R&T’s test for the ever-improving Civic.
From 1980 February issue:
I remember this version of the Honda Civic. At the time, I didn’t find it very attractive. It was better looking than its previous version, but not as attractive as the 80s or 90s version.
But compared with the competition, it was golden.
“That’s how you gonna beat em butch, they keep underestimating you…”
Reminds me of the one from Pulp Fiction
I see that this is only 4 pages. Not long ago someone complained that todays car magazines only have a few pages devoted to new car tests. I am not sure that things have really changed. The editors (writers) have changed, not always for the better.
Ah, now I know why I did not buy a Civic when I was shopping in Feb 80. I subscribed to R&T and would have read this test.. Over the years, I have found that 36″ of headroom, by R&T’s measure was not enough, in spite of the article’s assurance there is plenty of room for people of any size. I also would have been put off by the engine stumbling, hot or cold, having dealt with that with the POS 78 Zephyr, and it’s peaky nature. This was also about the time that Honda was in the kimchee over how rapidly it’s cars rusted. I had a coworker whose 76 Accord had patches of rust through about 4″ wide on top of both front fenders by 80, so I had doubts about Honda on that score as well, doubts that appeared to be well founded as around 83 or 84, I saw one of these second gen Civics, with significant rust in several places.
So I got a Renault R5 instead. Excellent driveability with no stumbling and a torque peak at 2500rpm for exceptional around town performance. Enough headroom thanks to the design of the sunroof. Fantastic suspension performance which avoided the typical Japanese oversprung, underdamped suspension of the time, which the Civic test also complains about. On the other hand, with the Renault I became very familiar with the staff at the repair shop, and it too rusted out in 4 years.
By 1980, Renaults were being sold through AMC-Jeep dealers, and the R5 had been renamed the Le Car for the American market. In addition to reliability issues, most AMC-Jeep dealers didn’t have any idea on how to properly service and repair Renaults.
Around here (southcentral Pennsylvania), examples of this generation of Civic were still on the road in the early 1990s, while the Le Cars had disappeared by 1985.
I had one of these in 5 door trim with a 1300 5 speed and of course none of the pollution crap attached it wasnt required in this market, Good little car actually it would roll along in town @ 50kmh/30mph in 5th gear quite happily accelerating required a downshift though it was ok on the highway and handled reasonably well, I used to get 45mpg on a trip and about 40 in town, rust was only just starting to appear in 05 when I sold it, I guess if they get hosed out underneath the sheet metal lasts longer than just running them thru a carwash.
… it would roll along in town @ 50kmh/30mph in 5th gear quite happily accelerating required a downshift
The way my Renault was geared, the 2500rpm torque peak came on at 35mph in 3rd and 45mph in 4th, so it usually felt pretty strong around town. Freeways were another matter as top speed depended on which way the wind was blowing. With a headwind, it would top out at 55, which was the limit in the US then. There was one time when I was passing a truck. Everything was going fine until I hit the bow wave coming off the truck, that the Renault could not break through. On the other hand, one day with a tailwind, I saw the speedo hit 80.
Were people actually driving near the speed limit in the late ’70s? My memory from family trips was travel in the mid-60s and other people bragging about running 70+ mph. I think the tested Civic’s ability to exceed the national speed limit in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th gears would be worth a few extra downshifts around town.
40mph was max in 2nd gear they were not as fast as tested
Driving at 55 mph on an interstate highway system was a good way to get run over even during the early 1980s. The late 1970s were when sales of radar detectors increased, and the CB radio became a hot item, for very good reasons.
And now we have Waze to tell us where the Smokies are
Amazing how the Hondas have grown over he years. The New Civics are larger than the original Accords were. . New Accords are considered mid size now.
The New Civics are larger than the original Accords were.
Noticed that with my 98 Civic hatch. About the save size overall as the first gen Accord hatch, and iirc that Accord had a 1.6L engine, same size as my 98 Civic.
Same thing all over. I passed an 80s Rabbit Cabriolet in my 2014 Jetta last year. The Cabriolet looked like a toy next to the Jetta. The Polo now is the size of a Mk I Golf/Rabbit. The Golf now is the size of the Mk I Dasher/Passat.
The Honda Fit is the same size as an ’84-91 Civic wagon; at least they’ve held the line on size for three generations of Fit although they’ve adjusted the rear seat/”trunk” space balance in favor of passenger room with each model change (leaving cargo space with the back seat down unaffected).
Believe it or not, even that ’98 Civic was quite a bit larger than the original Accord. Old Hondas are seriously tiny cars by modern standards…
I love these scanned road tests by the car mags. Keep it up!!
+1. Reading tests like this really makes me appreciate the fuel injection system on the ’86 Jetta. At a time when many cars still had carbs, it starts almost instantly and runs perfectly without warm up, even when in the teens outside. And no spaghetti nightmare of vacuum lines to try to sort out when they leak or get disconnected. Carbs should have gone away much earlier.
I was never really all that fond of this generation of Civic. The 1st gen cars had chrome bumpers and this generation had bumpers that looked like they planned on making them chrome (or at least polished aluminum) but cost cutting forced Honda to go with painted metal….at least in the U.S. Yet, to Honda’s credit, the interior was a bit better in the 2nd gen than it was in the 1st. Mechanically I’d guess any generation of Civic is okay (I’ve owned 3 and ridden in 3 more), they are not the fastest or slowest car out there.
Honda cleaned up the bumpers and many other aspects of the design for the last two of its four years (1982-83) along with the switch to rectangular sealed-beam headlamps. The hood lost its vent openings, the dashboard was much more unified, etc. (I drove an ’83 1300 4-speed – the cheapest model then offered, with 12-inch wheels and no armrests – from 1987 to ’97. Damn good car for what it was.)
A 1980 Civic 1500 GL exactly like this test car got me through college and grad school. I have so many fond memories of my first car – simple and unassuming, economical, eager, and an absolute blast to drive around town. I’ve owned dozens of cars since, but will always have a soft spot for my beloved Civic. Its only flaw was the rust. Midwestern winters eventually took their toll on the body to the point where it was unsafe to drive. The Ford Escort that replaced it wasn’t in the same league.
I’m right in that club with you. Got one in college & drove the wheels off it Consistently high mileage. Never left me stranded. Reclining seats came in handy too.
I had a metallic green 1980 Civic 1300. Bought new with no air conditioning. I bought the A/C kit separately and installed it myself. I saved $500.00 by doing that, and in those days I was a pretty good shade tree mechanic. I kept it for four years and traded it in on 1984 Civic wagon. I have been happy with the Hondas that I have owned over the years. I also had a 1987 CRX, a 1990 Acura Legend, a 2006 Odyssey and a 2010 Insight. The Legend, I wound up keeping for 16 years, with very few problems. Eleven years with no car payment was nice. I am still interested in Hondas, but having got past the car buying age, I probably will not have another.
It really needed about 400 fewer pounds of weight.
A friend of mine got a 81 Civic as a birthday gift-it was the top of the line model- we did a lot of cruising in that car. My other buddies dad was so impressed with the Civic he bought a stripper model–it even had a manual choke.
My older sister’s first car was a ’76 Civic she bought used in 1982. It had a 4-speed manual and was a lot of fun to drive – much better than the ’78 Gutless I was driving at the time. I always liked the older Civics. Like all Civics of that era, though, Ontario winters were not kind to it and by ’84 the body was shot though it still ran great. I drove a newer Civic last year (with a stick, of course) and still found it lots of fun to drive, and they don’t rust like they used to. My sister owns one and is quite happy with it.
I had an ’82 Civic that looked like this but had rectangular lights. Like other commenters have said, it was miles ahead of the competition. The only bad part seemed to be the thinness of the sheet metal. My friend dented it just by leaning on the fender.
This was my first car, a silver 1500 GL which I had while in college. I had many fond memories in that little car, carting my stuff back and forth from campus to home and sharing many summer adventures on jobs and road trips. I really enjoyed it’s responsive engine, easy shifting 5 speed, and agile handling. It turns out my first car was also one of my most loved cars. May it RIP.
Most reliable car I owned. We owned a 76 Civic and the differences with the 1980 was unbelivable. Yes, it was simple…..all red with auto and radio but it was fun to drive. Miss it.
I was with my older brother for a test drive of a 1982 Civic; my main recollection was finding out the Civic still came with bias-ply tires unless you stepped up to a fancy trim level. In 1982.
Only 27 mpg? I’m underwhelmed for a 1.5L ~2000 lbs hatch.
The Civic’s mileage was 10% better than a 1980 VW Rabbit or FIAT Strada, which were also 1.5 liter subcompacts.
In the late 70’s, my father had a 45 mile each way commute, halfway around the Beltway and halfway to Baltimore. For a while, he carpooled with a guy with a new Civic (wagon I think), which always seemed to be in the shop, so they took our ’68 Electra most days. Used to big cars and broad of beam (for the time), my dad was fine with that, despite the expense.
Our family’s first car in the US was a rusty, brown 1982 Wagon, with the proud “5-speed” badge on the back. Bought in 1992 for $750, it was quite rusty after a decade in road-salt-happy Central NY. After the 40hp air cooled 1972 Zaporozhets back in Russia, the well worn little Civic felt like a sports car/space ship for my dad to drive.
The 2nd gen Civic in general was one of the few bright stars in autoworld in 1980, and this 1500cc 2nd gen in particular was a superstar!
I never owned, or even drove one, but I really like them. I was in high school when they came out, and I thought they were perfect–quick (remember this is 1980), great gas mileage, great looking, FUN!
Inexpensive, they were not. The sticker price on this one is close to the family 1980 Ford Fairmont, which was a viable family car (the Civic was not really).
Still, the many positive comments here show what great cars these were!
A brilliant package with slight imperfections in execution. Better than the new Ford Escort, and GM X-Cars grabbing the spotlight in 1980, and the two year old Chrysler Omni-rizon. A golden era of Swiss-Army-like efficient automobiles. Honda didn’t try hard enough with this generation of Civic, but importantly, Honda didn’t create a mistake either. What they did is secure a permanent foothold in the US market. Their sophomore version of the popular freshman Civic worked out very well.
Just curious, why do you say that Honda didn’t “try hard enough”?
The 1st Gen Civic interior was, like the Beetle, spartan but well executed. Classy cheap.
The second gen was classy and NOT cheap, reminiscent of the Accord.
The 2nd gen exterior was clean and modern, first gen was kinda lame and Japanese–and not necessarily in a Subaru/B210 kind of bad way, but also not in a Corolla, let alone 240Z/510 good way either.
IMO, the 2nd gen had NO peer small car, it was head and shoulders above the others.
Just my two cents.
My dad bought me a new 75 Civic to use in college (Thanks Dad!) and it was fascinating. It really did fit the meme of the times about how everything in Japan was miniaturized (a shtick which had started with the introduction of the first pocket sized transistor radios), but it was also a little mechanical jewel. It smaller than the 2-stroke SAABs my parents both drove during all of the 60’s, but – how to put this?- it was clearly designed and engineered as an entire thought-out unit rather than sloppily assembled into a vehicle from whatever parts Detroit had left over from previous models. Yes, it was made from thin metal and plastics but somehow it came across as inexpensive rather than cheap. It’s big virtue was that everything worked, all the time, and worked well. Rust? Well yeah, you knew that was gonna happen, so you ‘Ziebarted’ it and waited – wan’t gonna rust any worse than a Ford…
I bought an ’80 Civic 1300 in ’82. From the driver’s seat it was impossible to see any metal on the vehicle except the wiper blades. Nothin’ but plastic.
That car is one of two reasons I’ll never buy another Honda. The other is a motorcycle from ’83.
The 1300 Civic in ’80 did not need a catalytic converter. (The 1500 did.) Midas wouldn’t install a new pipe, though. The moron claimed that since the gas gauge said “Unleaded Fuel Only” that I had already illegally removed the converter; and they wouldn’t work on the car unless I authorized a new converter along with the pipe.
When the seat belts quit retracting–like every other Civic of those years, and maybe other Honda vehicles as well–I discovered that Honda had “worked a deal” with our own Government. Honda was not required to recall and fix their defective seat belts, provided they gave a “lifetime warranty” on the seat belts in later-year cars. Thanks, NHTSA, I needed to be hosed by both Honda AND my own government.
Engine blew the #3 connecting rod through the front of the block–right at the oil filter area, at 58K miles. I was going 70 in fifth gear, midnight, February ’85, and I’d have frozen to death if I hadn’t been picked-up by the driver of a semi truck.
I never had stumbling or any other driveability problems with this car–except when driving through Colorado/New Mexico on I-25 (I think…it’s been a long time.) I had less and less power going through the mountains. Downshifted, WFO in 4th gear. Then third. Second. Crawling along, foot to the floor. Finally pulled over. Nothing obviously wrong with the engine. Wasn’t thrilled about being stranded a thousand miles from home. Got back in, started it up…ran just fine, like it always had. Carburetor had iced-up, the ice narrowed the venturi/throttle plate area, maybe froze-over the fuel discharge nozzles. Stopping for a few minutes allowed the frozen carburetor to thaw from engine heat. The engine’s heated-air intake ran off of vacuum. Going up the mountains, I had no vacuum. Therefore, no heated air to the air cleaner.
When I got the car, the interior heater and fan would roast me out of the car no matter how cold it got…and I mean Twenty Below or colder, sometimes; as long as I had covered the radiator with cardboard. By the end, the heater was totally worthless even with the radiator covered. Would hardly clear the windshield. I never did figure that out…coolant looked good, heater hoses were hot. Nothing but mildly-warm air out of the ducts. I installed several thermostats, didn’t make any difference.
Rust on the body? Holes in the fenders? I knew the end was near when the VALVE COVER rusted-through. Actual perforations and oil leakage. Epoxy took care of that for awhile.
Honda can K-M-A.
OTOH, I was the poor bastage that had to service the shop-owner’s brother-in-law’s Le Car. Talk about junk! Steve, above, talks about his Le Car not being able to beat 55 mph if there was a headwind, and he needed a tailwind to hit 80. 70 was a decent and comfortable “cruising speed” in my 1300 Civic; and that was more due to my squeamishness about police radar in the days of the National Mandated Speed Limit (NMSL–“55”) than the abilities of the vehicle. And the 1500s were even better.
These were the best import economy car at the time. BTW, I drove them all for a living at the time. Mom had one of these new in Denver, never any trouble ever. She moved to Indiana in 1982. Got close to 400K on it with no repairs besides basic stuff. But the tin worm killed it by 1985 or so.
I learned how to do the famous hand brake 180 spin in one identical to this model. A friend became good enough at the hand brake turns that he could pull off a total 360 when the conditions were right. Good cars, good times.
Ecept for dealing with the carb issue, I would love to find an affordable clean one of these today.
I had a brand new 80 Civic 1500 5 speed wagon. I’m 6’1″ and fit in just fine with a 34″ inseam. Compared to what I was used to the 30-32 mpg was a godsend to me. It had good pickup and handled decently once again compared to what I was used to. I truly enjoyed that car. The only thing that turned me against it, and Honda mainly, was that the engine had two wiped lobes at 104,000 miles. I felt that was wrong and vowed never to buy another Honda and haven’t. Instead bought the 626 and been even more happy with them and their longevity.
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