2002 Honda Civic Si First Drive

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (1)
  • Comparison (1)
  • Long-Term

2002 Honda Civic Hatchback

(2.0L 4-cyl. 5-speed Manual)

Live From the U.K., It's the Si Comeback Tour

If you're reading this 2002 Honda Civic Si review, you've come to this Web page for one or more of the following reasons: 1) You came here by mistake and are actually searching for links to Taco Bell's Spanish-speaking Chihuahua. 2) You think I might have information about your long-lost cousin, "Frankie Romans." 3). You're a serious Honda Civic Si fan, and you're devouring any and all information you can find on the car.

Number three makes the most sense because, really, that dog is irritating and your long-lost cousin was pretty much a bum.

Right. So anyway, you're interested in the 2002 Honda Civic Si, eh? This is Honda's sportiest trim level of its ubiquitous economy car. Its roots can be traced back to the Stone Age or, more exactly, 1986. This was when the first Si appeared. Though it looked no better than a miniaturized version of a delivery van, the Honda Civic Si hatchback came with the same running gear as the sporty two-seat Honda CRX Si. Like the CRX, the Honda Civic Si possessed peppy acceleration from its fuel-injected 1.5-liter engine, nimble handling, economical fuel mileage and a reputation for reliability and good resale value. The Civic Si also had one more thing going for it: a back seat, something the CRX couldn't match.

Versions of the Civic Si have come and gone more than Michael Jackson's music career. An Si hatchback was available for the fourth- and fifth-generation Civics, but there was a big three-year gap after the introduction of the sixth-generation Civic ('96-'00). It finally arrived for '99 and '00, and this version was the most powerful ever with a 1.6-liter 160-hp engine. But it also came only as a coupe and therefore lacked the hatchback's versatility.

The current-generation Honda Civic debuted in 2001. We've performed a road test of both the sedan and coupe. The cars generally impressed us, but the enthusiast drivers on our staff complained that much of the Civic's sporting character was gone. Honda had changed the front double-wishbone suspension to a MacPherson strut design, dropped the hatchback body style and once again shelved the Si trim. If you wanted a sporty hatchback for 2001, our choice would have been a Ford Focus ZX3 or a Volkswagen GTI.

Given the influx of affordable and sporty cars for 2002 (Ford SVT Focus, Mini Cooper S, Nissan Sentra SE-R, up-rated VW GTI), another three-year delay for the Civic Si trim would have been a big mistake by Honda. Fortunately, Honda enthusiasts had to wait only one year this time.

In many aspects, the new 2002 Honda Civic Si is the most exclusive version ever. It has returned to a hatchback body style, and it's the only trim in the Civic lineup to be offered as a hatch. It also has a powertrain, an interior design and a variety of other components not shared with any other 2002 Civic. On paper, this Si looks to be the best ever.

Unlike the Civic coupe and sedan, which are manufactured in North America, the Civic Si comes exclusively from Honda's Swindon plant in England. The Honda Civic Type-R, an even sportier version sold only in Japan and Europe, is also from this plant. The hatchback is based on Honda's versatile Global Compact Platform. This platform is used for other Civics, as well as the all-new 2002 Honda CR-V and the Acura RSX.

The Civic Si is the same width as the coupe, but it has a slightly shorter wheelbase and overall length. Honda's main goals in developing the body of the Civic Si included high rigidity, an energy-absorbing structure and excellent fit and finish. High body rigidity is very important for a sport-oriented car, as it enhances handling by allowing the suspension systems to work more effectively. To improve the strength of the body, Honda made extensive use of high-tensile steel. About 57 percent of the body structure, by weight, is made of high-tensile steel. As a result, Honda says the new hatchback design has increased torsional rigidity by 95 percent compared to the previous-generation hatchback and bending rigidity by 22 percent. Both of these figures are higher than the current coupe and sedan's gains over their previous brethren.

The downside to this rigid body is that it plumps out the car's curb weight considerably. It is listed at 2,744 pounds, about 200 to 250 pounds more than one might expect for this size and class of vehicle. For comparison, a 2002 Mini Cooper weighs about 2,480 pounds and a 2002 Ford ZX3 weighs 2,598 pounds. Want an even more sobering comparison? When new, a 1985 Honda Civic S weighed 1,907 pounds and a 1991 CRX checked in at 2,175 pounds. Excess body weight might be good for the bottom line at Metabolife, but for performance cars, it's enemy number one.

Perhaps to compensate, Honda has fitted the Si with the most powerful engine ever found in a production Civic. Displacing 2.0 liters, this four-cylinder engine is from Honda's new family of i-VTEC engines. i-VTEC refers to Honda's latest version of its Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control VTEC system. In addition to what VTEC normally does — adjusting the lift and opening duration of the valves to help the engine produce additional power throughout the rpm band — i-VTEC adds Variable Timing Control (VTC). VTC continuously advances or retards the intake camshaft phasing throughout a 50-degree range. Not sure what that means? Don't worry. The bottom line is that VTC optimizes engine output and allows the Si to meet the strict 2004 LEV-II emission standards.

The new Civic Si VTEC puts out 160 hp at 6,500 rpm and 132 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. While this is the same amount of horsepower produced by the '99-'00 Civic Si coupe's 1.6-liter engine, it does make about 20 percent more torque. A closer companion to the new Si is the Acura RSX (the base model, not the Type-S). The RSX also comes with a 160-hp engine displacing two liters, though slight variances allow the RSX to make 141 lb-ft of torque. Power from the Si's engine is routed through a five-speed transmission. Compared to the Honda Civic EX five-speed, the Si's possesses a shorter final drive and closer gear ratios to optimize the performance characteristics of the engine. The gear ratios are also different from those used for the RSX's transmission.

Like previous Civic Si models, an automatic isn't offered. The manual gearbox's shifter location is certainly one of the car's more interesting aspects. It has been placed "rally style" on the dash. It looks a bit silly at first, but it's hard to argue with the results. The shifter falls quickly to hand and the location also frees up space between the front seats. There's a dual-use storage box where the shifter would normally be that holds up to 10 CDs, or 5 CDs when the cupholders are being used. The Si also has large door pockets and a few other scattered storage areas to hold personal items.

Surrounding the shifter is a unique U-shaped metallic-colored center stack that contains the audio and climate controls. To the left is a special gauge cluster and a new sport-type steering wheel similar to the one found in the Honda S2000 roadster. Interior materials are tightly constructed, but Honda has chosen to use hard plastic instead of the more pleasing soft-touch surfaces found in cars like the Volkswagen GTI. Nearly every feature is standard, including air conditioning with a micron air filter, keyless entry, an engine immobilizer theft deterrent system, a CD player, a rear wiper and a sliding passenger seat with memory for easier access to the rear seat. The only optional feature is side airbags. Rear LATCH child seat-anchors are standard, and Honda expects the car to earn a four-star rating in government front- and side-impact testing, and a "good" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

In terms of features, the sport seats are easily the car's best interior attribute. Featuring red stitching, like the old Acura Integra Type-R, thick side bolsters and integrated head rests, these seats look and feel race-ready. Comfort is addressed with wide seat cushions that measure 1 inch wider than the previous Civic Si. Interior measurements are surprisingly good for the hatchback. Compared to a Civic EX sedan, the Si offers more headroom, shoulder room and hip room. The extra headroom is due to a new slimmer moonroof design (standard on the Si). The 60/40-split rear seats are easy to fold and once they're flattened, the Civic Si can hold a maximum of 15.7 cubic feet of cargo behind the front seats. This is less than most other hatchbacks, but the Civic does possess a wide hatch opening and a low lift-over height to aid in cargo loading.

Some people will use this car to haul Samsonite, but the main purpose of the new Si is to haul you-know-what. Like the Civic sedan and coupe and the RSX, the Si uses a MacPherson strut suspension in front and a compact double-wishbone suspension design in the rear. This new suspension design takes less room than the full double-wishbone setup found in the previous Si, allowing Honda to design the car with more interior room without making the car larger. The suspension components have been tuned to provide sharper handling and increased stability, and Honda says the Civic Si features the same suspension tuning used for the Civic Type-R.

Other hardware changes include larger front and rear ABS-equipped disc brakes (the same size as the RSX) and 15-inch wheels with 195/60VR15 tires. The Si also gains an electrically powered rack-and-pinion steering system like the one found in the S2000. The system provides electrical steering assist, not hydraulic, and therefore eliminates the power losses of an engine-driven pneumatic pump. Honda says this improves fuel economy by 2 percent. Additionally, the steering system features variable-assist steering effort and a variable gear ratio. This variable gear ratio feature blends high-ratio steering near the center of the steering rack with low-ratio steering at the rack's edges. This feature allows the car to be suitably responsive at high speeds while still providing low-effort near full lock, a benefit in parking situations.

We were able to test the steering out during the Civic Si's North American introduction. Strapped in, you quickly realize that this isn't your average Civic. The driver seat applies a strong-handed grip on your torso. This is a nice attribute for spirited driving, but wide-framed individuals might find the pinched-shoulders effect a bit annoying after a long drive.

The steering actually feels normal in all situations. It doesn't provide the best communication for this class of car, but unless you knew beforehand that it was electric, it would be hard to tell the difference. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is a nice change over the previous Si's, and the shifter's location and short throws seem perfectly natural after just a short stint in the car. Around town, the suspension is firm, but not excessively so. Unless you live in an area with crumbling and pockmarked roads, this should be a car you can drive every day. One complaint we do have is that the nose of the vehicle can't be seen through the windshield, making parking maneuvers more difficult.

Pushed harder on twisty roads, the Civic Si responds with a minimum of fuss. Body motions are well controlled, and the car doesn't excessively understeer. In terms of acceleration, the VTEC Si feels able-bodied, but calling it fast might be a bit too much. During the Si's introduction, we were also able to drive it on a racetrack. Though it rained the day we were scheduled to drive, the sporty Civic still proved to be track-worthy. The brake pedal has a firm feel to it, and brake fade never appeared during the time at the track. The only thing we have to wait to pass judgment on is how well the car handles when cornering on bumpy roads. We didn't get the opportunity to do this during the press introduction, and we've noticed in the past that the rear suspensions of the Civic and the RSX can cause the cars to lose their composure when mid-corner bumps are encountered.

Driven over the same type of roads, bumpy or not, a 2002 Honda Civic Si would likely be faster than the previous Civic Si coupe, therefore making it the fastest Si ever. But after driving the car, there's a feeling that the original Si spirit has been overshadowed by Honda's more modern goals of extra room, better safety and additional creature comforts. The new Civic Si is no longer a willing partner to being whipped around corners. The engine, too, doesn't fit the old mold. Though certainly by design, it doesn't eagerly give off an extra burst of speed like the old VTEC Civic Si coupe used to. Instead, it just pulls cleanly toward the 6,800-rpm redline. The new Si is simply more grown-up.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just different. The 2002 Honda Civic Si is a car that will haul your stuff, go fast enough when you want it to and cost less than an RSX. If that appeals to you, Honda's latest Civic should be a good choice. Though final pricing hasn't been finalized, you can expect an MSRP below $19,000. It should be at dealers' lots by March of 2002.

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