- Great handling.
- Linear power build-up due to new i-VTEC.
- Rally-style manual shifter.
- Looks sleeker than the previous Civic hatchback.
- Rigid body and chassis.
- 160 hp engine only available in hatchback form.
- Front suspension is good, but double wishbones are missed.
- Skinny tires reduce cornering potential.
- No quicker than previous Si coupe.
- As heavy as the larger Acura RSX.
Press Coverage :
The British-built 2004 Honda Civic Si hatchback carries on from the 2002 and 2003 model years with minor changes. Most obvious are the new multi-element headlights, new front bumper, side skirts and partially-colorless tail-lights. The new look definitely makes the Si appear sportier. The 2004 version also gets redesigned 16-inch alloy wheels which should improve its cornering ability. The older models sported pathetic 15-inch wheels. The usual Si touches include a mesh front grille, rear roof spoiler, dual-tipped chrome exhaust and a power moonroof. The interior features sports seats, the high-mount shifter and front airbags. Side airbags are a $250 option.
But the big news has to be the new FP package. This optional Factory Performance pack adds even more aggressively tuned suspension to the Si, along wih a tasteful body kit that includes aero-skirts all round and a larger, but handsome, roof-mounted spoiler. Also included are larger 17-inch five-spoke alloys. Ride quality suffers a bit, but if track-ability is a priority, the FP pack is excellent value, with a complete Honda warranty. Engine and other internal components are left untouched however.
By any measure, Honda's engines are astounding--for their smooth power delivery and willingness to rev, combined with fuel efficiency and low emissions. The new all-aluminum, 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve four under the Si's sharply raked hood takes that equation and improves upon its precedessor, delivering more power and torque, better fuel mileage, lower exhaust emissions and lighter weight (by a full 10 percent) in a more compact size.
The latest version of Honda's valve control technology, called i-VTEC, is at the heart of the engine's improved performance. The "i" stands for "intelligent" and involves the new Variable Timing Control (VTC), which offers continual adjustment of the intake cam phasing, augmenting the Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC), which alters valve lift, timing and duration. It works by continuously altering the intake cam's profile across the entire powerband, advancing or retarding the cam timing over a 50-degree range. The result is more power, now up to 160 hp at 6500 rpm, and, more importantly, 132 lb-ft at a more accessible 5000 rpm, 20-percent more twist than output by the previous Si.
This thrilling, willing engine hooks to the front wheels through a new five-speed close-ratio transmission, with gear selection through a "rally" shifter jutting from the dashboard. At first it looks out of place, but it's very close to the steering wheel and makes complete sense as soon as you need to grab a gear. In addition to the closer gear ratios, triple cone synchronizers for first and second gears and larger diameter synchronizers for third through fifth help create a seamless, silky shifting feel. Honda admits up front that this new 2.0 isn't any quicker than its precedessor in 0-to-60-mph blasts, but the power of this i-VTEC is much more accessible and makes getting up to speed a less busy affair. And speed it does achieve: Wide-open autobahn allowed us to take the Si up to an indicated 130 mph (just under the limited top speed of 132) with the kind of linear power delivery most often associated with larger displacement engines.
Credit not only the engine but also the redesigned body and chassis for that sort of world-class performance. Computer-aided design and manufacturing techniques and more extensive use of lightweight, high-tensile-strength steel not only saves 44 lbs but increases torsional rigidity by a whopping 95 percent and bending rigidity by 22 percent. Suspension settings are almost identical to those of the Civic Type R in Europe, meaning quite stiff in the European fashion. Up front is the MacPherson strut suspension from the 2001 Civic, at the rear is what Honda calls its "Reactive Link" double wishbone configuration. Use of the MacPherson arrangement allows Honda engineers space for the high-mounted steering box, which is fitted with extra-long control arms for enhanced toe control and tracking. In essence, this means more of the tire's contact patch stays on the ground, and there's little or no hint of torque steer when power is applied to the front wheels. Low-friction, progressive-rate, gas-pressurized shocks help create a smooth ride that, during our test drive, became slightly unbalanced only over long-frequency undulations in the pavement, causing the car to mildly porpoise. The double wishbone rear suspension, say Honda engineers, provides several advantages, including space efficiency, rear-wheel control over bumps and a more balanced roll axis for stability. The few quick runs we made over open back roads clearly validated Honda's use of "balanced" to describe the Si's overall handling.
A first for U.S. Honda models is the use of Electrical Power Steering, eliminating the need for a power-robbing and weighty pneumatic pump. Honda cites a 2-percent fuel savings with EPS, and we can cite exquisite steering feel, no matter the vehicle's speed. Four-wheel disc brakes feature standard ABS and electronic brake distribution, and on every occasion they were needed, they delivered with no evident brake fade. As equally comforting as good brakes during these periods of stress are the form-fitting, highly supportive sport seats. It's one of those brilliant, one-size-fits-all seats, and the flash of boy racer reflected in the headrest opening is entirely in proper tone. The practical nature of the Si becomes most evident when the rear seat is folded flat and exposes a cargo area that's nothing less than best in class.
Around town, the Si is tractable and pleasant, pulling strongly from a fairly wide range of rpm. Honda's latest i-VTEC engine is tuned for torque. You can short-shift through the gears. Downshifting short is fun, too. Barely push in the clutch pedal, and casually flick the lever into the next-lower cog. The Civic Si's transmission ratios seem perfectly matched to the engine. The ratios are close together, allowing the driver to keep the engine in the power band. Out on the highway, the Civic Si engine is very responsive, giving it good performance for passing. It accelerates from legal highway speeds to super-legal speeds fairly quickly. Anyone who remembers the 2.2-liter Prelude VTEC engine may be disappointed when they stand on it, because the Civic Si does not deliver the same rush of power, nor does it make the same exciting race-car sounds.
Charge too fast into a corner and the Si will understeer. The Civic Si features front and rear stabilizer bars and firmer dampers and springs than other Civic models, yet its ride quality is still pleasant. Transient response (left, right, left) is a little squishy, however. A high-performance set of tires may improve this behavior. At 80 or 90 mph, however, the Si feels very stable.
1999-2000 Honda Civic Si
1,797 cc / 160 hp / 111 lb-ft / 2606 lbs / 0-60 mph 7.4 sec.