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

2016 Honda Civic Sedan - Image: Honda

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 BB 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]