Ask Jack: Isn't The Civic Just… Smashing?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
ask jack isnt the civic just 8230 i smashing i

We all have our perversions, and here’s mine: I will always have a soft spot for ugly-duckling products that were eclipsed by the competition or cannibalized by their own relatives. First example: the Apple 3 (properly yclept Apple ///). We don’t have time here to discuss how and why the “business-focused” 8-bit Apple failed, but I will forever cherish the fact that Apple put out a service bulletin for improperly seated microchips where the fix was to pick it up and drop it like it was hot — because it was, in fact, too hot.

I could go on… and I will! The Fender Jazzmaster, the Omega Seamaster, the Members Only jacket that cost slightly more because it had a zipper breast pocket instead of the elastic-clinch one, the F-111. Show me something that didn’t quite catch the imagination of the public, and you will have my complete attention. If the reason for that lack of public attention has to do with the product involved being just a little bit too complex, demanding, fussy, or eccentric — well then, my friend, we are really cooking.

One such example of that in the automotive world was the fifth-generation Maxima, sold here from 2000-2003, with particular emphasis on the 3.5-liter, six-speed, limited-slip bad boys produced in the second half of the run. Those were slick-looking, powerful, deeply satisfying automobiles… that had absolutely zero appeal for the credit criminals and shifty-eyed fast-food night managers who, by my scientific calculations, make up ninety-six-point-three percent of Nissan’s customer base. Those people didn’t see the reason to buy a Maxima when they could get an Altima for less.

As a consequence, the sixth-generation Maxima became a giant Altima, the seventh-generation Maxima became a rarity, and the eighth-generation Maxima became a rental car.

Robert asks,

Something’s been bothering me ever since the new Civic came out. A couple of recent articles illuminate: “Camry Crusher”, and “Over the first 11 months of 2017, U.S. Camry volume tops tha IIIt of the Accord by just over 43,000 units.”

Civic “crushes” Camry, and Camry outsells Accord. Is the Accord’s biggest competition the new Civic? It’s practically as big as an Accord, and a very nice place to spend time in. I’ve seen this movie before, with the Altima and the Maxima. It didn’t end well for the Maxima. Is the new Civic too good?

There’s no doubt that today’s Civic is larger on the outside, and not that much smaller on the inside, than the Accords that made Honda an everyday sight across this United States. My little three-piece family does just fine in an Accord Coupe, which means we would also do just fine in a Civic sedan. The modern Civic is faster, quieter, and more feature-laden than those Accords of old, too. Combine that with the 10th-generation Accord’s partial metamorphosis into a near-luxury sedan, and it’s reasonable to ask if Honda hasn’t accidentally cut its own throat. Surely an Accord is more profitable than a Civic, and surely Honda would rather sell an Accord than a Civic. That’s tough to accomplish if the cheaper car meets the needs of most customers.

What I’d like to suggest in response to Robert, however, is this: The reason the Civic is outselling the Accord has very little to do with the Civic and absolutely everything to do with the CR-V. As the current base of Accord buyers ages, they are more and more likely to swap out for a higher seating position and less perceived hassle of operation. While I don’t personally believe that a CR-V matches an Accord for space and utility — hell, I’m not sure it matches a Civic liftback, come to think of it — the B&B have repeatedly assured me that the CR-V is, in fact, superior to the Accord in most ways.

In a world where the CR-V didn’t exist, or in a world where the Accord Crosstour had been handled a little better, you’d see Accord volume of 600,000 or more in this country, no sweat. Just add the CR-V and the Accord volume together to get an idea of how many they’d sell. It would be the modern equivalent of the chart-toppin’ 1977 Cutlass Supreme. The current sales strength of the Civic, Accord, and CR-V combined indicate that the Big Three have finally lost their remaining hold on their legacy sedan customers. There’s nothing unusual or controversial about buying a Honda anymore. Anyone can do it — and pretty much everyone does, sooner or later.

Speaking personally, I’ve been considering whether or not I wouldn’t be quite happy downsizing from my Accord to a little neon green Civic Si. It’s a neat car. The only reason I’m probably not gonna do it is this: My Accord is almost paid off, and with 53,500 miles on the odometer it still does a passable imitation of a new vehicle. Switching to a Civic would actually cost me money, not save me money. Plus, the Accord Coupe is just so… left-field these days. A two-door, V6, stick-shift front-driver? That’s like… the Apple /// of cars!

[Image: Honda]

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8 of 106 comments
  • Jc77 Jc77 on Dec 12, 2017

    In Europe where I come from, Honda itself is the Apple /// of cars. They build most of their models locally (in the UK) and have been desperately trying to market them for decades now; still, no one buys them. Even in Japan itself, where Honda obviously has a nice market share, no one would link this brand to "high quality". They buy them mostly because they're cheap. I rented a 2017 Civic once: after 1,500 feet, I totally understood why. The car might have been roomy and all, but it felt cheap, unrefined and clumsy. The interiors looked like a 1980s Citroën; it had a CVT, which some people might call "smooth", but to me, it felt very slow and unresponsive (even in the dubious "sport" mode, which kept a laughably low gear ratio and was unusable at highway speeds). Some of its technical solutions, such as the 1.5T engine or the rear multilink suspensions, are nothing impressive: European constructors have been using them for a long time now. Honda acts as a fast follower, not an innovator. I also tried a Golf, and even a Mazda 3, and I feel either is a much better car overall: more refined, more responsive, quicker. I'd honestly find no reasons to buy the Civic if you can get either of those. Perhaps Honda has just nailed the perfect recipe for the average American driver, which is the only way I can explain its success here.

    • See 5 previous
    • Jack Baruth Jack Baruth on Dec 13, 2017

      @DeadWeight I'm going to buy a second one just to upset you further.

  • Danny Danny on Dec 13, 2017

    I don't know what an Apple /// is honestly, but I've been driving an IS300 sportcross since spring of this year, and so far left field seems like a pretty nice place to be..

  • SilverCoupe I am one of those people whose Venn diagram of interests would include Audis and Formula One.I am not so much into Forums, though. I spend enough time just watching the races.
  • Jeff S Definitely and very soon. Build a hybrid pickup and price it in the Maverick price range. Toyota if they can do this soon could grab the No 1 spot from Maverick.
  • MaintenanceCosts Would be a neat car if restored, and a lot of good parts are there. But also a lot of very challenging obstacles, even just from what we can see from the pictures. It's going to be hard to justify a restoration financially.
  • Jeff S Ford was in a slump during this era and its savior was a few years away from being introduced. The 1986 Taurus and Sable saved Ford from bankruptcy and Ford bet the farm on them. Ford was also helped by the 1985 downsize front wheel drive full sized GM cars. Lincoln in 1987 even spoofed these new full size GM cars in an ad basically showing it was hard to tell the difference between a Cadillac, Buick, and Oldsmobile. This not only helped Lincoln sales but Mercury Grand Marquis and Ford Crown Victoria sales. For GM full size buyers that liked the downsized GM full size 77 to 84 they had the Panther based Lincoln Town Cars, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Ford Crown Victorias that were an alternative to the new GM front wheel drive full size cars that had many issues when they were introduced in 1985 and many of those issues were not resolved for several years. The Marks were losing popularity after the Mark Vs. 1985 was the last year for the rear wheel drive Olds Delta 88 and rear wheel drive Buick Lesabre the rear wheel Caprice and Caprice Classic 3rd generation continued till 1990 when it was redesigned. B Body Buick Estate wagons continued thru 1990 as the Olds Custom Cruiser wagon and both were redesigned. GM held onto a few rear wheel drive full size cars but the Lincoln ad really brought home the similarly looking front wheel drive full size cars. Lincoln's ad was masterful.
  • SCE to AUX Toyota the follower, as usual. It will be 5 years before such a vehicle is available.I can't think of anything innovative from them since the Gen 1 Prius. Even their mythical solid state battery remains vaporware.They look like pre-2009 General Motors. They could fall hard.