Modern classic: thirtysomething Honda Civic
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Half an hour down the motorway from the Auckland CBD, my shirt is drenched. And I do mean drenched; I fear for the pristine velour on the driver’s seat. In 1992, it was not a given for a small car to have air conditioning.
I’ll admit I struggled getting out of the garage. There was a lot more pectoral action than I expected to execute a simple three-point turn and exit. In 1992, it was not a given for a small car to have power steering.
And I am a tad nervous on the motorway, which is blurry with bizarre manoeuvres (must be the heat). In 1992, it was not a given for a small car to have anti-lock brakes.
I also can’t stop staring at the cassette player and coin drawer. In 1992, motorists had mix-tapes and change for parking.
Thirty years ago, I would not have given any of the above a thought. It would have been perfectly normal. Now I feel a bit out of my depth. It really is hard to age gracefully. Me I mean, not the car.
The car is mint. Honda New Zealand has a great garage of “heritage” cars and we wouldn’t miss an opportunity to drive one. This NZ-assembled 1992 Civic three-door has been owned by the company from new and while it’s an utterly mainstream 1.3-litre model (which I like it all the more for), its USP is that it’s done 417,045km with only oil, tyres, brake pads/discs and light bulbs replaced. Just routine maintenance, in other words.
It safe to say it’s been well cared for and carefully stored, but it’s no museum piece. The bonnet is sprayed with stone chips; while the seats are in outstanding condition, they’ve also clearly been lived in.
In fairness to Honda’s technological progress, 1992 was right at the end of the model cycle for this fourth-generation Civic, which was replaced by the much more modern fifth-gen EG model in late-1991. It won Japanese Car of the Year.
So it’s all the more remarkable that this car feels so good. It seems tiny by modern small-car standards, but that also means it’s light and nimble. The unassisted steering is a feelgood throwback (well, it was Thursday when I drove it), the manual gearbox incredibly slick and the performance feels way more impressive than 56kW/102Nm would suggest.
A quick look at the registration card and it appears that we’re driving the Civic within a few days of its 30th birthday. Nice.
Like an original Casio G-Shock or Sony PlayStation, the kids these days would call this car vintage. Time travel back to the 1990s (well, this is more a 1980s car to be honest) comfort/convenience and safety tech and yes, you can see that. But to drive, it’s still surprisingly crisp and modern in character. It’s me that I’m more worried about.