like the Civic Si and the CRX. While its long-time rival remains the Toyota Corolla, the Civic has grown in size and power to challenge more powerful models including the Subaru WRX, the Volkswagen GTI, and the Ford Focus ST.
1st Generation: 1973-1979
The first Honda Civic was tiny by today’s standards, measuring a compact 140 inches and riding on an 86.6-in wheelbase. Despite its tiny size, the Civic could actually fit four adults. It debuted as a 2-door coupe, then later as a 3-door hatchback, 5-door hatchback, and finally a wagon. The Civic wasn’t big on power, but it was fun to drive, got around 40 miles per gallon, and was amazingly well-built and reliable, attributes that escaped most American cars at the time. In 1975, Honda’s Controlled Vortex Combustion Chamber engine, or CVCC, was introduced. So efficient was the design that the Civic didn’t require the use of a catalytic converter to pass a tough new emissions test.
2nd Generation: 1980-1983
With its success now part of automotive history, the Civic grew larger, with more powerful 1300 and 1500 cc engines. In 1981, a proper 3-speed automatic replaced the Hondamatic 2-speed, and a 4-door sedan with a trunk was introduced. Over this model run, new trims would be introduced including the 55-mpg FE and sporty S. During this time, the Civic got more upscale, offering velour seats, color carpeting, air conditioning, a 4-speaker stereo, and a rear wiper washer. Common issues for this generation included problems with the carburetor on higher mileage cars and rust issues, particularly in states with high road salt usage.
3rd Generation: 1984-1987
It was in the third-generation that the Civic truly came into its own. Many owners had moved from large, inefficient cars to the Civic, finding its combination of styling, features, reliability, and strong resale an irresistible draw. The design was lower and leaner, with a chopped rear end for the hatchback and a tall greenhouse on the sedan. The wagon models featured an even taller roof. The Civic’s wheelbase grew by five inches and was even longer on the sedan and wagon. For the first time, all-wheel drive was offered on the Civic wagon and by 1986, the system moved to a permanent AWD setup known as “Realtime 4WD.”
This generation also spawned the hot 2-seat CRX, which shared its engine, dash, and suspension with the sporty new Si trim introduced in 1986. The Si was aimed squarely at VW’s GTI and featured sport seats, a pop-up sunroof, and a 91-horsepower engine. When new, this generation Civic was nearly flawless, but over time, the car has some issues with rust, timing belts that fail around 60,000 miles, and some issues with early model fuel injection.
4th Generation: 1988-1991
The Civic grew slightly larger, with more rear-seat legroom and trunk room. The appearance was less angular, with rounded edges and a lower cowl. Underneath, the same double-wishbone suspension from the Accord made its way to the Civic, as did an independent rear suspension that greatly improved ride and handling. Horsepower ranged from 70 to 108, depending on trim, and all engines now featured electronic fuel injection. During this time, the model line grew to include the fuel-efficient HF, economy-minded DX, sporty Si, and upscale EX.
Notable features for the Si included a 16-valve 1.6-liter engine, a power sunroof, and thickly bolstered sport seats. New available features for the civic included 4-wheel disc brakes, cruise control, and power windows. The wagon remained, as did the hot little CRX, but this would be the last generation to offer both. Again, when new, the Civic had very few issues, but over time, it can develop starting problems due to a bad starter relay, brake lights that won’t turn off due to a broken sensor, and problems with the blower motor variable resistor that cause some fan speeds to not work.
5th Generation: 1992-1995
The fifth-generation Civic represented a radical departure from traditional Honda styling cues. Gone was the low cowl and dashboard, replaced by a tall hood for better crash test safety and a much larger dash. A driver’s side airbag was made standard on all models, while the EX received anti-lock brakes. The 1992 Civic was noticeably larger than the fourth-generation car, and the hatchback received a unique split-folding rear gate. Model designations were changed around, with the new high-mileage VX replacing the HF.
Horsepower increased across the line, with the top-of-the-line Si featuring a 125-hp 16-valve engine. In 1993, a coupe model joined the lineup and was the only Civic model to offer the option of a passenger-side airbag and a high-output stereo. This generation has become quite popular with the tuner crowd, meaning it may be hard to find an unmolested version. The gen five Civics may be the pinnacle of Honda reliability and longevity. Even after 100,000 miles, problems on well-maintained models are few. The fan blower relay is one, and some high mileage models have issues with oil leaks and blown head gaskets.
6th Generation: 1996-2000
By the late ’90s, American’s were falling out of love with hatchbacks and moving into sedans, so for the sixth-generation Civic, Honda scaled back the hatchback’s place in the lineup to just an entry-level car, and put the bulk of production into the sedan and coupe. The DX, LX and EX trims were powered by a 1.6-liter VTEC engine good for 106 hp in all but the EX, which got a bump to 127 hp. The high-mileage HX also returned touting a continuously variable transmission (CVT), as did a new model, the natural gas-powered GX.
In 1999, the Si returned in coupe form with a 160-hp engine, specially tuned suspension, and a sporty interior. By this time, the Civic had become rather mainstream, no longer the exciting trendsetter it once was. But the public was looking for reliability, safety, strong resale, and excellent fuel economy, and the Civic had all four in spades. Some known issues with these years include rust issues where the bumper meets the rear quarter panel, power window regulators that fail, engine mounts cracking and front rotors warping.
7th Generation: 2001-2005
The seventh-generation Civic continued the car’s move to the mainstream. A new McPherson strut suspension replaced the previous double wishbone setup, and critics noted the drastic decrease in the Civic’s cornering and handling abilities. The standard engine increased to 1.7-liters and produced 115 hp the DX and LX, and 127 in the EX. The high-mileage HX returned with an EPA estimated 31 mpg city/39 mpg hwy, while the Si badge returned to the 3-door hatchback brought over from Honda’s European lineup. The Si featured very different styling compared to the coupe and sedan and had an odd 5-speed manual shift lever that protruded from the dash.
The engine displaced 2.0-liters, but horsepower remained a healthy 160. In 2003, the Honda Civic Hybrid debuted featuring a 1.3-liter gas engine paired with an electric motor/generator good for 51 mpg on the highway. Owners report very minor issues when new, and even older models seem to hold up fairly well. One area that may be problematic is the car’s automatic transmission that suffered a number of issues covered either by recall or technical service bulletins. The Civic’s interior quality also seems to have suffered during these years, with a number of trim and cloth-covered pieces coming apart.
8th Generation: 2006-2011
This was the Civic that brought style and performance back to the storied nameplate. The 2006 Honda Civic took on a radical shape punctuated by a sharply raked windshield, low hood, and a coupe-like rear end. Standard equipment included ABS and side curtain airbags, plus a modern 2-tier dashboard with a digital gauge cluster up top and a smaller cluster below for the analog tachometer. Base models employed a 1.8-liter engine good for 140 hp, while the Si’s 2.0-liter engine bumped output to 197 hp. The hybrid returned this year, but with slightly lower fuel economy figures of 40 mpg city/45 mpg hwy.
In 2007, the Si badge was affixed to a sedan, while the EX-L trim offered leather seating, a first for the Civic. Buyers had a choice between a 5-speed manual (6-speed in the Si) or a 5-speed automatic on all but the hybrid, which used a CVT automatic. New options for the Civic included an upgraded audio system, voice-activated navigation, and Bluetooth. The Civic remained trouble-free for most years, although some 2006-2009 cars suffered cracked engine blocks. The problem was so pervasive that Honda extended the warranty to 8-years with no mileage restriction.
9th Generation: 2012-2015
The ninth-generation Civic may be the most controversial car to wear the Civic name. Designed right after the great economic collapse of 2008, Honda cut many corners with the design, resulting in a car that was roundly criticized for its poor handling, loud interior, cheap materials, and overall harsh ride. So bad was this version that Consumer Reports removed the Civic from its “Recommended” list, an honor the car had enjoyed for many years. Power for the Civic came from a 1.8-liter engine good for 140 hp.
The Si received a 2.4-liter engine good for 201 hp. Stung by the criticism of their best-selling compact, Honda made heavy revisions to the 2013 model, changing the sedan’s exterior styling, upgrading the suspension, and improving the ride. The interior in both the coupe and sedan received more sound insulation and better materials, as well as new standard equipment including a rear backup camera, Bluetooth, and Pandora radio. Later models added safety features like Honda LaneWatch and forward collision warning.
10th Generation: 2016-2021
No longer a compact car, the 10th generation Civic is about the same size as the mid-’90s Accord. With the 2016 car, the Civic once again reclaimed its birthright as a stylish, innovative compact car with sporty handling, great quality, and loads of features. The Civic is now a 4-door sedan, 5-door hatchback, and 2-door coupe. The standard engine is a 158-hp 2.0-liter, but Honda also offers a 178-hp 1.5-liter turbo.
Both engines can be mated to a 6-speed manual. The sporty Si returns with a 201-hp turbocharged engine, as does an all-new model, the enthusiast oriented Type R, which features a 306 hp 2.0-liter turbo. HondaSensing, Honda’s suite of driver-assist features, debuts on some models and is optional on others.
The Civic was refreshed for 2019 with an updated look, standard Honda Sensing, a new Sport trim, and a volume knob replacing the frustrating slider of earlier models.
Which Civic Is Right For Me?
If you’re looking to spend less than $10,000, you’ll want to look at the 2001-2015 models, but the eighth-generation are probably you’re best bet of finding a moderate mileage car in good condition for not a lot of money. If you go with something costing more, try to avoid the 2012 models and skip right to 2013 or newer. We’d also recommend going with the EX or higher, which will open the door to more safety and driver assists such as LaneWatch and HondaSensing.
If you go with model older than six years, a private party sale may be advantageous both for the ability to negotiate a better price and the possibility that the owner kept meticulous repair and maintenance records. A car only a few years old might be better bought from a dealer that can provide an inspection as well as some type of warranty, such as a certified pre-owned car. Find a used Honda Civic for sale