1994 Honda Civic SI Hatchback. Click image to enlarge
By Chris Chase
There are few small cars out there that can rival the Honda Civic’s reputation for longevity. Since Honda helped pioneer small cars in North America in the mid 1970s, many imitators have tried to challenge the Civic. Some became extremely popular – domestic models like the Chevrolet Cavalier/Pontiac Sunfire and a long line of Chrysler K-Car based derivatives, and other imports like the original Volkswagen Rabbit proved successful – but none of them could achieve Civic-like reliability.
Mazda and Nissan (or Datsun, if you go way back) have made their own front-wheel-drive efforts over the years, and while they’ve endured, their cars have garnered more of a cult following rather than a full-on reign over the compact car kingdom. Perhaps only Toyota has been able to come close with its Corolla, which – many would argue – stands on equal footing with the Civic. We won’t let Toyota steal the show here, though; this week’s used car retrospective is all about the fifth-generation Civic, which arrived in Canadian Honda dealerships for the 1992 model year.
This Civic was as close to a revolutionary design as had been applied to the Civic line previously. The boxy and rather plain lines that had defined this little car since 1984 were gone, replaced by a more organic shape that would be echoed in the following two generations, the last of which was replaced for the 2006 model year. The inside was new too, with much-improved ergonomics and loads more space, thanks to a long wheelbase – much longer than many competitors, in fact.
1992 Honda Civic LX Sedan. Click image to enlarge
The fifth-generation Civic’s powertrains looked familiar, but were re-energized for 1992. The base-model CX hatchback was the value leader; it and the DX hatchback, DX and EX sedans and DX coupe used a 102-horsepower, 1.5-litre engine. The VX hatch, which was only sold early in the fifth-generation’s production run, was the fuel economy winner, with its super-thrifty 92-horsepower version of the same motor. The sporty Si hatch got a 1.6-litre engine that made 125 horsepower. The Si line would eventually include a coupe model as well. Topping the range was the sporty Del Sol two-seater, which was available with a 160-hp version of the 1.6-litre engine. Check out Bob McHugh’s review of the Del Sol here.
1993 Honda Civic DX Coupe. Click image to enlarge
It’s tough to find safety-related information for cars sold this far back, but the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave sedan versions of this Civic three stars each for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts; coupes got three and four stars in the same categories. The NHTSA didn’t conduct side impact tests, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) didn’t test the fifth-generation Civic at all. The sixth-generation model earned the IIHS’ “acceptable” rating in the organization’s frontal offset crash test, however.
The Civic’s current reputation for low fuel consumption isn’t new; in Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption testing, the VX posted ratings of 5.4 L/100 km city and 3.9 L/100 km highway, numbers that rival those of today’s Civic Hybrid. Ratings for CX, DX and LX models are closer to 7 L/100 km city and the low 5 L/100 km range on the highway. The Si, with its more aggressively-tuned engine, used a little more than 8 L/100 km in the city and 6.1 L/100 km on the highway.
With any car that’s more than a decade old, reliability becomes a factor that can’t be easily rated. While it’s safe to say that this fifth-generation Civic will be as reliable as other Honda products tend to be, the reliability of any used car that’s already more than a decade old will have more to do with how it was maintained than with how well it was initially built. Many of the real lemons (yes, even Honda produced some) from this generation of Civic will be rusting in peace somewhere by now.
1992 Honda Civic VX hatchback. Click image to enlarge
If you’re looking at one of these older Civics, look for one with good maintenance records. Find out if the car has been rustproofed regularly; fifth-generation Civics are prone to rust in certain spots, particularly at the trailing edge of the rear wheel arches. If you find out that’s rust-free, there’s a good chance there was bodywork involved to get it that way. Also, watch out for used Civics that show signs of having been modified by previous owners. These cars will likely have been driven hard and may well prove less reliable. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a car to modify, there are countless parts of all kinds available for this generation of Civic.
Canadian Red Book used car prices for 1992 models range from $2,350 for a CX to $2,750 for an Si, while ’95s range from a low of $3,875 for a CX to $4,200 for an EX sedan. Today’s prices for the Del Sol range from $3,950 for a 1993 to $7,000 for a 1997 (the Del Sol outlived the rest of the fifth-generation Civic by a couple years). Watch for sellers trying to take advantage of the Civic’s reputation with high asking prices; it’s not unusual for these small Hondas to command higher-than-Redbook prices, but use the numbers above as a guideline and go with your guts to avoid getting ripped off.
For an affordable, efficient and compact import with a sporting edge, it’s hard to beat a used Civic. Just shop carefully to avoid mistreated cars and you’ll find you’ve bought a car that should treat you – and your car repair budget – well.
www.ClubCivic.com – More than 30,000 Civic drivers are registered here. The fifth-generation Civic gets its own forum section; this and the various technical forums would be the best places to look for maintenance and repair info. You’ll also find plenty of stuff on aftermarket modifications, but less so than on other Civic-related forums.
www.vtec.net – This site covers all of Honda’s products, including the company’s upscale Acura line. There is a Civic-specific forum section, but it’s not split up into generation-specific sections, so some digging might be required to find detailed info. There’s a ton of information here, but the site’s layout and design leave something to be desired.
www.ClubSi.com – Here’s a very busy forum with more than 50,000 registered members, but the forums – and indeed the rest of the resources the site offers – will mostly appeal to drivers interested in modifying their Civics for looks, performance or both. And if that’s your goal, then this is a good place to begin. Those looking for basic technical information will want to start their search elsewhere.
www.CustomCivics.com – Another Civic forum with a decidedly performance and aftermarket focus. There is a technical help and repairs forum, but you’ll have to dig for generation-specific info – the forums aren’t split up according to the many different generations of Civic. CustomCivics.com has 3,871 members.
You can also check out the owner reviews by current and previous Honda Civic owners on autoTRADER.ca.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1997073; Units affected: 109,534
1992-1995: Note: includes 1992-95 four-door sedans and three-door hatchbacks and 1993-95 two-door coupes. Vehicles located in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. The engine hood secondary latch may corrode and not operate if the latch is not clean and sufficiently coated with lubricant. This may cause the secondary latch to stick in the open position as a result of the corrosion. If the primary latch is not properly locked and the secondary latch is stuck open, the engine hood could fly open restricting the driver’s vision and possibly resulting in an accident. Correction: dealers will lubricate hood latch. Also, a maintenance instruction label will be installed next to the latch.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1994069; Units affected: 22,014
1992-1994: On vehicles with automatic transmission, the retaining clip that connects the transmission shift cable to the shift lever actuating rod may come off after repeated shift lever operation. If this happens, the position of the shift lever may not match the actual transmission gear position. This could result in unanticipated vehicle movement which could lead to an accident. Correction: retaining clip will be replaced with one that has greater retention pressure.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.