VIDEO: The 1985 Honda Civic Wagon was the first crossover

Today’s market isn’t particularly kind to small cars, or cars in general, as the would-be small cars on stilts we know as crossovers dominate the sales charts. There was a time in 1985, however, when you could buy a literal crossover, a perfect pairing of utility, tossable driving dynamics, and fuel economy. Enter the third-generation Honda Civic five-door Wagon.

Motorweek’s first impression of the Civic Wagon was that it was “styled more like an aerodynamic refrigerator than a car.” That was, until they opened the rear hatch and found it to be more like a commercial grade walk-in freezer. $7,195 bought you a Civic with a cavernous, flat, tall, and wide cargo bay that allowed for ten different configurations, accommodating luggage of all shapes and sizes.

Moreover, every nook and cranny had a touch of Honda’s clever packaging and innovation — angle-adjustable and retractable headrests, under-seat storage trays, retractable center dash vent, hatch release button, and generous side pockets that could be filled with volumes of Rand McNally road atlases.

Its Civic DNA shined through while on the slalom, displaying a well-balanced poise which was described to be “almost sports car-like,” all while carrying a tall profile and greenhouse never before seen on a Civic.

Two transmissions were available, a three speed automatic, and a five speed manual. Motorweek‘s test car, with its 12-valve, 1.5-liter four generating 76 horses and 84 lb-ft of torque, resulted in a respectable-for-its-time 30 city, 34 highway mpg. Combined efforts yielded 32 mpg average, matching that of its tidy turning circle of 32 feet. For $1,505 more, you got 4WD with a push of a button, and an inch of ground clearance.

Honda got the crossover right the first time, back in 1985. In fact, the Civic Wagon led directly to the creation of an actual crossover a decade later, the Honda CR-V. It’s a direct lineage that is rarely talked about, but if you need proof, just look at the shape of the rear side window.

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12 Responses to VIDEO: The 1985 Honda Civic Wagon was the first crossover

  1. MWC70 says:

    I dunno – I thought the Tercel AWD wagon beat them to the punch…1983ish

  2. dankan says:

    While I get where you are going, I think that this shape is much more of a recurring idea that Honda keeps coming back to under different names. In 1985 it was a Civic wagon, but now it’s 4 generations of Honda Fit. It seems to be one of the core cars Honda thinks of, but the market doesn’t always agree, so we get CR-Vs and HR-Vs instead.

  3. Mark F Newton-John says:

    No. Not a crossover even in the 2021 sense. Tall wagon yes. Crossover, no.

  4. Tygerleo says:

    Civic Wagon is one of my all time favorite vehicles, others are 944, E28, W124 (sedan, wagon and coupe) and Marita. Honda did something right in 80s and 90s, its products were fresh, modern, reliable, sporty and good value. I recalled Consumer Report claimed the 1989 Civic Wagon (the replacement model of this one here) handling was better than sedan. This one is more economical on fuel than the 1989 model, which has fuel injection engine. My question is what is the equivalent today model on Civic Wagon, Crosstrack, Souls, Matrix or xB.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Seems like it would be along the lines of the Hyundai i30 Tourer, which we don’t get in the US.

      • Tygerleo says:

        i30 wagon is just a regular small wagon we all used to see. Elentra is used to have wagon version in US. Actually I missed two vehicles that are modern version of Civic Wagon, they are Impeza Outback and Golf Sportwagon (regular and Alltrac). I think Golf Sportwagon even has version like the Outback with higher clearance.

  5. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    People’s or “the market’s” idea of utility has become so warped… My father had one of these. I still have a Xb*. I really challenge people to cram all the crap they need to haul in these little workhorses. They’re more than enough for 90% of the time.

    PSA: Get the Gen I. The 2AZ-FE in the Gen II is a nightmare. I’m SO sorry I sold my Gen I.

  6. Brycen Phillips says:

    I’m always keeping an eye out for a clean one of these to swap the engine from my 1g crx si rallyX car into when the body rusts out! Almost got one last month but someone beat me to it.

  7. Damian says:

    I would say that the Alfa 33 4×4 wagon of 1983 beat it to market. But in a US centric world one can be forgiven for completely excluding anything from Europe.
    I would also say that many famous cars including Hondas were inspired by European cars of the time.

  8. Juan Martínez says:

    I got one fully functional from 1987 with 90,000 miles run

  9. james says:

    if I actually find one of these, (I don’t care how far I’d need to go),I’d definitely buy it. I always liked the Civic Wagovan since I was a kid.

  10. Leonard Kruwel says:

    Loving my 1985 Wagon since 1987. The absolute Swiss Army Knife of cars. 238K miles. Okay, not the original Engine or Trans, but stuff happens. I will keep it as long as I can get it through CA smog.

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