Automotive Design

Honda Civic Teaches a Lesson on Evolutionary Design

Eleventh-generation coupé and sedan show that, sometimes, it is possible to change a winning team for the better

Complete redesigns are widely praised because they are a chance to please everyone. Automakers can employ their newest technologies, dealers get something exciting to offer, the specialized press attracts several new viewers and readers… and the public can get their hands on the best the category has to offer at that moment.

Partial facelifts are widely praised because they are a chance to keep pleasing everyone. Automakers can update some of the technologies in use, dealers get new arguments to sell their products, the specialized press gets a great chance to compare new and old… and the public can get their hands on an improved version of a proven model.

As it turns out, the intermediate option between those also has potential to be widely praised. In theory, evolutionary design combines the chance to employ fresh solutions for fuel efficiency, performance, safety, and technology while preserving the visual elements which made the outgoing car successful. But how is that done in practice?

When cars age like wine

Even though there has been positive feedback for the current style, it will get old someday. Evolutionary design aims at preserving the core characteristics which made it attractive while replacing details for others which will refresh the general appearance and create sort of an updated version of it instead of a whole different interpretation.

The outgoing Civic wanted to impress and, for that, applied plenty of angular shapes, chrome trim, flashy lights, and creased sheetmetal; the sedan version went further and moved to the four-door coupé style that has been in fashion for some years while hatchback and two-door coupé focused on an aggressive type of visual sportiness.

While such detailed designs are breathtaking at first, they get old fast because there is too much “information” to process and not all parts go along with one another so well. The new Civic employs simpler shapes, rounded contours and fewer details. It may no longer be a showstopper, but it definitely has potential to remain attractive for years.

Personality deviation

Design is a language and, as such, has subtleties of its own. Common elements like shape, color, and trim work as words and sentences: we can toy with them to convey different meanings and send different messages. Automakers use all that every time they create or redesign a car, but it plays a special part when it comes to evolutionary design.

Part of that “dress to impress” flair of the outgoing Civic comes from the body. The roofline has smooth transitions, the windows are short, and the sides use discreet creases. All those elements make the car larger than it really is — that is even more noticeable on the hatchback because of its taller rear portion and the use of a flashy spoiler.

The new model’s most symbolic difference is the more angular transition from the windshield to the hood: the cabin seems pushed to the rear and makes the hood longer. Pairing that to a lower waistline with such strong and horizontal crease resembles what German companies to do enhance their cars’ penchant for performance driving.

Can’t win every time

While evolutionary design is made to merely address the predecessor’s flaws, that is not what happens in practice. Every update produces a decision for the company to make and they are not always the right ones: the outgoing Civic is so impressive that changing it would obviously cause some extent of negative reception from people and press.

The Civic competes in different market categories according to the region and, because of that, has many direct rivals. One of the reasons why the old design got so much praise is simply the fact that it stood out: you could get something quite attractive without paying a lot. The upcoming model is far from ugly but seems to have lost this edge.

Honda knows that some of the outgoing Civic’s buyers are going to move their business elsewhere, but that is a consequence of a plan: it has created a whole new visual identity which trades away blatant sportiness for mature style and focus on energetic efficiency. That can already be observed on the all-new HR-V crossover released months ago.

Honda has used the Civic’s new generation as a chance to evolve the previous design. Everyone says it became blander and more conservative, but now it is time to hear what you have to say: what do you think of evolutionary design for automobiles after reading this example? Feel free to share your ideas using the comment button below!

Writer and future engineer striving to work with car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.