Curbside Classic: 1984 Honda Civic Wagon – A Fun Box Of Practicality

1984 Honda Civic Wagon left rear

For people who value space efficiency, there are few cars more alluring than small, tall wagons.  Able to haul both people and cargo in ways that defy their physical dimensions, such wagons merge the best of cars, vans and minivans.  Honda’s 1984 Civic was among the best of this breed, showing consumers that utilitarianism doesn’t need to be dull and uninspiring.  The Civic wagon inherited a legacy of innovation, and through its clever packaging and versatility, became one of the 1980s’ most innovative vehicles.

1973 Honda Civic ad

The original 1973 Civic put Honda (and Japan, for that matter) on the map for many North American car buyers.  Offering a low price, excellent efficiency and front-wheel drive in a well-built package, the Civic became the 1970s economy car to beat.  A wagon joined the Civic model range for 1975.

1980 Honda Civic wagon ad

A revised Civic, introduced for 1980, grew in dimensions and power.  Honda continued to offer a wagon variant.  Conventionally-styled (with the same overall shape and height as other Civics), this car became a big player in the small station wagon segment, and was key to broadening Civic’s appeal.

Meanwhile, an unusual-looking concept car planted seeds in designers’ minds about space efficiency.  When Giorgetto Giugiaro debuted his Lancia Megagamma concept at 1978’s Turin Motor Show, the tall, square boxy wagon with a flexible interior generated quizzical reactions.  According to Giugiaro, Lancia lacked the courage to produce it – not surprising, since the car was largely panned by the press.  Turns out the press was myopic, and Lancia missed an opportunity.  Within a few years, several manufacturers offered cars that borrowed heavily from Giugiaro’s concept.

Mitsubishi Chariot and Nissan Prairie

Mitsubishi Chariot (l) and Nissan Prairie (r)

Among the early wave of these new wagons were Nissan’s Prairie (Stanza wagon / Multi in North America) for 1982, followed shortly afterwards by Mitsubishi’s Chariot (Colt Vista).

Dodge Caravan and Renault Espace

Dodge Caravan (l) and Renault Espace (r)

Bigger boxes came packaged as minivans.  Chrysler’s Caravan/Voyager twins and Renault’s Espace launched on either side of the Atlantic around the same time, ushering in a new era of people-moving.

Honda’s development of its third generation Civic occurred as the above manufacturers (and others) toyed with their own tall wagon ideas.  Resultantly, the auto market experienced parallel evolution.  These early tall wagons and minivans were developed from similar ideas, yet in enough isolation to make the end result different.

The wagon was called the Civic Shuttle outside of North America.

Launched for 1984, the Civic range included three discrete models.  The mainstay four-door sedan was joined by a Kammback-style hatchback, the two-seater CRX, and of course, the wagon.

1984 Honda Civic wagon left side

Honda’s take on the tall wagon concept was more wagon than van.  And even though other vehicles of this type were appearing in worldwide markets, Honda’s styling was quite unique.  The Civic presents an unmistakable profile with its short, sloping hood, and rear cargo-area windows that extend further down into the bodywork than the other side windows.  Unlike earlier Civic generations’ conventional wagons, this new model differed substantially from its Civic siblings.

1984 Honda Civic wagon left front

This distinctive profile covered a vehicle whose small size belied its remarkable functionality.  While still a compact car, this model was taller and wider than the ’83 Civic wagon, with a longer wheelbase (interestingly, though, the new Civic was shorter than its predecessor).  Stressing verticality over horizontality, the Civic took an unconventional approach to spaciousness.  Increased height enabled ample room for adult passengers, beyond what was typically expected from small cars.  Additionally, the wagon’s tall doors permitted easy ingress, and all that glass area provided outstanding visibility.

1984 Honda Civic wagon ad

Dimensions weren’t the only key to this car’s versatility.  Nowadays, customers expect vehicles to have flexible seating/cargo arrangements, but in 1984 this was quite a novelty.  The split rear seat could fold forward to create a flat cargo floor – in whole or in part.  Meanwhile, the front seats could recline fully to form quasi beds.  As a bonus, a hidden storage bin lay underneath the rear floor.  Seating flexibility and copious storage nooks all harkened back to Giugiaro’s Megagamma, which featured similar details.

1984 Honda Civic wagon right rear

Despite the high roof, the driving position was 100% car-like, and while the Civic may have exuded some van lineage, it didn’t drive like one.  In fact, these wagons were fun to drive.  All Civic body styles shared a similar suspension.  With MacPherson struts and torsion bars up front and a trailing link solid axle in the rear, Civic wagons handled sharply, with little of the understeer than haunted front-wheel drive cars of the day.

Honda’s smooth 1.5 liter, 12-valve engine provided enough power to propel the Civic wagon to 60mph in about 12 seconds… not bad for the day.  The carbureted four-cylinder engine produced 76hp @ 6,000rpm.  Our featured example is equipped with Honda’s outstanding 5-speed manual transmission (a 3-spd. automatic was available for $300 extra).

1984 Honda Civic wagon rear

Despite the Washington license plate, this car was spotted 2,500 mi. away in Virginia.  Not a bad road trip for a 40-year-old car!

Capable of carrying people and cargo, while also being enjoyable to drive, the wagon was an outstanding compromise vehicle that could fulfill many needs.  Utilitarianism and fun are often mutually exclusive; this Civic proved otherwise.

1984 Honda Civic wagon interior

Looking inside, one sees both the quality materials and the clever design that drew customers to Honda dealerships.  The interior was designed to make the greatest use of a compact space.  Tall windows produced a spacious feeling, augmented by the lack of a center console and the open under-dash area.  Clever touches abounded, too.  What looks like a storage bin atop the dashboard is actually a pop-up center HVAC vent.  A slide-out tray under the passenger seat, and a coin box for the driver were uncommon for the period, especially for smaller cars.

Lots of small items that were optional on most mid-1980s cars, such as a rear defroster, rear wiper, intermittent wipers, and tachometer, came standard on Civic wagons.  Our featured car additionally has the dealer-installed air conditioning, and an original radio – one of six shown in Honda’s 1984 accessories brochure.

1984 Honda Civic wagon interior rear seat

In back, there’s decent room for adults.  The rear seatback reclines, and – even more usefully – folds, leaving a flat cargo area back to the liftgate.  Though not visible here, an additional airy touch were dual narrow “skylights” above the rear cargo windows.

Actual cargo capacity behind the rear seat is somewhat minimal.  This could really be considered a 5-dr. hatch as much as a wagon.  As noted in this earlier CC article, this Civic is not too different from the later Fit/Jazz – in fact, exterior dimensions are very similar to the 2007 Fit.

1984 Honda Civic wagon right front

Honda may have provided US consumers many things in the mid 1980s, but ample options and colors weren’t among them.  1984 Civic wagons came in just three colors – Greek White with a red interior like our featured car, and also Suede Beige with a beige interior and Stratos Blue with a blue interior.  Aside from an automatic transmission, all other items that would be factory options from most manufacturers were instead dealer-installed accessories for Honda buyers.  Honda accessory brochures were extensive, including not only interior niceties like air conditioning, but also exterior embellishments.  This car’s black mesh wheels were straight from Honda’s accessory lines and a nice replacement for the standard steel wheels.

1984 Honda Civic wagon right side

Small cars eventually lost their appeal in North America, so it’s easy to overlook the Civic wagon’s innovations.  But this was among those vehicles that attuned car buyers to versatile, easy-to-drive, cleverly engineered vehicles.  While versatility is often equated with dreary pragmatism, the Civic transcended that dichotomy.

Such a combination of qualities was mighty rare in 1984, and the marketplace success of this Civic and other tall wagons and minivans pointed to the future.  This car demonstrated that practicality and fun can coexist; that’s a formula that changed the auto market forever.


Photographed in Fairfax, Virginia in October 2023.


Related Reading:

1987 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon: The Automotive Swiss Army Knife   Paul Niedermeyer