Civilian special forces

by Andy Bryenton

The year is 1972. Bell bottomed trousers and folk music. Cars the size of football fields in America, and the reign of the Morris, Leyland, and big Aussie Fords and Holdens here. In Japan, however, they were working on something which would change the otoring world. This was the first year of production for the Honda Civic.

It was a bold move for Honda, but prescient — an oil crisis just a year later cast down the muscle car idols of Detroit, and left the world looking for an economical, practical compact car that was reliable and trusty.

Massive horsepower was out, and the Civic was in. Generations of different models bent the rules a little with the introduction of the ‘Type R’ badge, denoting some fire-breathing monsters in plain clothes.

The term VTEC became part of the parlance of the street, as Honda’s variable valve timing system gained notoriety and accolades in equal measure. Item — a Honda VTEC engine was the power plant of choice for the delightfully mad Ariel Atom ultralight sports car.

Now we’re ten Civic models deep, with a new RS Turbo on forecourts. It’s a long way from the shape of the original, with a bold and backswept silhouette that appears more like a sporty coupe than a sensible sedan.

The illusion is shattered when you open the door because it’s exceptionally roomy inside, and as tastefully — if not ostentatiously — appointed as an executive car should be. The Civic has moved subtly up market, to a level of gadgets, trim and indeed driving feel which was once the preserve of the top Honda, the Legend.

Which brings us to the nice balance of power and economy under the hood — a turbocharged four cylinder engine enhanced with VTEC pumps out 127kW of power and 220Nm of torque while still only sipping 6 litres of gasoline per 100 kilometres.

That’s a nice way to save money, and indeed, several of the best reviews for the Civic have come from those who buy and administer large corporate and governmental fleets. Which makes perfect sense for Honda.

Getting people quickly and comfortably to where they have to go is exactly what the Japanese firm is all about — that’s why they now produce one of the world’s most coveted private jet planes. Which, come to think of it, is a nice recommendation in itself. A car made by jet plane makers?

They might guess Saab — now sadly discontinued — or Rolls Royce. But how many of the others also make superbikes and dancing robots?