This is a strange one Ben, why are you writing about an M-reg Honda Civic? This is a car, after all, that in a slightly different skin was sold as the Rover 400… Well, let me take you on a little journey both backwards and forwards in time.
Once, in this case 1995, Honda didn’t spend quite as much time designing its family hatchback to look outlandish, but instead opted for a more sedate exterior. In fact, not only did it not spend time making the car they sold in the UK as a Civic stand out from the crowd, it actually developed it in conjunction with Rover. This was a time when world cars were just a pipe dream, and in fact the car we received as the five-door Civic wasn’t sold as a Civic outside of Europe.
‘Our’ version was based on a car called the Domani, an Asian-market Honda introduced in 2002 and developed with Rover alongside the 400. In Europe Honda took the Domani and badged it as a Civic. These were the cars of the people back in the mid-‘90s and, if anything, this was a pioneer for the modern world of joint projects. Rover spent so little time changing the car into a 400 that it might as well have just sold another Civic.
Back to 2019 and the outlook is a little bleaker in Swindon, Honda’s manufacturing home for the Civic. Honda have taken the decision to withdraw production and shutter their once flagship plant and, now the Civic will find itself built nowhere outside Japan, we can expect just a single version of the car around the world. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but merely a playout of the long-running push to streamline car companies, the products of which have become ever more fragmented around the world.
The wonderful people at Honda kindly allowed us to drive ‘their’ Mk5 Civic hatch, but not so kindly made us do it in the heat of Catalunya in June. A lovely experience, you might say, until I point out that Rover-inspired interior came with some rather fetching velour-like seats and no air-con (this was 1995 remember). Cry us a river I hear you say, but after 20 minutes we were more sweat than human.
The ’95 Civic is something of a time machine. The interior is festooned with buttons and switches of a quality you just would not accept today. The fabric on the seats is strong, and resistant, but in a good way, a way that feels a little more refined than the ultra-quality-controlled, smooth cloths we get today. The dash is also blessed with some rather ageing fake wood, with a surface so shiny that it looks like it’s been buffed to within an inch of its life.
The drive is a timewarp, too. The steering feels heavier, and more connected than the average hatch today, the seating position less polished and the brakes far more vague. But it’s the ride that shocks the most. Not in a way that suggests things have moved on in the last 25 years either. In fact, it strikes me that we’ve gone backwards. The Civic was just a mid-range family hatchback, beloved sometimes by those of an older age. But it wafts along in a way that today’s hatchback just cannot. I assume this change has come as a sacrifice for better handling and fuel economy, but the Civic glides through the rutted roads of Catalunya like a magic carpet. It boggles the modern mind that something so smooth could have been badged a Rover in its day, given the way that the company stuttered out of existence you wonder how suspension like this could have led them astray.
But with the changes in suspension have come changes in ability, safety and quality. The old Civic feels much more wayward, much less likely to steer you to safety should you come a cropper of one of the local lorries that fly through the tight Spanish lanes. The modern Civic may feel slightly harder, but with it feels safer, more amenable to a spirited drive and altogether of more value to the world.
When you have a family, that wafting suspension just isn’t going to be enough to win you over compared keeping everyone safe.
However, as much as the two cars are different, we also find they are the same. There is something quite Honda-ey about this car. The little 1.6-litre motor feels better than it should for a 24-year-old unit, the interior is well thought-out and easy to use and the dials, though simple, are rather pleasing on the eye. This car also spawned VTEC versions, which were the forerunner of the modern Type R.
Honda may have moved on from the Mk5 Civic, and be moving its production back home, but it remains a company with a very clear history, one that we hope follows the Civic from Swindon back to Japan.