New Car Review:2002 Honda Civic Si

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SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

    The Honda Civic is one of the most popular cars with today's
generation of high-performance enthusiasts. How did a car that
started life as an economical, low-emissions commuter
``econobox'' in the wake of the oil shortages of the early 1970s
become a hot-rodder's favorite? Much credit should be given to the
first Civic Si hatchback, introduced back in 1986. Need more
performance? In 1992, the Civic Si was the first North American
Honda to use the company's competition-developed ``VTEC''
variable valve timing technology. The Si badge disappeared in the
mid 1990s, to be re-introduced on a hot version of the Civic coupe
in 1999 and 2000. When the current-generation Civic debuted for
2001, there was no hatchback and no Si in the lineup. Could Honda
have forgotten its performance heritage?

    Not likely. It took a year and a half, but the Civic Si hatchback is
back, and hotter than ever. Its 2.0-liter engine has the same 160
horsepower as the previous-generation Si's 1.6-liter, but much
more torque, for easier, more relaxed driving characteristics. The
styling is completely new, and very different from the current Civic
sedan and coupe. Not only does it look European, it is European,
built at Honda U.K. in Swindon, England.
     
     I've been driving a new Civic Si for the past week. I'll be sorry
to see it go. It appeals to both practicality and hedonism, combining
the power and handling of a sports car with European comfort,
hatchback space and versatility, and Honda fuel economy. It's a
British sports car at heart, but the 2002 Honda Civic Si is unlike
any British sports car of the past.


APPEARANCE: Honey, I shrank the Odyssey.... Well, not quite,
but the new Civic hatchback does almost have the one-box look of
a minivan, albeit in considerably smaller vehicle. Space efficiency is
as important to Honda engineers as aerodynamics and styling. With
its well-raked windshield, short nose, and hatchback roofline, the
newest Civic Si does not immediately look like a sports car, even
with the large ``i-VTEC DOHC'' stickers on the sides - a holdover
from the previous Si coupe and a touch of 80s nostalgia. This, of
course, can be a very good characteristic for a performance car.
Definably a Honda Civic by the headlight and grille shapes, the Si
shares no bodywork with the current Civic sedan or coupe, but has
a unique, very clean and unadorned style all its own. The mesh
grille and flat air dam front fascia at the front and small roof spoiler
subtly hint at its potential.


COMFORT: The boxy shape and high roofline pay off inside. There
is much more room in the new Civic Si than one would expect from
its size. Space efficiency? The new Si is only an inch longer, and
actually two inches shorter in wheelbase, than the old Civic
hatchback, yet it has more interior space and headroom. If the
exterior doesn't immediately say ``sports,'' the interior does. Black
cloth upholstery with red stitching accents, instruments featuring
black lettering on a white background, and a large silvery center
stack give it the contemporary sports car look. The front sport
buckets are much more comfortable than the norm for the class,
with very good support for long highway drives and good side
bolstering for sports driving. The gearshift lever comes out of the
lower part of the center stack, ``like a rally car'' according to
Honda. It does allow more useful console space, and is placed
conveniently close to the tilt-adjustable, leather-wrapped steering
wheel. There are small but useful storage areas in the dash, console,
and door panels. Rear seat access is good for a two-door car, aided
by a spring-loaded front passenger seat. The rear seat has very
good room for two medium-sized people, considering the size of
the car, and a center passenger is not out of the question thanks in
part to a low central tunnel. With the rear seat up, cargo space is
less than the Civic sedan, but with it folded, even partially, there is a
large, flat, and very useful cargo area. A large rear hatch and low
liftover height make it even better.


SAFETY: Honda expects the Civic Si to earn the highest ratings in
various government and private crash tests. Front and rear crumple
zones, side-impact beams, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes are
standard.

ROADABILITY: The Si's unibody structure is significantly stiffer
than those of any previous Civic hatchback, and fit and finish are to
even closer tolerances. This provides a great platform for the fully-
independent MacPherson strut front/double wishbone rear
suspension. Like many other European cars, the suspension tuning
is supple for comfort and perfectly-damped for excellent
roadholding ability. Electric power steering, like on the S2000
roadster and NSX, optimizes steering effort for varying speeds, and
four-wheel antilock disc brakes stop quickly. Although the Si is
definitely a high-performance car, it is also very well-balanced,
civilized, and comfortable.


PERFORMANCE:  There is no replacement for displacement.
Current Civic sedans and coupes have 1.7-liter engines. The new
Civic Si's engine is 2.0-liters. Add i-VTEC variable valve timing,
which adds continual intake cam phasing to the VTEC variable
valve timing and lift system, and you get 160 horsepower at 6500
rpm, with 132 lb-ft of torque  at 5000 rpm. That's the same
horsepower, but at 1000 rpm less, and considerably more torque -
the most ever in a Civic, actually - at 2000 rpm less than was
produced by the previous-generation Civic Si's 1.6-liter engine. The
new Si's larger, less highly-tuned engine actually has good low-rpm
torque. But, typically of Honda engines, it like to rev. Drive it fast,
and you'll get well-acquainted with the electronic rev-limiter, as the
four-cylinder twincam 16-valve jewel has a healthy midrange and
power does not fade at the top. It goes from a classic four-cylinder
growl at low revs to an insistent shriek near redline. Despite the
unusual placement of the shift lever, the shift linkage is excellent,
and shifting the close-ratio five-speed gearbox is a joy.


CONCLUSIONS: Form follows function in a stylish manner as the
new Honda Civic Si combines performance, comfort, versatility,
and economy.


SPECIFICATIONS
2002 Honda Civic Si

Base Price			$ 19,000
Price As Tested		      $ 19,460
Engine Type			dual overhead cam, 16-valve inline 4-
                                cylinder with variable valve phasing,
                                timing, and lift
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			160 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			132 @ 5000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		101.2 in. / 165.6 in.
Curb Weight			2744 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        17.2
Fuel Capacity			13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87-octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P195/60 VR 15
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc /
                                  solid disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
                                  independent double wishbone
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		26 / 30 / 27
0 to 60 mph				7.2  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination charge			$ 460



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