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2002 Honda Civic Si

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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 1980’s 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 Omni’s, 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 isn’t 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 play with.

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 Si’s 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 doesn’t 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 can’t 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 it’s all grown up. By Terrell E. Heick III AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
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

Download the Microsoft Word version here:   2002 Civic Si Sport Coupe

Download the original image file here:  2002 Civic Si Sport Coupe

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