Honda this fall will try to rev up interest in its new Civic sedan among the tuner-car set.
The Japanese automaker rolled out a performance-oriented Civic Si sedan concept at the recent Chicago auto show.
The company plans to begin selling the car through its United States dealers in the fall, spokesman Chris Martin confirmed, although no exact on-sale date or pricing information has been released yet.
"We're introducing the Si sedan because we've had a lot of interest from consumers in getting into a more performance-oriented four-door model," Martin said. "We've had that in our TSX sedan on the Acura side, and we think there's a definite market for a Civic Si sedan."
Honda has just introduced a new Si coupe model, which is part of the completely redesigned Civic lineup for 2006. Others in the lineup are the regular Civic sedan and coupe, and the Civic sedan gasoline-electric hybrid, all of which have new styling and other revised features this year.
The redesigned Civic won the North American Car of the Year award at January's Detroit auto show, as well as Motor Trend magazine's 2006 Car of the Year award. Adding a performance-oriented Si sedan to the lineup for 2007 would help Honda attract or retain customers who need a four-door vehicle for practical reasons - such as family use - but also want the car to be a bit special, Martin said.
That's what the Si coupe or hatchback models of the past have been - something special to appeal to enthusiasts who didn't particularly want the plain-vanilla Honda Civic models that appeal to general audiences.
Martin didn't say that, but the fact is that most Honda products are purchased by practical car buyers who don't care much about styling or exciting performance. They're looking for solid, dependable transportation that will last for a long time.
But there is a cadre of Honda customers who want performance as well as practicality, and it is for those consumers that the Si was created.
"We're hoping the Si sedan and the new Fit, which comes out next month, will appeal to younger buyers who like to customize their cars," Martin said.
Under the hood of the Si sedan will be the same normally aspirated 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine found in the 2006 Si coupe, rated at 197 horsepower.
Included in the powertrain package are a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox and a limited-slip differential.
Like other Civics, the Si sedan will have front-wheel drive, though, which is less-advantageous for a sports car or sporty car than rear drive.
Other features of the concept rolled out in Chicago included 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, 225/40ZR18 high-performance tires, and four-wheel disc brakes with cross-drilled rotors and four-piston Brembo calipers, Honda said.
"The Civic Si Sedan Concept demonstrates how the high-performance attributes of the Civic Si Coupe can be directly applied to the functionality of a sedan," American Honda Motor Co. Senior Vice President John Mendel said during the Chicago unveiling. Honda says the Si sedan will be aimed at "true enthusiasts seeking a high level of performance and value."
Presumably, the company also will market - or at least help promote -- a variety of accessories that will allow tuners to customize the new Si sedan in much the same way they have done with other Civic models, including earlier Si versions.
And while no prices have been announced yet for the Si sedan, I'm sure it will be priced similarly to the Si coupe, which starts just over $20,000, including freight.
In comparison, the base Civic coupe begins at $14,360 (plus freight), and the base sedan model at $14,560.
But fully equipped Civic coupes can run as high as $20,810, and sedans as much as $20,550 - without the high-performance engine. The base Civics come with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 140 horsepower.
The hybrid model is the most-expensive Civic, beginning at $21,850. It comes only in sedan form, and has a 110-horsepower, four-cylinder gasoline engine and a 20-horsepower electric motor that helps boost power.
Honda just began selling the newest Si coupe in December, completing the rollout of the redesigned Civic line that began in September with the regular sedan and coupe models, followed in October by the redesigned hybrid,.
The original S and Si models are credited with starting the Civic tuner-car craze. Introduced in 1984, the S model became the Si in 1986. When it caught the eyes of enthusiasts in the late '80s, the tuner-craze took off. The Si introduced for 2006 replaced the Si model that rejoined the Civic lineup in 2002 after a few years' absence.
This year's Si coupe has 37 more horsepower than the previous model, which was a completely different car from the previous-generation Civic coupe. The last Si was built in the United Kingdom, using the chassis of a European version of the Civic.
While no fuel-economy ratings have been announced for the new Si sedan, you can expect mileage to be similar to that of the '06 Si coupe. It's EPA rated at 23 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. That compares with 30 city/38 highway for the 2006 coupe with the 140-horsepower engine and five-speed manual transmission. As with the current Si coupe, the sedan will have some readily distinguishable features, including a rear-deck wing and special Si emblems on the car's exterior. The coupe model comes with side-curtain air bags and seat-mounted front side air bags, which probably will be included in the Si sedan.
The only options offered on this year's Si coupe are a GPS navigation system and high-performance summer tires. Adding the special tires raises the price $200, while the navigation system is an extra $1,750. With both options, the '06 Si coupe tops out at $22,490, including freight.
Even with all of the aftermarket accessories, the Si will be fun right out of the box without having to spend extra if you don't want to. Expect aftermarket accessories to include special wheels, audio upgrades and custom exterior trim, and a whole variety of performance upgrades.
The newest Si coupe comes with a trunk, while the previous model was a hatchback. And instead of being built in England, this one comes from a Honda plant in Canada that makes other Civic models as well.
Martin said no final decision has been made yet as to where the Si sedan will be built, but Honda assembles the current Civic sedan in East Liberty, Ohio, as well as at plants in Canada and Japan.
"We could build it at any one of those three plants," Martin said.
The hybrid sedan is built only in Japan. It has EPA ratings of 51 mpg city/49 highway. With the optional navigation system, the price is $23,900 (including freight). The Si sedan will be on the same chassis as the regular sedan and hybrid, Martin said. The 2006 sedan is 176.8 inches long, compared with 174.8 inches for the coupe models.
Martin said Honda originally projected sales of about 16,000 for the Si coupe model for 2006, compared with about 100,000 for the regular coupe. But Si sales have been higher than expected and production probably will have to be increased, he said.
No sales projections have been announced yet for the Si sedan.
Among the gasoline-only Civics, the midlevel LX model, which Honda calls "well-equipped," begins at $16,310 for the coupe and $16,510 for the sedan, both with manual gearbox; the automatic is $800 extra.
The top-of-the-line EX starts at $18,260 for either the coupe or sedan model with manual transmission.
Introduced in 1973 and for most of its life a best-seller for Honda, the Civic line has always represented dependable, economical transportation.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; email@example.com.
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