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Civic, Prelude models restructured by Honda


Sales are down, but that didn't keep Honda (and its upscale Acura line) from passing Chrysler to become the third-leading seller of passenger cars in the United States for the 1991 model year.

Sales of the Honda Accord are down, too, but that didn't keep it from being the best-selling car in the United States for the third straight year.

Honda's good news-bad news spin on a bad news year for the worldwide auto industry was the backdrop for the Japanese automaker's introduction of its redesigned and re-engineered 1992 Civic and Prelude models. The new models are perfect symbols for how Honda and other carmakers will sell cars in the '90s: They're safer, better for the environment and designed with customers in mind.

Here's a look at the new models:

Civic -- Introduced in 1972, Civics have evolved over the years, staying on the cutting edge of technology while remaining affordable. The new Civics are larger, more powerful and more fuel efficient than previous models.

Three sedans and four hatchback models are available. Prices range from $10,555 to $14,325. The new Civic sedan has evolved into a classier car as curves and soft angles have replaced the sharper edges of the '91 model. Designers borrowed the cabin-forward concept from the Accord, making the car more roomy and aerodynamic. The Civic sedan now has the longest wheelbase in its class.

Changes are less apparent on the hatchback. The biggest change is the two-piece hatch, which provides easier access. There's also an unusual single pedestal headrest.

Four new engines are available. The so-called lean-burn engine in the Civic VX hatchback has gotten the most attention. Its complicated system of valves adjusts the mixture of gas and air going into the cylinder. More gas is added at lower speeds to boost power, but the mixture is thinned as the car reaches cruising speeds. This limits the fuel used at highway speeds, thereby increasing mileage.

Increased nitrogen oxide emissions prohibit Honda from offering the engine in California. Civic VX models sold in California will feature the same VTEC-E engine with a more restrictive air-fuel flow. California mileage will be 44 city and 51 highway.

Driver's side airbags are in all Hondas, including the compact Civics. All Civics feature multi-point programmed fuel injection, front-and-rear double-wishbone suspension and a five-speed manual transmission. An automatic transmission is an option on the DX hatchback and all sedan models. Power front disc and rear drum brakes are standard on all models except the Si hatchback and EX sedan, which have four-wheel disc brakes. The EX sedan also has anti-lock brakes.

Civic sedans have a longer wheelbase than previous models. Variable-diameter, tubular door reinforcing beams add to structural integrity. Ventilation has been improved with a large, upper-level air vent, and beverage holders have been added.

Civic hatchbacks are longer, have a longer wheelbase and have increased body rigidity, all contributing to better ride comfort and handling. The rear seat back, split down the middle, folds down to increase cargo capacity. The new two-piece hatch offers more convenient loading access.

All Civics feature a three-year, 36,000-mile limited warranty.

Prelude -- Emory Robert of Honda's product planning department said designers of the fourth-generation Prelude "started with a blank sheet of paper." What they ended up with is a car that finally looks like it fits into the sporty coupe segment. Most distinctive are the large, wedge-shaped tail lights and the fade-to-black instrument panel.

The length, height and wheelbase of the new Prelude are down, but the car's width has been increased by five inches. Now in its fourth generation, the Prelude was introduced in 1979.

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