The 1989 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Was a Weird Innovator

Just like a Porsche 959, this humble Honda had variable four-wheel drive and a six-speed gearbox.

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FlickrOld Honda Brochures

The 1989 Honda Civic Wagon is a strange-looking car today. Viewed in profile, it seems like there's as much window as there is sheetmetal. But, in the great Honda tradition, it was a brilliant, innovative machine. Especially when equipped with RealTime 4WD.

This was one of the first mainstream all-wheel drive systems that could automatically vary the torque distribution between the front and rear axles. To reduce parasitic losses in normal driving, power was only sent to the front axle. If the rear wheels lost grip, some of that power could be sent that way via a center differential with a viscous coupling. That's how a lot of all-wheel drive systems operate today, but in 1989, this sort of thing was reserved for performance cars, like the Porsche 959 and Nissan Skyline GT-R.

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And also like the 959, the Civic 4WD came with a six-speed manual gearbox, where first was an ultra-low gear to be used mainly in low-grip conditions. The Civic 4WD's transmission was hooked up to the same 16-valve 1.6-liter four-cylinder found in the CRX Si, which made a little over 100 horsepower. It doesn't sound impressive by today's standards, but family cars at the time rarely used four-valve cylinder heads. Even a BMW 3-Series didn't feature such exotica back then.

Plus, that odd styling made the Civic very practical, with lots of room for passengers and their cargo. The interior was beautifully laid out, and well-built, too, as you'd expect from a Honda.

Amazingly, all of this cost around $10,000, which is around $20,000 in today's money. A Porsche 959, by contrast, cost over $300,000.

So why do we have all this sudden nostalgia for an old Honda wagon? Motorweek put up an old video review from 1989, reminding us of its greatness. Watch, and enjoy.

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