By on July 27, 2004

We don't need no stinkin' badgesHere's the thing: the 2004 Honda Civic Si has already been written off. Somehow, the car that popped the cherry for America's import racers has become an also-ran, outgunned by a new generation of high-horsepower compacts like the Subaru WRX and Dodge SRT-4. Honda's legendary hatchback now finds itself in an awkward and unfamiliar position: on the outside looking in. So is it time to say 'Sayonara' to the Si?

The EP3 (as it is known among devotees) is something of an odd-looking duck. Ever since it first set ply on American soil in 2002, critics have derided the Si as a tumbled-dried Honda Odyssey. In the metal, however, the Civic's chunky but clean design plays the light well, its sleek design is a stark contrast to the superfluous visual avoirdupois cluttering most performance imports. Or at least that used to be the case…

Si's funereal interior features a pornographic [shift] knobTo jumpstart lethargic sales, Honda has given the Si an emergency bling implant. Changes include glitzy projector-style headlamps, inch larger 5-lug alloys and fussy 'Euro-style' tail lamps. For $4k more (plus fitment), the HFP kit (Honda Factory Performance) adds a marginally lowered suspension, aerodynamic addenda, 17×7" alloys and some stinkin' badges.

The Si's interior comes in one color: black. The cabin's dour demeanor is mitigated– slightly– by silver, metal-effect plastic. A horseshoe-shaped lump of the stuff surrounds the center stack, which houses the Si's standard CD-player, HVAC fiddlies and the, um, shifter. Contemplating the stubby shift column sprouting from the lower midsection of the dashboard, it's hard not to conclude that the hot hatch is… well… hung. Viewed from the side, clocking the ribbed rubber boot, the phallic implications are inescapable.

Rev-happy K-series engine and understeer no match for latest hot hatchesBright red stitching continues the auto-erotic subtext, lining everything from the Si's firm and supportive seats (attractively clad in alcantara and cloth) to the leather-covered shiftknob and small-diameter three-spoke steering wheel (hidebound and fat in all the right places). Not to belabor a metaphor, but all the switchgear falls pleasingly to hand, with well-sited gauges and robust feeling controls. Interplay between the driver's seat, wheel, pedals and shifter is peerless, though a telescopic column wouldn't go amiss. Considering the Si's British origins, the car's overall build quality is commendably high, with thoughtfully grained plastics and perfect panel gaps.

The formal roofline pays dividends with decent rear-seat headroom. Legroom is limited, but even full-sized adults can be ferried about on shorter stints– provided they're flexible enough to gain entry. A clumsy seatback mechanism (bereft of position retention) gives way to a Mary Kate-sized aperture through which backseat intenders must origami.

Honda Civic Type-R.  Can we have one now, please?The Si is powered by Honda's K-series 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The rev-happy powerplant fails to deliver the firepower you'd expect from a performance-branded vehicle. With just 160hp @ 6,500rpm and 132ft.-lbs. @ 5,000rpm on tap, the warmed-up Civic is no drag strip superstar. She'll jog from zero to 60mph in about eight seconds. That's a respectable number for a family car, but lethargic compared to the Dodge SRT-4 or Saturn Ion Redline, amongst others. Embarrassingly, even Honda's own Odyssey will leave the Si sucking spent gasses.

Despite this, the Si hits the highway with alacrity. The little huevo will post triple-digit speeds all day long, though its electric steering could be a bit more feelsome at such velocities. High-speed cruising will also leave drivers wishing for a sixth cog; the Si's engine din quickly grows tiresome. Mug your favorite set of twisties and you're immediately and painfully aware that the Si's handling is undermined by meek footwear: P205/55 R16 all-season Michelins. The order of the day is understeer, and plenty of it, proceeded and accompanied by the sound of protesting rubber. More worryingly, the ABS-governed four-wheel disc brakes dislike protracted abuse (electronic brake force distribution notwithstanding). When caned hard, brake fade visits early and often.

Less demanding drivers will not be put off by the Si's less-than-exhilarating acceleration and handling– unless they've driven an SVT Focus or MINI Cooper. In truth, there's little wrong here that couldn't be fixed by belting on a supercharger or stripping-out some of the Honda's weight. The excess ballast also affects the car's mileage; I only managed 24mpg in mixed (if maniacal) driving.

The Honda Si costs $19,070. Or not. We've heard of new Si's selling for 25% off list and untitled '03's going for even less. Despite deep discounts, once-loyal Civic customers are withholding their pocketbooks, opting for faster, cheaper and better equipped cars like the Mazda3 and Scion tC. Quite simply, the Honda Civic Si lacks the goods. If Honda wants to put enthusiasts into a factory tuned Civic, they need to face facts: class standards have been raised. Today's market is full of quick, fine-handling pocket rockets. It's time to ditch the Si and bring on the no-holds-barred Type-R (selling in the UK). The Si's day is past.

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