THE MAN from Chrysler didn't come to praise Honda. He came to bury it. After all, he was pushing a competitive product.
But the fellow just couldn't help himself.
"They're so innovative," he said over lunch. "I don't know how they do it. Honda always seems to come up with the right thing. They're good, very good."
He must have driven a Honda Civic 4WD four-wheel-drive. I did, and I didn't want to give it back. I loved that little station wagon.
I don't know if the people at Japan's Honda Motor Co. Ltd. "make it simple," as some of the company's ads used to say. I just know that they make it right, and that's good enough for me.
Outstanding complaints: Minor. Wind noise was the most noticeable and persistent gremlin. Add a bit of road noise to complete the gripes. Both are reasonably acceptable irritants, the kind that seem to go away over time, the sort of things that can be expected in an economy vehicle that weighs only 2,222 pounds.
Outstanding praise: The good thing about the Civic 4WD is that it doesn't pretend to be anything other than an economy wagon meant to service families. There is ample room for five bodies and as many bags of groceries. The interior fabric is tough, but comfortable -- a spilled soft drink mixed with chocolate-candy smudges won't ruin your day in this wagon.
The analog instruments are easy to see and read. The on-demand, four-wheel-drive function comes as easily as pressing a button; and, thank goodness, it is difficult to press this four-wheel-drive button by accident.
Oh, yes, the four-wheel-drive function works just fine on rain-slick roads and similarly discomfiting thoroughfares.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Very good. The relatively short wheelbase of 96.5 inches does mean some bouncing about over bups. But the wagon is stable on most roads, and it does well on turns. It's powered by a 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder gasoline engine. There is a six-speed transmission, with the sixth speed serving as a special low gear for extra pulling power. All of this is very practical stuff designed to give reasonable drivers very good acceleration and handling.
Reasonable? Yeah. This is a family station wagon. Family station wagons aren't meant to be driven like sports machines or other fancy wheels.
Head-turning-quotient: Cute. Looks great at PTA meetings and Sunday services.
Sound system: Mobile-Muzak quality. It's okay if all you want is "easy listening."
Mileage: I got about 31 miles per gallon, combined city-highway, mostly running driver- only with windows up and fresh-air vents open. Actually, I thought that the 12.1-gallon tank in this wagon would never reach empty. Use unleaded fuels only.
Price-as-tested: $9,649, including air conditioner and AM-FM stereo. This was a 19851/2 model. Add about $387 to the overall price of the 1986 wagon, which is practically identical to the tested model.