The ’01–’05 Civic brought with it from the factory the first Honda engine bay capable of housing the company’s newest twin-cam four-cylinder engine, the K series. It was also the first Civic to offer a hybrid version, and the first to strip itself of Honda’s famed double-wishbone suspension in favor of more cost-effective, comfort-minded MacPherson struts. It was the ultimate trade-off in a long line of previously sub-2.0L Civics with power-to-weight ratios that diminished with each model year revision.
The seventh-generation Civic was arguably the first of Honda’s entry-level subcompacts to not be wholeheartedly welcomed by the performance community. Coupe and sedan models with their newly refined lines appealed less to enthusiasts than their predecessors, and hatchback models were stripped of their classic, playfully bubble-like shapes that personified earlier generations of three-door Civics. It’s no secret that 2001 marked the end of an era when Honda could do no wrong—when it could design, build, and sell Civics to enthusiasts by default. Eleven years later, though, and we ought to all reconsider Honda’s post subcompact-domination Civic because it just may be more special than we’d thought.
By 2001, Honda’s Civic was being sold in more than 140 countries. It became the first Honda to launch simultaneously throughout the world and, frankly, had millions to answer to who, incidentally, didn’t care about things like the dynamics of MacPherson struts versus conventional shocks. Its new Civic recipe—with select models now being built in Swindon, England, and designed in both Japan and North America—was working. After all, Honda never intended for its award-winning subcompact to necessarily win the hearts and minds of enthusiasts. Instead, the company is on record saying that the seventh-generation Civic would go beyond its traditional role, aiming to elevate it into a class by itself.
Prior to the 160hp Si’s 2002 debut, ’01 coupe and sedan models were released, which boasted the company’s most powerful and fuel-efficient D-series engines to date, with EX models measuring in at 127hp, and HX trims achieving an impressive 44 mpg. The more compact MacPherson strut setup in the front, although criticized by some enthusiasts for its shorter range of motion and reduced articulation, afforded more room for the larger-displacement K20A3, which would be introduced in the Civic Si a year later, and more room inside, in part thanks to a flatter floor, making the ’01–’05 Civic more spacious than even previous years’ Accords. And its newly designed double-wishbone rear suspension, which uses the term “double-wishbone” in the loosest sense, is also more compact, lending itself to even more interior space.
If marketing points like “more headroom” or “two additional cubic feet of cargo space” bore you, though, then the Si model, released in 2002 and only in hatchback form, would’ve surely riled you up. Aside from Acura’s RSX, the Si was the only North American–bound Honda to be fitted with a 2.0L K-series engine and was the first time North Americans were privy to an Si in hatchback styling since 1995. Although not as robust as the K20A2, the A3 still featured Honda’s VTC system, which improved upon its standardized VTEC technology by continuously manipulating intake camshaft phasing electronically. Combine that with Honda’s first-ever dash-mounted shifter that was paired to a close-ratio, five-speed gearbox, standard rear disc brakes, a first-ever electronic power steering system, and a stiffer suspension when compared to the rest of the Civic lineup and, on paper, you’ve got the makings for what one would assume to be Honda’s best Si to date.
Unfortunately, Honda’s failure to produce an ’01 model year Si stifled its popularity early on. While the company wafted, Subaru was moving its WRX, Toyota its Celica GT-S, VW its GTI, and Ford its Focus SVT. Honda loyalists waited, but many fled for brands more readily available. Despite the low production numbers, European-like styling, and performance that, frankly, hardly bested the ’99–’00 Si, the seventh-generation Civic—particularly the Si—should continue to hold a special place in the hearts and minds of any dyed-in-the-wool Honda fan.
|Trims and U.S. Chassis codes|
|’02–’05 Civic Hatchback: Si (EP3)|
|’01–’05 Civic Coupe: DX (EM2), VP (EM2), LX (EM2), EX (EM2), and HX (EM2)|
|’01–’05 Civic Sedan: DX (ES1), VP (ES1), LX (ES1), EX (ES2), GX (EN2), and Hybrid (ES9)|
|K20A3: Si chassis, 160hp, 16-valve, DOHC i-VTEC|
|D17A1: DX, LX, VP chassis, 115hp, 16-valve, SOHC|
|D17A2: EX chassis, 127hp, 16-valve, SOHC VTEC|
|D17A6: HX chassis, 117hp, 16-valve, SOHC VTEC-E|
|D17A7: GX chassis, 100hp, 16-valve, SOHC CNG|
|LDA1: Hybrid chassis, 85hp, 8-valve, SOHC VTEC|