The cars we loved.
Every since Honda took its Civic 1500 and tarted up its looks and suspension and called it the S in the last years of the second generation, there was always been a hot hatch at the top of the Civic line. In 1984, it would be called the Si model, and from that point on it would be one of the most
potent Japanese pocket rockets available in America. The Civic Si would be a 3 door hatchback for years until the 1994 when our only option was in the form of a proper three box two door coupe. From that point on, that form factor (and later a sedan) would be the Si in the minds of most Honda enthusiasts.
Almost forgotten is an odd juncture where the Si models were switching gears. After being offered a 2 door coupe for 7 years, the Si would revert to a 3 door hatchback in North America for a few short years while Honda readied the next generation Civic. In other markets, the Si for 2001 was based on the coupe that would otherwise be the 1.7 litre 127 hp EX in America.
In the model years from 2002 to 2005, the American bound Civic Si resembled the ones available in Europe and Japan. Unlike previous Civic Si, the code-named EP3 Si was made in England. It had no parts in common with standard North American Civic and went by the name SiR in Canada. It would have been a stretch to say it was the most attractive Si, but it was the most practical sense 1993.
The compact shape was said to have been developed to improve stability on twisty roads and on the highways. Performance remained at expected Si levels thanks to the base engine from the Acura RSX, a 160 hp high reving 2.0 L VETEC our cylinder.
Despite the increased power and torque, the Civic Si of this period was considered very much on par with the previous Si. Before each new generation of Si was met with big jumps in performance. The competition had caught up with the Ford Focus SVT leading the way.
Perhaps the biggest reason beyond the increased weight that the Si was no longer the leader in the pocket rocket race was the switch from a double wishbone to MacPherson strut system in the front. Other Civics followed this trend, putting a damper in the spirits of the Civic faithful.
Theoretical performance issues aside, the EP3 Si was simply homely looking when not dressed in some kind of fake Type-R body kit. The understated looks however were welcomed next to the horrible aftermarket accessories available for any Civic. Thankfully, Honda’s tastes were beyond many of its buyers where the Civic was concerned. That good taste extended to the interior with quality materials and details like red stitching around the seats and leather wrapped steering wheel.
Unfortunately, the interior would introduce an odd shifter placement that looked like the crotch of a mannequin more than the shifter of a performance car. This would start an interior trend that can still be seen in more recent Civic interiors. It would also start a trend toward the over designed, oddly designed interiors of today’s Civics. The interior issue is something Honda should address before cars like the Mazda3 school it on the art of well designed interiors in small cars.
Honda’s unfortunate timing only proved that a car designed for the world at large might not be accepted by Americans. The Si in those years was truly a low volume car, mostly because those people who embraced the handsome sixth generation Si, moved on to the Acura RSX or worse another make outside the Honda fold altogether. Honda seemed to agree and managed to save face by making the 2006 model was a proper coupe once again, but not before attempting styling tweaks with the ’04-’05 models.
While nearly ignored here, the EP3 Si would be the basis for the more impressive Type R in Europe. While I’m a big fan of hatchbacks, the return of the Si in this form factor was a bit of a disappointment. It’s unclear if the Civic Si will ever return to its original form factor in the American market.
More likely, the American view of 3 door hatchbacks as basic cars might favor the Fit as Honda’s latest Si hatch. The Fit is closer in spirit to earlier Civic Si than today’s bloated Honda compacts.
With the Civic not so clearly ahead of its competitors anymore, Honda might be open to bring back the ideal of a Si 3 door hatchback. Who knows, 20 years ago I would have never thought a door hatchback would have been so popular in America (remember the ‘new’ Chevy Nova and Corsica LTZ). As a body type, 3 door hatches faded away a long time ago and the occasional 5 door strugged in the market – until now.
Today it seems people are clamoring for hatch versions of the Elantra, Focus and Mazda3. The Fit takes up some of that slack, but does not come in Si form in America. With talk of a more performance oriented variant of the Fit/Jazz on the way, its likely that the Civic Si will stay a 2 door coupe and sedan. It has simply outgrown its original form factor in its drive to be more upscale. Honda must have realized that some time ago when it introduced the Fit.