Drop the clutch on the new Civic Si and four very meaningful numbers pop to mind: 111; 7000; 132 and 5000. One of the biggest shortcomings of the immensely popular 1999-2000 Civic Si was its torque curve, which peaked at a miserly 111 lb-ft at a stratospheric 7000 rpm. The new Civic delivers nearly 20 percent more thrust and that thrust-all 132 lb-ft-is realized 2000 rpm sooner at 5000. Not only is there more, it comes online at a more usable engine speed. In fact, there are 120 lb-ft from 2,500 rpm to redline; this increased driveability can be felt on the road.
On the horsepower side of the equation, the numbers game continues. Honda seems to have failed to capitalize on the added displacement of the '02 Si, which checks in at 2.0 liters vs. the 1.6 liters of the previous edition. The added cubes play a big role in the torque gain, but when you check out horsepower, the Si looks underpowered at 160. The Celica GT-S puts out 180 hp; so does the new Sentra SE-R. The VW 1.8T and Ford Focus SVT each pump out 170. Honda says it did not want to infringe on the Acura RSX, which puts out 200 hp from the same 2.0-liter engine. This is understandable, but can't this be accomplished at 170 or 175 hp? The Si emblem is Honda's performance badge; we think the car should pan out better against the competition.
While the new seventh-generation Civic is selling like hotcakes, it has been met with a lack of enthusiasm from the import aftermarket scene. The previous independent double wishbone front and rear suspension system was altered in front the wishbone set-up was swapped for a MacPherson strut arrangement, the engine was deemed "unfriendly" and the 2001 Civic's styling lost its edge. The hatchback was dropped and there was no sporty model. The Si's mission-and it's a tall order-is to regain the glory.
The new Si is a hatchback-key for enthusiasts-and the suspension, which devolved when it went to a front strut setup has been highly tuned and is nearly identical to the European Civic Type R. The engine should take well to tuning. The exhaust manifold exits out the back of the Si's K20 engine, unlike previous B- and H-series models that exit in front and wrap under the block. The rear exit design lights off the cat quicker, but we will have to wait and see how many extra ponies the aftermarket can find in the header system.
The RSX has been turbocharged by HKS and GReddy so the rear exit set-up seems boost-able. The hurdles seem to be the steering pinion shaft and main ECU harness, both of which are positioned in close relationship to the exhaust manifold. As far as styling: In early spy shots, the Si had a Focus-like look to it. In person, this is true only from a certain angle. At the track session there happened to be a Focus in the infield and with the two cars in close proximity their similarities seemed much less similar. There should be some wicked-looking Sis available once the body kit guys hit the market. The compact design of the rear suspension and the placement of the exhaust system give the Si a flat-floor interior and wheelwells capable of accommodating larger tires, so super-fat wheels are a possibility.
The aforementioned flat floor and the Si's trick rally shifter placement allowed Honda to open the interior for legroom, hip room and storage space. The shifter is mounted on the center dash-an excellent position for spirited driving. It is closer to the steering wheel, which makes gear slamming easier and takes the stress off one's back and shoulders in stop-and-go commuter traffic. The steering wheel is small and sporty and the gauge faces are performance-oriented white-faced dials. The Si is the first Civic in the United States to employ an electric power steering system. The system adjusts sensitivity every 5 mph up to 100 mph, and, according to Honda, delivers a two-percent gain in economy by deleting the pulley system and its accompanying parasitic drag. At the track, at the edge of adhesion, the car understeered predictably and was quite controllable. Steering feedback was good, notably better than the RSX, which we find a bit disconnected. The Si's electric steering system felt like a conventional pulley powered set-up and gave us a good feel of the road and input on how the chassis was reacting to drastic changes in g-force.
The Si is a fun ride for sure. The placement of the shifter was in no way awkward; in fact, it's convenient. It took little getting used to and operated like a conventional stick shift. The added torque of the 2.0-liter i-VTEC engine is much appreciated as the Civic gets off the line with more gusto and can pass slower vehicles at freeway speed with much more authority. The power delivery in the Civic is much more linear than that of the RSX, which delivers a real kick when the i-VTEC effect hits.
The smoothness of the Si is also evident in the suspension department. The car rode well and handled better than expected during track driving at Seattle International Raceway. Cool, sporty bucket seats featuring an integrated headrest with cutout, ample side bolstering and trick red stitching completes the interior.
The Si's bottom line has prices starting at around $18,000 and the Si flexes some impressive standard equipment for that price; namely a four-speaker AM/FM stereo with CD, a power moonroof, air conditioning, power windows and door locks and keyless entry with engine immobilizer.
It is no secret the Honda hatchback built the import scene. But in the last decade the Civic has never been challenged as much as it has in the last two years. The latest Civic opened the door for competitors, but if it gets the proper aftermarket support, the Si could well slam it again. Honda is working with Adam Saruwatari and Lisa Kubo to get the Si on the strip, proof that the import scene market is on Honda's radar screen. Things should get interesting when the Si hits the street in March 2002.