California’s favorite do-it-yourselfer gets some heat straight from the factory.
by Nick Twork
The Civic has always been a good citizen of economy land. Never less that than competent, not often more than mildly entertaining (aside from the rorty CRX), the Civic has been the car that everyone would recommend for their teenage niece for nigh unto 20 years.
But last year, Honda decided to heat up the Civic - to make it even more attractive to the hordes of southern California hot-rodders that have been turning the mild-mannered Civic coupes into their personal testosterone-driven chariots of fire.
Honda answered those homemade ‘rods with the Civic Si. And with the addition of more horsepower, cladding, and less suspension travel, the Civic is now available from the factory with modifications which used to only be obtainable in the aftermarket.
First on the list of equipment is a 160-horsepower DOHC VTEC engine. Its output bests the previous king of the hill Civic EX coupe by 33 horsepower. The engine is similar to the unit that was installed in the now defunct Civic del Sol. Not surprisingly, like other high-performance Honda engines, this one's a revver. And thank God you can't get it with an automatic transmission; its 8000-rpm redline makes such a thought seem sacrilegious. Not surprisingly, most of the power is produced aft of 4000 rpm when the VTEC variable cam timing uncorks the engine with more aggressive intake and exhaust flow.
But while the engine is definitely the centerpiece of this ride, there's much more to the Si than just a new engine. Next on the list of factory modifications is an upgraded chassis. Honda bolts on a rear stabilizer bar and a new front stabilizer bar with a diameter of 26 mm instead of 22 mm, as on other Civics. You also get four-wheel disc brakes in place of the front disc/rear drums of other models, and the new brakes rest behind 15-inch alloy wheels fitted with P195/55R15 V-rated Michelin XGT V4 tires. Coupled with these larger tires and wheels as well as the new stabilizer bar setup, stiffer springs and a front strut tower brace are fitted to further improve handling and steering response.
Subtle Civic departures
On the outside, the Si has a few subtle touches that set it apart from other Civics. A new front fascia and side sills lend a slightly meaner look without looking tacked on. You have to look closely to notice them. With the larger 15-inch seven spoke wheels, the Si look is subtly different from the stock Civic, especially in some of the hotter colors offered - they include Electron Pearl Blue (unique to the Si), Milano Red and Flamenco Black Pearl.
Inside, the interior is also upgraded. Amber instrument panel illumination along with unique instrumentation graphics gives the gauge cluster a new look. The shift knob and steering wheel are covered in leather, and the headrests are open designs that lend a sportier appearance to the seats. An AM/FM CD player is standard.
Also included, because of the modifications, are fun dynamics. All it takes is a few hundred feet of driving in the Si to tell that this car is no ordinary Civic. As is in other hi-revving four-cylinder engines, this one isn't much fun for the first few thousand rpms. But as the tachometer needle reaches 4000 rpm, the VTEC kicks in and the engine transforms itself into a reciprocating mass of metallic joy. It’s no torque monster, but the Si engine is much less peaky than the Toyota Celica GT-S we drove a while back: the Si has at least 3000 rpm of usable power band, whereas the Toyota has less than half that. It’s also quieter at full throttle than the new Celica.
With its significant suspension modifications, the Civic Si has a more direct feel than other Civics. Coupled with its free-revving engine, the Si is a fun little piece to drive. It can sprint from 0-60 mph in a shade over seven seconds, Honda says. But it's practical too. If you can manage to keep your foot out of it, you might be rewarded with as much as 30 mpg, as we saw.
The Si's shortfalls are few: anti-lock brakes are not available, and the factory audio system is rather pathetic even when compared with less expensive cars like the Toyota ECHO. Despite the fact that it includes door-mounted tweeters, it sounds tortured at even moderate volume levels. If you’re an audio aficionado, you’d probably rip it out and start over anyway.
Nevertheless, for $17,960, including destination, it's a heck of a bargain. And with the multitude of aftermarket equipment available for the car, owning one would be like having a blank canvas upon which to create your own tuner masterpiece.
2000 Honda Civic Si
Base Price: $17,960 (including destination)
Engine: 160-hp 1.6-liter DOHC VTEC in-line four
Transmission: five-speed manual
Wheelbase: 103.2 in
Length: 175.1 in
Width: 67.1 in
Height: 54.1 in
Weight: 2612 lb
Fuel economy: 26 city/ 31 hwy
Major standard equipment:
AM/FM CD tuner
Four-wheel disc brakes
Power door locks
15" alloy wheels
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
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