Why the Honda Civic is Still the Perfect Car – Reliable and Affordable

The vehicle has not only survived but thrived through the years, becoming a cultural touchstone as it has evolved from a humble (though entirely competent) starter car into a dependable, economical people-mover, available today as a functional and likable hatchback, coupe, sedan and, yes, even a targa-top convertible. But in order to find out how to buy a used Honda Civic – the sweet spot, if you will – and learn whether losing your virginity in a Japanese car in 1980s New York was actually a bad idea (spoiler: it wasn’t), we first needed to take a close look at the car itself. After all, if you’re going to go broke buying an adorable scam of a car, you might as well go broke doing so in something as tried-and-true as the Civic. And that’s why we’ve decided to give the Honda Civic the full Jalopnik treatment: the whole unvarnished story, from the ugly duckling gateway drug to the duckling-to-swan story of the maturing middle-class conscientious shopper.

Unveiling the Pre-2000s Civics: A Glimpse into the Past

Looking at Civics made for the turn of the millennium, it’s easy to see why someone hunting for the absolute cheapest can’t be blamed for giving up on the idea. Buying a Japanese car in 2019 is a game of minesweeping – just chock-full of possible pitfalls. Elusive service histories, hard-to-find replacement parts, and customisation sprees of the 1990s (such as cramming a popular B-series engine into a whole lot of unexpected places) can all make finding the right car a slower process. The search is further complicated by the fact that cars built for great fuel-efficiency and reliability can too easily fall into the overly hot-rodded or rough-maintained hands of some enthusiast. The general unpredictability of pricing is also a factor that serves to make the entire process more of a game for the experienced and technically-minded.

The 7th Generation Civic: A Leap into the New Millennium

While it may be seen as a symbol of modest improvement, the seventh-generation Civic is heading into the 21st century, and it’s still our car. It was supposed to be a new day, too. They did the big redesign in 2000, and the 2001 Civic hit the streets with a Euro-inspired new look (the same look that was adopted by the sixth-generation design) introduced a five-speed automatic transmission to the line, and gave the Civic its first ever VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) engine, including the first VTEC motorcycle engine. But the clouds quickly darkened. Each model year was beset with enough powertrain problems and common complaints that Consumer Reports would recommend against buying the newest generations. But for the cautiously adventurous bargain hunter of used Civics, taking the bumps in the road might get you to a destination where you can find a car that balances affordability and efficiency in just the right proportions.

The 8th Generation Civic: Style Meets Substance

And then, when the eighth-generation Civic arrived in 2006 – with sleek new styling and a 1.8-litre engine – it felt like a new Civic had finally arrived. Starting with that generation and going through to 2011, there’s a particularly sweet spot where the Civic looks fantastic and feels rock-solid mechanically. Prices creep into the ‘affordable’ zone – and that could be the key to owning a Civic that’s so much more than a way to get from A to B.

The 9th Generation Civic: Navigating the Turbulent Seas

Like that old Cavalier, the ninth-generation Civic’s life was short, but at the same time tumultuous – the flagship model of a once-storied brand caught in a muddle between the dual imperatives of lean, green ground-breakers like the Insight and the ball-tearing, turbocharged supercharged Si. Despite a quick start, this generation of the nameplate was soon dogged by criticism of a perceived loss of driving pleasure, and while the entry into a Civic from this generation – especially if it happens the way it did for me, with only the knowledge that Honda addressed some of the early complaints about the losses in refinement and drivability with upgrades to the hydraulic power-steering system and the engine’s valvetrain among other things – is likely to be compared to a plain bagel, for the buyer who’s willing to look beyond the critiques, there is actually solid value here to be had. Snapping up the last great Civic – perhaps from the Buffalo car dealer who bought it off my dad – is a chance to indulge Honda’s heritage of careful engineering and near-imperishability – and, provided you’re mindful of the car’s condition and miles, a sound investment.

The Dawn of Modernity: The 10th and 11th Generations

Step into the 10th and 11th-generation Civics, and you’re entering a world where the latest Honda technology and safety equipment is all combined into one car. The later editions (especially the 11th-generation) fetch a higher price in used car markets (although they’re still less than the more exotic Honda cars at the time). This is partly because of the technological features that come with these newest Civics. Owning a car from one of these later generations comes down to a question of whether or not you want the latest in-car technology in your new used car.

The Quest for the Ideal Civic: EASE INTO THE DECISION

The process of shopping across these generations can be seen as much as an education in the history of the Civic – a rich saga that began with humble machinery – as it is about assessing one’s space needs, wants and price ranges. Each has something different to offer, whether it’s the rough-edged allure of the earliest iterations, the smooth balance of the middle generations, or the appeal of tech-packed modern versions. Figuring out how best to dive in and pick our way through these cars can save discerning shoppers a bundle.

Understanding Ease in the Civic Buying Journey

There is a way to deal with ease in the search for a used Honda Civic, and here it is: you proceed with an informed, relaxed confidence, you make your way on the market with insight, you take into consideration what the history of this Civic has woven of value and truth, you find the intersection where that value meets your hopes and goals and realities, you re-evaluate your cost-to-benefit ratio, you evaluate long-term dependability, you toy with the notion of just how much fun it might be to drive this car around for the next several years, and gradually you come to realise that ease is the organising principle here, and the path to ownership is as much the destination as the Civic itself.

Jun 10, 2024
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