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Popularity Contest: Civic and F-150 vs. The World

For decades, the Honda Civic [1] has been widely considered a rock solid choice for everything from a first car, to a family car, to tuner racing car since the 1970s. When it comes to trucks, the same general sentiment applies to the Ford F-150 [2]. Let’s take a closer look at why these two vehicles have established themselves as benchmarks for their respective classes.

Civic Dominates the Car Market

The Honda Civic’s entire history can be summed up into one word: reliability. Way back in the 1970s, the car buying landscape was quite a bit different than today. While Americans had preferred the “Big 3″ American automakers, changes in the ’70s with substandard materials and new assembly practices lead to many disappointed customers. Although American manufacturers have closed the quality gap [3] with Japanese brands, back then, thousands of customers gave the little Honda a try and never looked anywhere else. Over generations, repeat customers have remained loyal to the Civic, while new car buyers have accepted it as the standard for its class.

Then there’s the gas mileage. Did we mention this was the ’70s? At that time, Oldsmobile thought the ideal car for commuting to work was their 98, a 4,700-pound coupe with a 7.5L V8. Most owners hoped for MPGs in the teens. After the infamous oil crisis, car buyers were not amused with poor gas mileage. Enter the first generation Civic in 1972. Who cares that it only had 50 horsepower, when that 40 MPG highway figure looked so mightily impressive.

Finally, there’s the value of the Civic. The original Civic was relatively cheap, but provided surprising amounts of interior space for the price. While American brands considered economy cars the entry models, and used better options on more expensive models to upsell, Honda loaded up their cars. The Civic and Accord were small by American standards of the era, but were standard size cars in Japan and didn’t face a stigma. Honda loaded the Civic like they would in Japan, allowing options you could not get on a similarly priced Pinto or Vega. It’s affordably priced, but long on features.

The formula that worked over 40 years ago still works today. The Civic is still known for quality and reliability, gets great gas mileage, and can be loaded with features. It’s an IIHS Top Safety Pick [4], and one of the most awarded cars on Kelley Blue Book, including numerous Car of the Year awards.

That’s not to say the competition isn’t worth shopping though. The Ford Focus [5] wins multiple awards with each generation, and the Chevy Cruze [6] recently bested the Civic in a Consumer Reports [7] comparison.

F-150: the King of Trucks

It’s not just the Civic that enjoys a class-leading distinction. The Ford F-150 is the undisputed sales leader for an astounding 40 years [8]. For reference, entire car companies have been created and then gone under, all while the F-150 reigned over truck sales. What’s going on there?

Around the same time the second generation Honda Civic hit the showroom, Ford picked up the lead in truck sales and did not let it go. The F-Series had been around since 1948, but the F-150 only appeared on the scene in 1975, slotted between the lightweight F-100 and heavy duty F-250. Optioned up to a massive 460 cubic inch V8, with useful interior options and a new grille design, the 1976 took the sales lead over the Chevrolet C/K, which was looking a bit too squared off and old-school for the times. Ford learned from this generation, and built the succeeding F-150s to the same standards of durability, utility, and good looks. It also doesn’t hurt that a number of F-150s go to fleet sales, with everyone from construction companies to government agencies needing trucks each year.

Kelley Blue Book [9] listed the F-150 as a Best Buy pick for the third year in a row, and the current generation is an IIHS Top Safety Pick [10] for its impeccable crash rating scores.

If Ford isn’t your style, don’t worry. The competition is trying hard to keep up, so the Chevrolet Silverado [11] and the Dodge Ram [12] are excellent options, too.

Generally speaking, the class leaders are dominant for a reason. They have provided their drivers the most value over the years in order to become the legend or the sales leader. Going with a class leader won’t let you down, but don’t be shy to compare and contrast these selections with other similarly trusted options.

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