SAN FRANCISCO: It
brings quite a bit of pride for me to stand over the 2002 Civic Si. As a patron of hot
hatchbacks since I learned to steer a car, I have seen them go from an economical novelty
with sporty intent back in the mid 1980s to outright sports cars today.
The Civic Si was introduced in 1986 as your typical utilitarian hatchback that
sipped gas like it understood the economy, but was tuned a bit sporty. Dodge had Carroll
Shelby hot-rodding Omnis, and in 1987 Toyota would introduce their FX16, all the
while Volkswagen continued to produce their pocket-rocket GTI, so the little Honda was not
without competition. Time, though, has a way sifting out the weak, and 16 years later only
half of the original quartet is still standing.
The 2002 Civic Si comes to us 2 years after Honda pulled the plug on the last Si. The
base model Civic hatchback was discontinued as well, with Honda lamenting a lack of US
interest in hatchbacks. Oh how times, or at least demographics research, has changed. The
Si is back, only this time in hatchback form like the good old days, blessed again with a
dual overhead cam 160 HP engine and a red Si badge slapped on the hatch. Honda has come
full circle with the Civic Si, but the similarities end there.
The new engine is, in principle, like the old, offering 160 HP and a VTEC-occupied
cylinder head. But instead of the first generation VTEC, it now utilizes i-VTEC, VTEC with
intelligence. This same engine also sees duty (in very slightly altered form) in
the Acura RSX. At 2.0 liters it gains its power through the use of a larger displacement
block rather than a frenzy of revs, redlining at only 6800 RPM. The previous Civic Si
engine was a 1.6 liter A-bomb, redlining at a lofty 8000 RPM and needing to be thrashed to
make power. Somewhere along the line that became a bad thing, and so the Civic got an
engine that could be managed with your right foot rather than your right hand.
The suspension has been revised and updated, though there was initially some
questioning of whether it could also be considered an UPGRADE. Change isnt always
good, so when the Civic lost its double-wishbone suspension front and rear setup, it sent
enthusiasts scampering. After all, the double wishbone had been handed down through
decades of Honda racing and was symmetrical and mechanical genius. But Honda was in search
of something more, in typical Honda fashion.
They added a MacPherson strut up front to save space, and a more compact redesigned
reactive link double-wishbone in rear. The result is extremely sharp handling that keeps
its manners even when we stabbed the brake pedal mid-sweeper, but offers the interior room
of a larger car. The hatch storage space is a tad small but in a car like this is to be
considered supplemental anyway. The rear seats lay down nearly horizontal and the rear
floor board is flat, keeping your knees out of your mouth should you be relocated to the
backseat when your mother-in-law is in town.
Coupled with the electric Power Rack-and-Pinion steering with Variable gear ratios, the
Civics new underpinnings give it serious road-speed potential. Though the gadgetry
Honda installed works hard to serve up ample amounts of road feel, it barely succeeds, and
more feedback would be nice. Grown up or not, the whole philosophy behind the sport
compact car is to make you feel like you are going faster than you really are to
give you that flexing right ankle and devilish grin even if you DO only have 160 HP to
My only real complaint with the new Si, beyond the 195/60/15 all-season tires, is the
engine. Though it has a bit more torque than the previous Sis engine, and is still
billiard ball smooth, the new engine simply does not impress. I found the rev limiter
several times when I was only trying to find more POWER. It is certainly adequate, but
merely adequate doesnt further legends.
After years of development, the new Civic has certainly found a very rare
not-too-boy-racer, not-too-boring moment of Zen. It has matured into a car that offers a
ridiculous amount of refinement and ability for its bargain price of $19,000 and change,
and that includes standard A/C, power windows and locks, 6 speaker/CD player system and
white gauge faces.
The interior is as spacious as that bulbous profile promises, and the seats, which
offer lateral support up to here, and steering wheel are touched with red stitching
inspired from the "Type R" decorated offerings from Acura and look fantastic.
That shift knob that you cant miss jutting out of the dash is like a leather-wrapped
handshake and works wonderfully, stirring this little thinking engine to do great work.
Though it looks a bit odd at first, it quickly becomes second nature, so much so that now
the shifter on my car at home seems all-wrong.
So here we are, in 2002, and the FX16 is gone from these shores, and the Omni GLH-S
merely bench-racing fodder, but the Civic is sweet 16. No longer the quiet child in the
corner or a gangly, misunderstood 13 year old, the Civic has matured into a brilliant,
athletic hatchback. Honda has built a car able to bend as hard as the road does, or lay
down its back seats and haul lumber, all with the grace of a $30k car. For its intended
market, the 2002 Honda Civic Si is close to perfect, full of innovation, ability and
forward thinking. And now its all grown up. By Terrell E. Heick III © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Honda Home Page
Byline: Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo ©
Column Name: Sweet Sixteen and All Grown Up
Topic: 2002 Civic Si Sport Coupe
Word Count: 1021
Photo Caption: The 2002 Civic Si Sport Coupe
Photo Credits: Honda Internet Media
Series #: 2002 - 22
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