Wagovan Legend: Honda's Funky & Cool 4x4 Civic Wagon Paved the Way for the CR-V & The Crossover Revolution
We recently took a look back through Honda history to learn about the birth and evolution of the CR-V, the crossover SUV that's now one of the company's best-selling and most important products.
And while the debut of the CR-V in the mid-1990s was a pretty big deal for Honda, the company actually started building what was effectively an early crossover SUV over a decade before that.
Father of the CR-V
As we noted in our look back at the origins of the CR-V, the little SUV was developed on a modified version of the platform used by the Civic, but there'd already been a roomier, more all-terrain capable version of the Civic available since the early '80s.
You probably know this classic Honda. It had a few different names over its lifespan, including: "Civic Wagon," "Civic Shuttle," "Wagovan," and even "Beagle."
The first two generations of the Civic were both available as traditional five-door station wagons with extended cargo areas, but for the new third-generation model in 1984, the Civic Wagon adopted a new, much taller profile that was as reminiscent of an SUV or van as it was a station wagon.
In fact, in the US market Honda even used the name "Wagovan" to market it. Initially, the five-door wagon was offered only with the same FWD drivetrain as the other Civics, it was basically a more spacious and utilitarian version of the existing Civic two-door hatchback and sedan.
More Than Just a Wagon
But in 1985, Honda added a new part-time four-wheel-drive option, which was activated via a button on the dashboard. The setup also added a low-speed gear to the five-speed manual transmission that could only be selected when the car was in 4WD. It also got a slight ground clearance increase over the FWD model.
At the time it seemed more like an interesting novelty or a nice choice for Civic buyers in winter climates as well as a competitor for Toyota's similar Tercel Wagon 4x4, but the 4WD Civic Wagon also became an early ancestor of the CR-V.
A second generation of the Civic wagon arrived for the 1988 model year carrying a similar profile but now riding on the new EF Civic platform.
The 4WD model continued to be offered, now with a redesigned "Real-Time" 4WD system that could automatically send power to the rear wheels when needed.
The "RT4WD" Civic Wagon continued to be an unusual but popular entry in the compact segment, improved by the EF chassis' new suspension setup and its standard fuel-injected engine.
The car was also sold in Japan where it was known as the Civic Shuttle. And in the 1990s there was even a Japanese market version of the Shuttle known as the "Beagle," which had some SUV-inspired styling elements and was positioned against other AWD cars from brands like Subaru.
A Cult Hero
In America 1991 was the last year for the Civic Wagon, but in Japan EF-based Shuttle continued to be offered in Japan until 1996, more than five years after the other EF Civics were replaced.
A new Civic wagon called the Orthia was introduced for Japan in 1996, but it was but was more of work vehicle with a traditional station wagon layout. The 4WD Shuttle, would essentially be replaced by the new purpose-built SUV called the CR-V—and the rest is history.
Today the 4WD Civic wagons of the '80s and early '90s are cult classics and emerging classics. And enterprising enthusiasts have used the boxy wagons to build everything from high-performance street sleepers and track cars to pint-sized trail machines with lift kits and all-terrain tires.
But more than just being a cult favorite from the '80s, the 4WD Honda Civic Wagon should very much get credit for being an early version of the CR-V formula that's helped lead Honda to so much mainstream success today.
More From Driving Line
- Want to know about the American version of the 4WD Civic Wagon? Here's a look back at the AMC Eagle.