After 51 years, 11 generations and approaching 28 million in sales, the Honda Civic remains among the most enduring and dependable vehicles. It’s available as a coupe, sedan and hatchback and in Si and Type R high-performance options. It’s offered in Sport, Touring, LX, EX and Sport trims and it ideally defines its name’s origin.
The Civic’s moniker means “a car created for citizens and cities.” Civics are everywhere, albeit with a caveat.
What once defined the needs of citizens in cities is no more. And the vehicle, classified in its tenure as both a subcompact and compact and with the multiple personalities as a family sedan a zippy sports car, may have lost its way.
Six years ago, the Civic was at its sales volume best; more than 377,000 were purchased in the United States. Last year, considering more competition and the supply chain chaos, sales fell to 133,000, about half the level from 2021.
The segment’s competition is impressive. The Chevrolet Spark, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Jetta are all formidable. The Spark is among the country’s least expensive cars; the Civic has the most costly starting price in the group.
Where the enduring Honda bolts to the front of the pack is with the performance-oriented 2023 Civic Type R (R for racing.)
With its top-line price of $44,385, the Type R is as far-removed as feasible from the 1972 debuting Civic and its less than $2,000 cost.
The four-passenger Civic Type R is a sedan disguised as a sports car and it’s a variant of the standard Civic hatchback. Powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 315 horsepower, the Type R is offered only with front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission.
Gas mileage averages, according to the EPA, are 22 miles per gallon in city driving, 28 mpg on the highway. Acceleration from 0 to 60 miles per hour takes 5.5 seconds, about average among in the segment.
The equipment is plentiful and impressive, with 19-inch alloy wheels with summer performance tires to a carbon-fiber rear wing spoiler and Brembo brakes to adaptive suspension dampers.
The former beacon of simple transportation and modest pricing, the high-priced compact-turned-sports car also has a limited-slip differential, selectable drive modes and a nine-inch infotainment touchscreen.
A digital instrument panel, microsuede seat upholstery and a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system, all in a Honda Civic? The name may be the same but a lot has happened to the Civic in 50 years.
Honda’s priority to safety is also among the carmaker’s strengths. The Civic has front collision migration, blind-sport and lane departure warnings, automatic high beams and a driver attention monitor.
The Type R drives like its sports car look. The seats are tight, the interior noise is substantial and the drive is far from bump-free. It’s exactly what will make sports car fanciers further enjoy the ride. One issue: Shifting through gears is a purest’s treat. But in winter weather, the metal shifter knob is seriously cold.
While occupants could use more room, cargo and overall cabin space, 24.5 cubic feet, is substantial for a compact vehicle. Carrying stuff is easy. There’s a good-sized center console and a pass-through below the climate controls. Spacious door pockets with angled drink holders add convenience. The trunk space is good for lots of grocery bags or three modest-sized suitcases.
With its sports-car persona, the 2023 Honda Civic Type R defines “hot hatchback.” It has red seats, red carpeting and racing-type badging. It still has the manufacturer’s sub-standard warranty. And it’s a half-century and more than $40,000 removed from the original Honda Civic.
It’s also the Civic that may help the iconic vehicle return to its prominence.