If you were to pick a Honda as a candidate for a cult following, which one would it be? Now, many will instantly proclaim allegiance to the hot S2000 roadster. And while it certainly has the charisma, it really hasn’t been around long enough to develop the hardcore following of a cult classic. Now, our choice would be the original Honda Civic Si. And legions of the Honda faithful agree. There is just something about the Si that gets under your skin and puts a big smile on your face. And that’s why after a brief hiatus Honda has brought back the Si! Will you get the itch?
Well, let’s put it this way. The only way you’re going to avoid it is by staying out of the car! Because the 2002 Honda Civic Si is so infectious it only takes a few minutes behind the wheel before you’ll break out in a rash. A rash of smiles, that is. And generating those smiles is a tight new body structure that is now back in hatchback form after spending the 1999 and 2000 model years masquerading as a coupe. A move calculated to put an extra big smile on faces of Si purists everywhere.
And the new Si is even stouter than the previous Civic Hatchback. With torsional rigidity up 95 percent, bending rigidity up 22 percent. Also note the new hatchback’s wheelbase has been shortened almost two inches in the interest of handling dynamics and now measures 101.2 inches. The Si suspension is similar to other Civics and the Acura RSX. Under the front you’ll find a crash-worthy MacPherson strut set up, while a link and double wishbones control the rear.
Many Si faithful were disappointed when Honda abandoned the double wishbones up front, but after a few quick runs through a tight set of curves, we think they’ll be won over.
And that’s because when it comes to tackling the twisties, the Si will do just about anything you will it to do. The stiffer chassis and suspension delivers near neutral, flat handling. A more aggressive approach induces mild understeer, while mid-corner throttle lift allows you to swing the rear in a controlled fashion to set up for the next gate. It’s great fun that’s truly intoxicating. The Si’s electric steering is precise and offers a surprising amount of useful feedback. The strut front-end gave engineers room to utilize a high-mounted steering rack with extra long control arms for improved toe control and tracking stability.
The Si gets its power from a high output aluminum alloy 2.0 liter, DOHC, 16-valve 4- cylinder. With the I-VTEC system that continuously monitors and adjusts intake timing, the Si is armed with 160 horsepower. Torque is up 20 percent over the previous Si to 132 pound-feet. And though the Si’s bottom end feels stronger, and the peaky nature of the previous engine has been smoothed out, our runs to 60 in 7.6 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.9 seconds at 89 MPH were nearly identical to the times we recorded in the last Si coupe we tested.
But very different is the new close ratio 5-speed manual transmission, with its shifter mounted rally-style in the center of the dash. Its positioning was cause for a little uncertainty at first, but once we discovered how easily it fell to hand and how natural it felt, we kind of wish all manual shifters worked so handsomely.
The only minor disappointment in the Si’s performance came in the braking exercise. That’s not to say they’re bad, because they’re not. Pedal feel and stability are first rate. But we feel average stops from 60 of 128 feet are a bit too long for a car of this nature. Although unlike the previous Si we tested, ABS is now available to govern the four-wheel discs on the Si, as is electronic brake distribution.
The Si’s interior, on the other hand, suits this car to a T. With supportive, body-hugging sport seats , side impact airbags are available , a tilt wheel, bright faced, easy on the eyes gauge cluster, in-dash CD player stereo, and simple and effective climate controls, the Si is laid out with maximum ease of operation in mind.
Comfort and utility were also priorities in the rear. A taller roof, thinner sunroof, and 2- box shape boost head and leg room over the Civic Coupe. Still the 60/40 split folding seat backs create a generous and flat load floor.
With the Si not due at dealers until March, Honda has not yet finalized pricing. But they have said to expect the nearly fully loaded Si to weigh in between $18,000 and $19,000. That’s a price that puts the new 2002 Honda Civic Si right in the thick of a competitive compact crowd with Golf, Focus, Matrix, Vibe, and the new Mini Cooper.
But should you decide to try on the Si, between that mile-wide smile, and that mile-deep itch, you’ll be too infected to even notice the other guys.
Engine: 2.0 Liter, Dohc, 16-valve, 4-Cylinder
Torque: 132 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.6 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.9 Seconds @ 89 MPH
60-0 MPH: 128 Feet