In 1987, Honda Motor Company did something terribly right, something that would forever change the way the automotive performance rank and file would view the brand. On the heels of a global car market that had shifted from thrilling albeit environmentally careless domestics to more Earth-loving yet characterless subcompacts, Honda introduced the world to the greatest trade-off yet: the fourth-generation Civic. Consider the foundation for Honda performance officially laid.
The 1988 model year Civic was Honda’s sleekest to date—its hood line lowered, its glass expanse increased, its wheelbase longer. This new Civic’s aerodynamic adeptness and no-nonsense rigid structure yet light weight was something special, typically uncharacteristic of cars of its class. Fuel injection was now standard for all U.S.-bound trims, and a new-for-’88 sedan was introduced, accompanying revived hatchback, wagon, and CRX models. But if it wasn’t for Honda’s thoroughly reinvented double-wishbone suspension and all-new four-cylinder D16A6 engine, it’s unlikely any of us would be babbling on about the Japanese auto firm’s fourth-term Civic some quarter of a century later.
To this day, few suspension configurations are as tidy, as well packaged, and as formidable as Honda’s unequal-length A-arm arrangement, also known as its “double-wishbone” suspension. The now-historically validated layout features single upper and lower A-arms (wishbones) for each front corner and a multi-link trailing-arm rear suspension that each pivot against the chassis as well as their suspension members. Compared to older Civics’ timeworn front torsion bar suspensions, double-wishbone layouts allowed for improved handling and better stiffening in factory form and yield far more options in terms of performance improvements. Honda employed its famed double-wishbone suspension on its Civic line for 13 model years until adopting its current MacPherson strut layout.
Club racers immediately latched onto this alternative race car, not just because of its forward-thinking suspension, but also because of the Civic Si hatchback’s and CRX Si’s D16A6 powerplant that set the pace for more performance-minded engines that would be developed later. Honda’s most powerful, most durable single-overhead-camshaft Civic engine yet, the D16A6 was also its largest, pushing a class-leading 106hp thanks to more cubic inches, a 9.1:1 compression ratio, and a 7,100-rpm redline that was made possible from a thoughtfully configured 1.52:1 rod/stroke ratio. The Si’s 16-valve cylinder head with its redesigned water jackets provided more predicable cooling for racers and featured one of Honda’s most optimally designed intake and exhaust ports—ones that were straighter and arguably capable of flowing better than even later VTEC heads. And all of this was for the Si—a no-nonsense sporty sort of car that didn’t waste itself on accoutrements like power steering or an automatic transmission.
Honda’s ’88–’91 Civic must also be credited for the Honda engine swap revolution’s humble beginnings. Early tuners looked to the Japanese market’s twin-cam ZC engine and began transplanting those into place before the body style’s four-year life span was fulfilled. As the fifth-generation model was introduced, those same tuners began experimenting with the more complex, 150hp B16A transplant, which was also sourced from Japanese-specific trims. Those early B-series engine swaps are undoubtedly responsible for the next 20-some years’ worth of transplanting, building, tuning, and racing, all in the name of Honda’s Civic.
|Trims And Chassis Codes|
|'88-'91 Civic Hatchback: Std, DX (ED6), Si(ED7)|
|'88-'91 Civic Sedan: DX, LX (ED3), EX (ED4)|
|'88-'91 Civic Wagon: DX (EE2), Wagovan (EY2), RT4WD(EE4)|
|'88-'91 CRX: DX, HF (ED8), Si (ED9)|
|D15B1: Std, 70hp, 16-valve, SOHC|
|D15B2: DX, LX, Wagovan, 92hp, 16-valve SOHC|
|D15B6: HF, 72hp, 16-valve SOHC|
|D16A6: EX, Si, RT4WD, 105hp, 16-valve SOHC|
|Curb Weights (MT)|
|Std hatchback ('88/'89/'90-'91): 1,933/2,013/2,127 lb|
|DX hatchback ('88/'89/'90-'91): 1,933/2,088/2,165 lb|
|Si hatchback ('89/'90-'91): 2,161/2,291 lb|
|DX sedan ('88/'89/'90-'91): 2,039/2,147/2,262 lb|
|LX sedan ('88/'89/'90-'91): 2,138/2,211/2,322 lb|
|EX sedan ('90-'91): 2,374 lb|
|DX Wagon, Wagovan ('88-'91): 2,262 lb|
|Wagon RT4WD ('88-'91): 2,515 LB|
|DX CRX ('88/'89/'90-'91): 1,922/2,048/2,103 lb|
|HF CRX ('88/'89/'90-'91): 1,922/2,048/2,103 lb|
|Si CRX ('88/'89/'90-'91): 2,017/2,075/2,174 lb|