BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Although most associate the 'Aerodeck' product designation with early three-door Accords, the Civic Aerodeck did respectable business for Honda right up until the introduction of the current Civic range in 2001. Built at Honda's Swindon factory, the Aerodeck was a long way away from its wacky progenitor, offering a more conservative feel that paid dividends with handsome sales. As a used purchase, some may feel that a later car offers poor value in comparison to the great strides that the current car has made. We wouldn't argue, the earlier models offering keener VFM. Whatever model you choose, you can count on sound engineering and an eye for detail, if not eyecatching looks.
Models Covered: Aerodeck estate: (1.5LS, 1.6LS, 1.6ES, 1.6SE, 1.6 SE Sport, 1.6SE Executive, 1.6SE Executive Sport, 1.8VTi)
Although the Civic 5-door version upon which the Aerodeck is based debuted in March 1995, British customers had to wait until February 1998 to get their hands on an estate version. The range initially consisted of four models, a 113bhp 1.5i LS, a 114bhp 1.6i LS Auto and S manual plus the range topping 167bhp 1.8 VTi. The 1.5-litre model didn't stay too long, the range being updated in early 1999 with the introduction of the 123bhp 1.6i VTEC ES. Late in 1999, Honda revised the model line-up, bringing trim level designations into line with the larger Accord. This meant the model range then consisted of the 1.6i VTEC SE, the 1.6 VTEC SE Sport, the 1.6 VTEC SE Executive, the 1.6 VTEC SE Executive Sport and the perennial 1.8VTi. Nice. These models lasted right through until the introduction of the seventh generation Civic in March 2001.
What You Get
The Civic struggles when it comes to accommodating anything much more than a weekend's luggage. That said, up to window height, the Aero deck's load area is actually the deepest and widest in the Escort/Astra-sized class. Above this level, the jauntily sloping rear end robs ultimate carrying space - which is perhaps one reason why the total carrying capacity (835 litres with the rear seats folded) isn't quite so impressive. At least (crucially for this market) you can fit a set of golf clubs across the back. Nice touches include two small removable side lockers mounted behind the rear wheel arches. There are also four chromed luggage tie-down points (though no luggage net to tie to them). You also get a 'roller blind'-type luggage cover to shield your valuables from prying eyes and roof-mounted rear speakers. All models get twin front airbags and the usual electrical bits and pieces including remote central locking and air conditioning. The neat if not memorable exterior styling will be a matter of personal taste. It certainly won't put you off. The interior meanwhile, is spacious and comfortable, if not ultimately roomy enough to justify rather hopeful Honda aspirations that their new car might steal sales from Mondeos and Vectras in the next class up. Pitch it against the Vauxhall Astra, Ford Focus and Peugeot 306 however, and you'll have no complaints. In fact, the exemplary driving position, sweet-shifting gearbox and careful dashboard design leave a distinctly favourable impression. It's also hard not to be impressed by the willing nature of the various engines on offer, despite the fact that you have to rev them pretty hard to translate much of their potential performance to the tarmac.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Very little: the car tends to prove predictably reliable. Your biggest problem will be sifting through the extraordinary number of engine and trim permutations to find the model that best suits your budget. Whatever you decide on, a full service history is preferable.
(based on a 1998R-reg 1.6 - approx ex-Vat) A full exhaust system (excluding catalyst) is around £170 and a full clutch assembly around £130. Front and rear brake pads are around £45 and £40 respectively per set. A starter motor is around £290, a radiator around £130, an alternator around £290 and a front headlamp around £70.
On the Road
On the road, it feels, as you would expect, just like a Civic five-door. That means a wonderfully slick five-speed gearbox but a rather firm suspension set-up that can mean a rather jiggly ride on some surfaces. If you're at the wheel of a VTi version and you've a drop of racing blood in your veins, you won't be able to resist revving that engine; the noise it makes is so addictive you'll soon be switching off your stereo to listen to it instead. All notion of split/fold seats and cubic litres of carrying capacity can be quickly forgotten when you have a car that can accelerate to 60mph in 8.6 seconds and onto 133mph. One in three Aerodeck buyers plumped for the VTi. After driving one it makes you wonder what got into the rest.
Never the most stylish compact 'lifestyle' estate around, the Civic struggled against newer and more glamorous fare. Hobbled by the fact that it was considered old hat even at launch, the Civic Aerodeck nevertheless offer, in VTi form at least, something worth buying. An early well looked after VTi is a diverting source for your £7,500 offering as it does a modicum of practicality and one of the best exhaust notes this side of, well, a Honda S2000. That and the astonished look on peoples faces as you disappear into the distance is worth the price of admission alone.