A bahn-blazer from Japan that almost makes us forget the CRX.

by John and Brenda Priddy

We've liked the Honda Civic coupes through their many iterations - and for that matter, the CRXs too, when they were around. But we never took them quite as seriously as sports coupes, with their small four-cylinder engines buzzing like a swarm of angry killer bees. They never seemed to have enough power or torque to be considered by the "real" enthusiasts.

And yet, over the last few years, a group of drivers that appreciates the quality, durability and spunky nature of the CRXs and Civics has grown up. And with the Honda Civic Si, they may finally get their wish for a truly sporting Civic.

First, a little lesson in Civics. In 1983 Honda offered the Civic S (for Sport). Then in 1986, Honda introduced the first Civic Si with a 1.5-liter single-overhead-cam four-cylinder with multipoint fuel injection and 91 horsepower, not to mention improved handling. When the fourth-generation Civic debuted in 1988, the Si featured a 1.6-liter 108-horsepower engine and new four-wheel double-wishbone suspension that set a new standard for ride and handling in a small car.

In that year, Honda also began a campaign of completely redesigning its cars every four years. 1992 brought about the fifth-generation Civic, and the Si was treated to Honda's racing inspired engine technology, VTEC (for Variable Valve-Timing and Lift Electronic Control), and 125-horsepower. The sixth-generation Civic appeared in 1996, but minus the Si model. Civic enthusiasts were forced to make do with EX and LX models, and aftermarket suppliers and accessories to produce a suitable replacement for the unexplained disappearance of the Si.

Return of the Si

All that changed last February at the Chicago Auto Show when Honda re-introduced the Si for 1999. Externally, the changes from the standard Civic coupe are minimal. A simple body sill extension, front air dam, and tasteful, six-spoke aluminum wheels with wider, stickier tires, make up the majority of the outward clues that there's something different about this Civic.

Oh yeah, there's one more thing - a small decal that reads, "DOHC VTEC." Really, it's just the letter "D" that's significant here. Not that VTEC, that masterful application of racing-inspired technology that Honda is famous for, isn't significant. It's just that this time VTEC is applied to a double-overhead-cam (hence the DOHC) engine to produce an incredible 160 horsepower and a mind-warping 8000-rpm redline.

While this may not mean much to the average motorist, to those that comprehend the technological terms, it means that this is no run-of-the-mill four-banger. One run through the gears, taking it to redline each time, is exhilarating - and not as noisy as you might expect.

The Civic Si's engine is part of a stellar total package that includes Honda's light-touch clutch pedal and shifter and just the right amount of feedback in the steering. Of course, it's geared for running at those lofty rpm - while cruising down the freeway in fifth gear, the engine is turning more than 4000 rpm, yet the gas mileage is still in the upper 20s.

Standard equipment on the newest Civic Si includes air conditioning, leather steering wheel and shifter, cruise control, keyless entry system, power everything except seats, and a power moonroof. The interior, although comfortable, is a bit cramped. Anyone more than 5 feet 6 inches tall will feel a little cramped for headroom. (No doubt, the tilt-up moonroof didn’t help.) Plus, it's a chore getting into the back seat. Even our kids complained about the gymnastics needed to get in there.

In Honda tradition, everything was well-made and fit perfectly. But most of the time, we really only cared about one thing: the red number "8" on the tachometer, right next to the red Si emblem. We kind of wonder how those banzai kids in their souped-up CRXs feel when they see us in this boy racer, but we don't wonder for long. We just pass them, and head for the redline once more.

© The Car Connection

 

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