The 2002 Honda Civic Si promises no more and delivers no less.
After a short absence, the Si, last offered in the 2000 model year has returned.
Performance versions of the Civic date to the first Civic S hatchback in 1984. Then, as now, the offerings were aimed at performance-oriented youth on a budget.
Enjoy spirited take-offs and nimble handling in a small, fully equipped machine with a sticker of $19,250. Only option is side air bags for $250.
You get a lively little two-door with the convenience of a rear hatch to stuff full of gear while enjoying above-average fuel economy--26 m.p.g. city/30 m.p.g. highway.
Of course, there's no free lunch. It comes with only a 5-speed manual, and in a beauty contest, the only thing the Si would win is sympathy.
There's no automatic because only about 15,000 of the 330,000 Civics sold here annually will be Si's, so there's no need for the added cost and complexity.
As for its styling appeal, or lack of it, if the two-seat gas/electric Honda Insight added a rear seat, the car would look like the Civic Si. Because the Insight is the ugliest Honda on the road, the Si's fate was sealed by its heritage.
The Si features a mesh grille, front "chin" spoiler, rear roof spoiler, dual tipped chrome exhaust pipes and what Honda calls a "high curvature rear end" to maximize cabin space and cargo hold, fancy terminology to make you believe this isn't a two-door hatchback that looks like a station wagon.
Still, Honda says youth demands hatchbacks again and the Si serves that purpose while giving buyers a sprightly and not boring machine.
"It fills two holes in the lineup--a performance car and a hatchback," said Honda spokesman Art Garner.
The Si has a feature that takes getting used to, the 5-speed gearshift lever planted "rally style" in the center of the dash. If you find yourself resting arm and/or elbow on the center console or armrest when shifting, the location of the Si lever rules out that bit of laziness.
Si is powered by a 2-liter, 160-horsepower, I-VTEC 4-cylinder that develops 132 foot-pounds of torque. "I" stands for intelligent, meaning the engine is smart enough to continually adjust its intake camshaft based on engine speed and load so you can depend on a little kick when moving from the light, when pulling out to pass or when speeding down the ramp to merge.
Fun little plaything with front and rear stabilizer bars, large wheels and tires, large-diameter disc brakes with anti-lock, variable-assist power steering and firmly tuned dampers and springs to improve handling. Too bad, however, that the 16-inch all-season radials seemed to want to wander laterally.
Two noteworthy items: front seats hold you comfortably in place whether in quick power bursts or settling back and relaxing, and rear 60/40 fold-flat seats dramatically increase cargo capacity.
Base price, as noted, is $19,250. Air conditioning with micron air filter; AM/FM/CD with anti-theft; cruise control; power windows/door locks; intermittent wipers; front and rear beverage holders, including one for the driver that slips out of the dash to the left of the steering wheel; accessory power outlet; power moonroof; body colored mirrors/door handles; and rear window washer/wiper/defroster are standard.
Honda says most of the 15,000 who opt for an Si will be single males younger than 30 years with income levels in the $35,000 to $50,000 range.
The same youth attracted by Civic sedans to customize and individualize them will be attracted to the Si, Honda says.
But, like the Civic sedan, give those youthful customizers not in the $35,000 to $50,000 income range a couple of years until the Si appears on the used-car lots and becomes affordable.
Give Honda credit for the Si. At a time when Toyota is coming up with a Scion division to produce and sell a low-priced ineup aimed at youth, Honda has opted to produce and sell a low-price lineup aimed at youth without the bother of a separate nameplate and showroom.
Honda officials say the automaker has developed a solid reputation for quality, durability and dependability that consumers coast-to-coast recognize, so why bother with a new name for vehicles aimed at youth that consumers might not recognize as a Honda brand?
Joining the Si in the youth appeal segment will be the Honda Element this fall, a boxy derivative of the Honda CR-V sport-ute that Honda officials refer to as a "dorm room on wheels."
Element will sell for $16,000 to $20,000 depending on whether you opt for two-wheel- or four-wheel-drive versions, both of which will be powered a 2.4-liter, 160-h.p. 4-cylinder.
The most novel feature will be the doors. The rear doors are rear hinged to open rearward, what some might refer to as "suicide" doors. With no pillar between front and rear doors, youth can easily slip camping gear or dirt bike inside, Honda says.