Crucial Cars: GMC Syclone

black GMC Syclone parked on a small-town streetImagine this: It’s summer 1991 and you’re cruising around in your new Mustang GT. You rumble up to a red light and notice a black Chevy S-10 with lower body skirts and fancy wheels roll up in the next lane. The streets are empty, and you sense the guy in the small pickup staring at you. When you catch his gaze, he grins and gives the “let’s go” sign. Really, buddy? OK.

So the light goes green and, with wide-open road ahead, you both hit it. With a couple of chirps from the rear Goodyears, the ‘Stang leaps away from the light. You take him off the line, but then something weird happens—the black pickup streaks away, hissing angrily and showing you its shrinking taillights. As you lift off the gas in defeat, you notice a tailgate decal you’d never yet seen or heard about. It says: GMC Syclone.

Defeating a Ferrari

We imagine this played out more than a few times for unsuspecting drivers—not just American performance iron, but also wheeling European purebreds such as M-edition BMWs and even the occasional Ferrari.

Car and Driver pitted a GMC Syclone against a Ferrari 348, and the lowly GMC pickup beat the Italian stallion in a quarter-mile drag race. Of course, if both drivers kept their feet in it, the 348 would’ve pulled away shortly after. It did have a top speed some 40 mph higher than the Syclone’s. But no matter. For most Americans, 0-to-60 and quarter-mile performance mean a lot more in the real world than top speed. However, exploring your car’s terminal velocity is best done at an airstrip or the Autobahn.

The Syclone’s acceleration numbers were just incredible for the time, with 0-to-60 and quarter-mile times running in the low-five-second and low-14-second range, respectively, according to Car and Driver. Since turbocharged engines like cooler, denser air, a cool day would likely have those times improving by a few tenths. That might be why GMC claimed a 13.7-second quarter. Clearly, this was a pickup with pickup.

Power-packed pickup

rear view of a black Syclone parked in a warehouse district

Source | Creative Commons

Introduced and officially produced only for the 1991 model year (there’s an unconfirmed rumor that three were produced for 1992), the GMC Syclone was a lot of truck. It was much more than a Sonoma (itself identical to the Chevy S-10) compact pickup truck with a turbocharged 4.3-liter V6 stuffed under the hood. That boosted version of the workhorse 4.3 was a force to be reckoned with, as it was conservatively rated at 280 horsepower back when the Mustang’s 5.0-liter V8 made 225.

But the Syclone also featured all-wheel drive (with a 35/65 front/rear power split). The AWD system helped turn that prodigious power into performance. The four tires dug in and hurled the truck onward when the hammer dropped, instead of sending the rear tires up in smoke while time ticked away. Completing the performance package was an efficient four-speed automatic transmission, a lowered suspension, and four-wheel anti-lock brakes.

Tasteful, not tacky

Available only in a menacing blacked-out exterior finish, as with Buick’s Grand National, the Syclone’s visual tweaks were aggressive without being overdone. They included those flared-out rocker panels, fog lights, handsome 16-inch alloy wheels and relatively discreet red “Syclone” decals.

To those who weren’t familiar with this pumped-up pickup, it looked like it was just a Chevy S-10 or GMC Sonoma with a body kit and wheels. Inside, special treatment consisted of black cloth buckets with red piping and “Syclone” headrest monograms, a full instrument package and a console with a shifter borrowed from the Corvette.a red Syclone with Marlboro decals in a parking lot

Marlboro Racing paint and decals, Source | Creative Commons

Though not production versions, there were 10 customized Syclones given away in a Marlboro Racing contest. These special Syclones were painted red with white graphics and featured a targa roof (i.e. a one-piece removable roof), custom wheels, a 3-inch lower suspension, performance chip and exhaust, Recaro sport seats, a Momo steering wheel, and a booming Sony sound system.

Seldom-seen speed demons

black typhoon SUV races alongside a steam train

Source | Creative Commons

With just under 3,000 produced, the Syclone is a rare breed indeed. The following year, 1992, the new Typhoon carried the hot-rod truck torch for GMC as the company released the speedy SUV. Essentially the same vehicle as the Syclone but with a more practical compact SUV body, the Typhoon allowed up to five people, rather than just two, to revel in the ridiculously rapid performance of this vehicular wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Do you remember the Syclone? Tell us what you thought about it.

Crucial Cars: Toyota MR2

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without. For this installment, we put the spotlight on Toyota’s feisty sports car, the MR2.

Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seater. For you trivia buffs, that’s how Toyota came up with the name of its sports car that debuted in the mid-1980s. Encompassing three generations before bowing out 20 years later, the MR2 endeared itself to thousands of driving enthusiasts.

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The dancing doorstop

The first-generation MR2 debuted for the 1985 model year. Petite, low to the ground and weighing just around 2,300 pounds, the athletic little runabout quickly became the poster car for affordable sports-car thrills. For good reason, car magazines such as Road & Track and Car and Driver raved about the MR2. A 1.6-liter, DOHC 16-valve inline four making 112 horsepower sat behind the cockpit and ran through either a slick-shifting five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic. The buff books called the manual one of the best in the world due to its satisfying, toggle-switch-like action. The engine’s smooth, high-revving nature also made it a blast to run through the gears, and with such little mass to push around it provided sprightly acceleration. As such, 0-60 mph sprints in the 8.5 second range and quarter-mile runs of around 16.5 seconds were possible and very quick for a car powered by a 1.6-liter four.

The MR2 saw a mid-cycle refresh for 1987, with the more notable changes including a slight bump in engine output (to 115 hp), bigger brakes, restyled front bumper/taillights, a T-bar roof option (with removable glass panels) and a sportier three-spoke steering wheel.

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For 1988, those wanting more gusto saw their wish granted in the form of the MR2 Supercharged, which boasted a force-fed 1.6-liter four making a stated 145 hp. The actual output was likely considerably higher, as performance testing had the little rocket hitting 60 mph in less than seven seconds and running the quarter in the low-15-second range. The following year would see only minor changes, such as an LED-strip-style third brake light, more aerodynamic mirrors, and for the Supercharged version, a rear anti-roll bar.

The baby Ferrari follows

After taking 1990 off, the MR2 returned for the 1991 model year completely redesigned. Looking a lot like a 3/4-scale Ferrari 348 minus the cheese-grater side intakes, it boasted not only exotic car looks but increased power, comfort, and performance. It also gained around 300 pounds in curb weight, though most viewed that as a small price to pay given the aforementioned upgrades.

With its 2.2-liter, DOC four making a willing 130 hp, the base MR2 was respectably quick, as it could hit 60 and run the quarter mile a few tenths quicker than its predecessor. As before, the athletic MR2 was more about providing backroads entertainment than it was about straight line thrills. Transmission choices were the same as before. Yet those with more of a need for speed had only to choose the top dog in the lineup, which was now turbocharged rather than supercharged. With its force-fed 2.0-liter four making a robust 200 horses, the new MR2 Turbo could rocket to 60 in just around six seconds flat and rip through the quarter in the mid-14-second range.

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Addressing concerns about the car’s propensity toward snap oversteer when pushed to its cornering limits, Toyota made a number of suspension changes as well as the fitment of 15-inch tires (versus the former 14s) for 1993 to make the car more forgiving of non-expert pilots. That year also saw more standard features for the Turbo (including T-tops, air conditioning and cruise control), as well as a newly optional limited-slip differential for that line-topping model.

For 1994, base versions got five more horses (for a total of 135), while all versions got a revised taillight panel (with a color-keyed center insert). Other update highlights included a one-piece (versus the previous three-piece) rear spoiler and revised power steering that provided more assist at low speeds and less at higher speeds. The following year, this MR2’s last in the U.S. market, saw no changes of note.

Along came a Spyder

After a four-year hiatus, the MR2 returned to the U.S. This third (and last) generation took a somewhat retro tack, as it morphed into a more traditionally styled, soft-top sports car. Toyota emphasized this new theme by adding “Spyder” (basically Italian for convertible sports car) to its name. Aimed squarely at Mazda’s ridiculously popular Miata, the latest MR2 traded its formerly sexy curves for a somewhat blocky body “accented” by oversize headlights and taillights. To say it lost some “eyeball” would be understating things. And there was no longer a pumped-up supercharged or turbocharged version.

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Still, there was plenty to like here. Although the sole engine choice was a 1.8-liter, DOHC, 16-valve four, it featured variable valve timing and cranked out a respectable 138 hp. A five-speed manual gearbox was the only transmission initially offered. Notably, the Spyder was very light, boasting a curb weight of just around 2,200 pounds, which translated into peppy acceleration (0-60 in around seven seconds flat). A longer wheelbase than before gave both a smoother ride over broken pavement along with greater stability when pushed hard on a twisty road. Finally, the MR2 Spyder offered a lot of bang for the buck, and with a price tag of around $24,000, it not only was a blast to drive but came nicely equipped with air conditioning, full power features and sharp alloy wheels. City dwellers or those who just didn’t like clutch pedals could, in 2002, choose the newly optional five-speed, automated clutch manual gearbox. The following year saw that transmission upgraded to six-speeds, slightly restyled front/rear fascias, revised seats and recalibrated suspension components.

For 2004, the MR2 Spyder received an optional Torsen limited-slip differential, a stronger structure (for better crash protection), and, to the chagrin of most enthusiasts, a one-inch taller ride height. To celebrate 2005, the last year for the MR2 Spyder in the U.S., Toyota added a six-disc CD changer to the standard equipment list.

With its two-decade run and massive popularity among driving enthusiasts looking for a fun, dependable, and low-running-cost ride, the Toyota MR2 is hard to beat. A few web sites catering to MR2 fans include MR2 World and International MR2 Owners Club.

Did you own a Toyota MR2? Tell us about it in the comments.

Crucial Cars: Mazda RX-7, Part Two

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, Street Talk continues to shine the spotlight on a sports car with a strong, well-deserved fan base – the Mazda RX-7.

Back in the fall of 1978 when Mazda’s RX-7 sports car debuted (for the ‘79 model year), new wave music began shoving disco aside on radio, Space Invaders had kids shoving each other aside in video game centers, and Japanese cars accounted for about half of all new car sales in the U.S.

With its rotary engine and lightweight and agile chassis, the RX-7 was as big a hit with driving enthusiasts as those video games were with teenagers. We’ve already covered the first two generations of the Mazda RX-7, so now with Part Two of this retrospective, we pick up where we left off.

Crucial Cars 1993 Mazda RX-7

1993 Mazda RX-7

Sleek, Sophisticated, and Speedy

Unveiled for the 1993 model year, the third generation of the Mazda RX-7 was a leap forward in sophistication. With its low, flowing body stretched out over the wheels, the organic form of the newest rotary rocket was a study in how form following function can yield something bordering on motorized sculpture. Mazda had the goal of making the car lighter and more powerful, and it was emphatically met. At about 2,800 pounds, the new Mazda RX-7 weighed over 200 pounds less than a comparably-equipped previous-generation RX-7. And the rotary engine, still measuring just 1.3 liters—but now sporting twin turbochargers—spun out 255 eager horsepower.

This RX-7 was initially offered in three trim levels: the well-equipped base, the luxury-themed Touring, and the hard-core performance R1. For most folks, the base or leather-lined Touring version was ideal, while the stiffly-sprung R1 (and its successor, the R2) was geared towards track-day enthusiasts willing to put up with a harsh ride in exchange for maximum handling performance. In any event, the cockpit was all business, if a little tight for larger folks.

The numbers generated by the third-gen RX-7 were nothing short of stunning. With the ability to hit 60 mph in the low-five-second range and rip down the quarter mile in about 14 seconds flat, this Mazda was as speedy as a Ferrari 348. Yet true to its heritage, the RX-7 really came into its own on a twisty road, where its lightweight, superb balance, athletic chassis and communicative steering made it a blast.

Available in the States for just three model years (1993 through 1995), due to the car’s ever increasing price (the result of a strong yen and weak dollar) and resultant decreasing demand, the third-gen RX-7 nonetheless made a big impact on enthusiasts, as well as Mazda’s history book.

The numbers generated by the third-gen RX-7 were nothing short of stunning, with the ability to hit 60 mph in the low-five-second range and rip down the quarter mile in about 14 seconds flat.

Mazda’s Rotary Car Takes a Different Road

After a nearly 10-year hiatus in the states, Mazda’s rotary-powered sports car returned for 2004 with a slightly different name and slightly different mission. Now called the RX-8, the latest version of Mazda’s flagship performance car dropped the turbochargers, gained a functional back seat and emerged as a considerably more practical, if less elegant, sports car choice.

Crucial Cars 2004 Mazda RX-8

2004 Mazda RX-8

With its higher roofline and bigger cabin, the RX-8 lost much of its former visual pizzazz. But the benefit of its bulkier physique was a much larger interior that allowed a pair of adult-rated seats in the back. Accessed by a pair of reverse-opening rear doors, that rear compartment could comfortably carry a pair of six-footers, an unheard of feat in a genuine sports car.

The complex twin-turbo rotary engine of the previous generation gave way to a redesigned, simpler, naturally-aspirated rotary dubbed “Renesis”. It made a solid 238 hp when matched to the six-speed manual gearbox, and 197 hp when running through the available four-speed automatic. The tach’s redline was marked at an impressive 9,000 rpm.

Although it expectedly gained weight compared to the RX-7, the RX-8 at around 3,030 pounds was still respectably light, especially for a genuine four-seater. Naturally, its acceleration wasn’t quite as thrilling as before. But with a 6.6-second 60 mph time and a 15.1 second quarter-mile performance, it was still swift enough to induce grins, especially once the tach’s needle swung past 5,000 rpm.

Available through 2011, the mostly unchanged RX-8 enjoyed a long run that spanned eight model years. And make no mistake, even with its ability to transport four full-size adults, Mazda’s rotary-powered sports machine was still plenty of fun to drive as it retained the loveable, light-on-its-feet and connected to the driver personality it had since day one.

Mazda RX-7 enthusiasts looking for advice, upcoming events, and classifieds should check out rx7club.comas well as rx7.org.

Crucial Cars: Toyota Corolla AE86

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without. For this installment, we put the spotlight on an iconic, rear-drive compact sport coupe – the Toyota Corolla AE86.

For the most part, the Toyota Corolla has long been known as a well-built, very reliable compact car, if not the most exciting thing on four wheels. When friends and relatives of ours are looking for an economical and practical used car that promises many years of trouble-free performance, the Corolla is typically on our short list of recommendations. But although most folks think of a staid four-door sedan when “Corolla” is mentioned, look closely at its family tree and you’ll see that there was a handsome jock or two in the family.

1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S Coupe

1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S Coupe

“Go” to match the “show”

It was 1984, kids accompanied by boomboxes were popping and locking in the streets, the Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles, and Apple introduced the Macintosh computer. Oh, and Toyota created a hot-rod Corolla.

Although the Corolla coupe had been offered in “SR5” guise, a trim level highlighted by its then-notable 5-speed (rather than 4-speed) manual transmission, since the mid-’70s, a truly athletic version of Toyota’s bread and butter compact had yet to be offered. But that changed big time around midway through 1984 when, for the 1985 model year, Toyota brought out “GT-S” versions of its Corolla coupe and hatchback. The latter pair, also available in base and SR5 trim levels, had just been redesigned for ’84 and had the internal chassis code AE86.

These handsome, new two-door Corolla models retained rear-wheel drive while the also redesigned four-door Corolla sedan went to the increasingly popular front-wheel-drive layout. Although sending the power to the front wheels provided better traction on slippery roads and opened up more interior room, most serious driving enthusiasts preferred rear-wheel drive. The reasons for that preference included better front to rear weight balance, crisper turn-in response and, provided there’s enough sauce under the hood, the ability to powerslide the car’s tail around corners.

The GT-S provided that needed firepower in the form of a free-breathing, double-overhead-cam (DOHC), 16-valve (4 valves rather than the usual 2 per cylinder) 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Although its output of 112 horsepower might seem like a joke nowadays, keep in mind this was during an era where a Camaro Z28’s 5.0-liter V8 made anywhere from 155 to 215 horses. And these Corollas were light, tipping the scales at only around 2,300 pounds. By comparison, today’s Corolla (which is only available in a sedan) weighs 2,800 pounds.

The GT-S provided firepower in the form of a free-breathing, double-overhead-cam (DOHC), 16-valve 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine.

1985 Toyota Corolla SR5

1985 Toyota Corolla SR5

According to Motorweek, a GT-S hatchback’s run to 60 mph took 9.8 seconds, not exactly thrilling but respectable for the day. The sprint down the quarter mile was more impressive at 16.7 seconds, a testament to the engine’s high-revving nature. More than numbers on a spec sheet, it was the twin-cam’s smooth and eager nature, channeled through a slick-shifting 5-speed, that made more than a few drivers exuberantly blurt out expletives of joy. The GT-S’ firmed-up suspension, precise steering and crisp, predictable handling ensured that slicing through a section of twisty blacktop could similarly give cause for celebration.

Drifting away

Produced for just three model years (1985-1987), the Corolla AE86 made for a relatively small but undeniably important chapter in the book of Corolla. As the 1990s and 2000s rolled on, a small but potent wave of turbocharged, all-wheel-drive athletes crashed onto the sport compact scene. During the ’90s the Mitsubishi Eclipse and its cousin the Eagle Talon provided the thrills, while it was the Subaru Impreza WRX / WRX STi and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (“Evo”) models that boosted the pulse rates of drivers after the new millennium dawned.

Produced for just three model years (1985-1987), the Corolla AE86 made for a relatively small but undeniably important chapter in the book of Corolla.

But the AE86 would come back into the spotlight once more. As the drifting movement from Japan took hold and gained popularity, enthusiasts sought out affordable and easily modded mounts. Naturally, the durable AE86 was still available via the used car classifieds, as was another popular choice, Nissan’s 240SX.

Chapter two, 25 years later

2013 Scion FR-S

2013 Scion FR-S

The everlasting appeal of a small, light, agile, and just plain fun to drive sport coupe was not lost unto Toyota. It took a few decades, but for 2013 the spiritual successor to the AE86 made a triumphant return. In a joint venture with Subaru (who provided the horizontally-opposed four cylinder powertrain), Toyota brought the FR-S to market via its Scion division. Enthusiasts everywhere rejoiced by raising a glass of ’93 octane in its honor (or so we assume).

Right out of the box the FR-S (and its Subaru BRZ twin) was near perfect. With 200 horsepower only propelling about 2,800 pounds, the 0-to-60 sprint took less than 7 seconds. The car’s nimble nature, firm ride, strong brakes, and communicative steering were indicative of a pure sports machine.

Although the FR-S undoubtedly paid tribute to the AE86 Corolla (the badges on the front fenders have a stylized “86” between a pair of horizontally-opposed pistons), there was no denying it had been kicked up more than a few notches. Indeed, one could also say that the “Toyobaru” twins marked the welcome return of an elemental, no frills sports car.

Crucial Cars: Dodge Challenger

2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat

2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, Gearhead’s Garage puts the spotlight on Dodge’s long-time rival to the Camaro and Mustang, the Challenger
Although Plymouth had slapped a huge fastback rear window onto its pedestrian Valiant and called it a Barracuda back in ’64, Ford is credited with starting the sporty four-passenger coupe/convertible segment a few weeks later with its much more unique Mustang, hence the “pony car” nickname for this then-new segment.

By 1970, the pony car segment was in full force. The Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird came onto the scene for 1967, as did a redesigned Barracuda that broke away from its humble Valiant roots. AMC debuted its Javelin for 1968. And then Dodge finally joined the party for 1970 with its Challenger.

Big Bruiser
With its bigger size compared to its rivals (it was about four inches longer and five inches wider than a Mustang), the Challenger, available in coupe and convertible body styles, was a boulevard bruiser. Curiously, its redesigned-for-’70 Barracuda platform mate was about five inches shorter in length, making it more of a true pony car in terms of size. Still, there was no denying the appeal of the Challenger no matter how you wanted to classify it.

Mild to Wild
As with its competitors, the Dodge Challenger could be equipped with anything from a lackluster six cylinder engine to any of a number of pavement rippling V8s. Trim levels included the base Challenger, luxury-themed Challenger SE, high-performance R/T and road race track-focused T/A.

Engine choices ran the spectrum from a 225-cubic-inch slant six with just 145-horsepower and on through 318-, 340-, 383-, 426- and 440-cubic-inch V8s. Of them all, the most highly respected were the high-winding 340 4-barrel and “Six-Pack” (three two-barrel carbs), stout 440 4-barrel and Six-Pack and brutal 426 Hemi, (which boasted two four-barrel carbs). Their seriously underrated outputs stood at 275 hp, 290 hp, 375 hp, 390 hp and 425 hp, respectively.

Performance figures of the day had the Challenger T/A (which came with the 340 Six-Pack) sprinting to 60 mph in around 7.0 seconds and running the quarter mile in around 15.0, with the 440 Six Pack about a second quicker in each contest. A Hemi Challenger was king of the strip with the 0-to-60 dash done in about 5.8 seconds and the quarter mile done in the high 13s.

The following year, 1971, saw the T/A version and its 340 Six-Pack engine dropped from the lineup, but the 440 Six-Pack and the 426 Hemi were still available. This would be the last year for those big brutes. A split grille insert and separated rear taillights (versus the single unbroken strip of ’70) marked the minor styling update for that year’s Challenger.

As most muscle cars fans know, 1972 signaled the downfall of this performance era, and the Challenger was a victim as well. In addition to the convertible body style going away, so too did the big engine options, leaving just the slant six, 318 V8 and 340 V8. Furthermore, a drop in compression ratios as well as a change from SAE Gross to Net (engine running a full exhaust and accessories) ratings dropped output numbers.

Trim levels were also reduced that year to just two: the base Challenger and the sportier Rallye. As such, the hot ticket for ’72 was a Challenger Rallye with the 340 V8 and a four-speed stick. The 0-to-60 and quarter mile times for that version were still respectable at around 7.5- and 15.5-seconds, respectively. Styling changes included a much larger grille that continued below the bumper and a change to four semi-rectangular taillights.

For 1973 and 1974 (which would be this generation’s last year) the Challenger continued pretty much unchanged with the exception of a 360 cubic-inch V8 replacing the 340 for 1974 and the car receiving larger bumper guards to meet federal standards.

In Name Only
For 1978, the Challenger returned. No, actually just the name returned as that classic moniker was affixed to a Dodge-badged version of a Mitsubishi built sport coupe powered by – perish the thought — a four cylinder engine. Actually, one could choose between a 2.0-liter, 77 hp mill or a 2.6-liter 105 hp four banger. Electronic features and a plush velour interior highlighted this rival to the Toyota Celica and Datsun (Nissan) 200SX. For 1980, the big four became the standard engine while 1981 brought a more upright roofline. 1983 was the last year for this misnamed but pleasant enough small sport coupe.

The Real Challenger Returns
More than three decades after the original Challenger left the factory, its true successor returned. Specifically, 2008 saw the return of the Dodge Challenger, complete with a tribute to the 1970’s styling as well as a rip-roaring V8 engine. Though it may look very similar to a ’70-’74 Challenger, the new-age one is considerably larger. At around 4,150 pounds it tips the scales about 500 pounds heavier, and both wheelbase and overall length are around six inches greater. The positives are that the new Challenger has a lot more safety and luxury features, as well as considerably greater rear seat passenger room.

Indeed, only the ultra-high-performance “SRT8” version was available for 2008, complete with a 425-horsepower, 6.1-liter Hemi V8 engine matched to a five-speed automatic. Performance was stunning, as the Challenger SRT8 could leap to 60 in just 5.1 seconds and dismiss the quarter mile in 13.2 seconds, handily beating the legendary 426 Hemi Challenger of 1970. And unlike the old car, this one boasted fairly athletic handling around corners and could stop from 60 mph in just 115 feet.

The following year, a six-speed manual became available for the SRT8 and a base, V6-powered SE debuted, along with the return of the R/T, this time as a mid-level performance version packing a 5.7-liter, 370 hp Hemi V8.

For 2011, a new V6 engine sporting 305 hp debuted, meaning no apologies need be made for driving a “base” Challenger. Also, the SRT8 became the SRT8 392, the numbers signifying in cubic inches a larger V8 with 470 eager horses that can catapult this beast to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. Upgrades in suspension, steering and brakes across the lineup make this a very good year to consider if you’re in the market for a Challenger.

Essentially Unchallenged
Apart from minor equipment shuffling and some new trim levels, the Challenger continued through 2014 mostly unchanged. But 2015 brought some really big news. New styling paid tribute to, what else, the 1971 Challenger with its split grille (on all but the Hellcat version) and separated taillights. A new interior was a leap forward in terms of style and materials quality, while an eight-speed automatic joins the six-speed manual for transmission choices.

And now, forget 500, or even 600 horsepower. With the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat, an incredible 707 horsepower could be had under the scooped hood of a Challenger. Performance of this road burner was simply mind bending, with the dash to 60 mph a traction-dictated 4.1 second effort (with drag radials a 3-second time would likely be cake) and the quarter mile unreeled in just 11.9 seconds, making this one of the quickest street legal cars ever offered for sale to the general public.

Join the Club
If you’re a Challenger owner or even just an enthusiast, there are a few web sites you can check out for specs, classifieds and car show information. There are the Challenger Club of America, Dodge Challenger Forumz, and West Coast Challengers, to name a few.

Crucial Cars: The Mini Cooper

minicooperside

Image via miniusa.com

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, the Mechanic Next Door has some fun peeking under the bonnet of the iconic MINI Cooper and looking at how it’s evolved over the decades.

As the MINI Cooper approaches its 60th anniversary in 2019, its creator – Sir Alex Issigonis – would be equally proud and astonished at the iconic model’s longevity and steadily increasing popularity, and perhaps even a little taken aback that some of today’s MINIs aren’t so mini after all.

The first Mini Mark I rolled off the assembly line in 1959 and went on to become the best-selling British car in history with more than five million Mini’s produced until 2000. That was the year that production under the English Rover Group ended after BMW sold the Rover Group – which it had acquired in 1994 – but retained the MINI brand.

Image via miniusa.com

Image via miniusa.com

Fueling the 1960’s Mini craze was its innovative design – despite being small, it offered plenty of interior space for passengers and luggage. That early design included a transverse engine, front-wheel drive, compact dimensions, and a unibody that reduced weight and increased interior space. Mini’s first generation – called the Mark I but better known as the Austin 850 or Morris 850 outside the UK and as the Austin Seven or Morris Mini-Minor in the UK – encompasses the 1959 to 1966 model years.

The Cooper name became synonymous with Mini in the 60s when John Cooper, owner of the Cooper Car Company, added muscle to the Mini by giving it a larger engine and other enhancements. Cooper was already making a name for his company by leading the revolution toward building and winning with rear-engine race cars. His success carried over to the Mini when his versions won the 1964, ’65 and ’67 Monte Carlo Rallies, with a four-year sweep being thwarted only by the Mini Cooper’s disqualification in the ’66 Rally after taking the top three spots.

Mini’s popularity was helped further by the car’s appearance in chase scenes in the 1969 hit film “The Italian Job.” Those Minis represented generation two – Mini Mark II – and featured a larger rear window and redesigned grill, as compared to the first Minis.

Generation three Mini began with the 1969-70 model and the most noticeable change from the previous generation being larger doors with concealed hinges and larger windows that wound up and down, instead of sliding left or ride. Mini Mark IV through Mark VII followed until BMW’s change in 2000.

Throughout the years, Mini continued to rack up the awards, including Autocar magazine’s Car of the Century in 1995, the Number One Classic Car of All Time by Classic & Sports Car magazine in 1996, European Car of the Century by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation in 1999, and 2003 North American Car of the Year, among others.

Image via miniusa.com

Image via miniusa.com

Depending on which Mini you’re looking at today, it either looks much like its first ancestor, or only bears a faint resemblance to those early models. As Mini’s popularity grew, so too have the Mini models offered. Today, there are nine Mini models available.

  • Hardtop Two-Door – bears the closest resemblance to the original Mini
  • Hardtop Four-Door – a larger Mini with four doors and more space
  • Countryman – the “Big Mini” features four doors, seating for five, and all-wheel drive
  • Clubman – four doors, a split rear door, and the largest Mini available
  • Convertible – looks like the original, minus the hard top
  • Paceman – two-door hatch seats four and features all-wheel drive
  • Coupe – powerful, sporty two-seater
  • Roadster – similar to the Coupe, but more fun thanks to the soft top
  • John Cooper Works – race-ready Minis that look like they could be a lot of fun, and get you in a lot of trouble

With a $20,700 price tag, zero-to-60 stats that are 2.3 seconds faster than its predecessor thanks to a TwinPower turbo engine, tons of dashboard technology, and world-famous, go-kart like handling, today’s entry-level, two-door Mini’s all grown up, but still a serious toy for thrill-seeking drivers of all ages.

Editor’s note: If you want to keep your Mini looking and running great, count on Advance Auto Parts for all your vehicle needs. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

Crucial Cars: Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta ST

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, Street Talk puts the spotlight on a sporty American subcompact – the Ford Fiesta

Introduced for the 1977 model year, the Ford Fiesta brought European flair to the humdrum American small car marketplace. Unlike the clumsy, poorly built Vegas, Pintos and Gremlins of the day, the Fiesta was light, agile and better on gas to boot. But although the Fiesta is now in its sixth generation, the U.S. has only received the first and latest versions of this subcompact. But that’s fine with us, as the newest Fiesta, with its solid build quality and very likeable, fun to drive personality is so good that we’re almost tempted to chant “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.” whenever we drive one.

From Germany with love
The first Fiesta to hit U.S. Ford dealers arrived for 1977. Built in Cologne, Germany, ain, the Fiesta was truly tiny compared to American made small cars. Indeed, with an overall length of 140 inches, this two-door hatchback was nearly two feet shorter in length than a Ford Pinto (163 inches). Power came from a 1.6-liter inline four that made an earth-shaking 66 horsepower. Still, that was enough to move the lightweight (1,800-pound) Fiesta along adequately in city traffic and on the open highway while delivering close to 40 mpg.

Available in the U.S. through 1980, these first-gen Fiestas were typically offered in four trim levels: base, Décor, Sport and Ghia, with increasing standard features culminating in the Ghia with its fancier exterior trim accents and plush cloth upholstery. With the Escort replacing the Fiesta (and Pinto) for 1981, the Euro-flavored little Ford took the next 30 years off from the U.S. market. But it would return with a vengeance.1979 Ford Fiesta

Back and all grown up
For model year 2011 the Fiesta was back in fine, make that much finer form. Once again bred chiefly in Europe but built in Mexico for the U.S. market, the modern-era Fiesta was so good at debut it had hardened car critics lavishing praise upon it. Offered in four-door sedan and four-door hatchback body styles, the new-age Fiesta brought a winning combination of style, refinement and sporty driving dynamics, qualities previously about as foreign to the U.S. small car marketplace as Bratwurst would be on a hamburger joint’s menu.

With 120 horsepower on tap, these Fiestas had more power than one would typically see in the subcompact class (a 2011 Mazda 2 had but 100 hp). One could choose between a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, while one could choose between base S, midlevel SE and top of the line SEL (sedan) and SES (hatchback) trim levels. A few years later the top-dog trim for both body styles was changed to Titanium.

The Fiesta also offered small car buyers some rather unusual available luxuries such as voice command for phone and audio functions, keyless entry/ignition and heated leather seats. The few downsides for this Fiesta are its rather busy center stack audio controls and somewhat meager rear seat and cargo space.

That America now offered a more than competitive subcompact car was certainly noteworthy, but the big news arrived for 2014, with the introduction of the overtly sporty ST along with the debut of a fun yet frugal turbocharged three cylinder engine.

2011 Ford Fiesta sedanFirst the ST. This hot hatch (it’s not available in the sedan body) comes ready to rock with a turbocharged, 197-horse 1.6-liter powerhouse matched to a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox. Rounding out this automotive athlete’s perks are a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels shod with high-performance tires, quicker steering and upgraded brakes. Visual cues for the ST include unique styling tweaks (grille, rocker flairs, foglights) and dual exhaust outlets. Able to sprint to 60 mph in about 7 seconds flat, the Fiesta ST is one of the quickest small cars you can buy. Yet there’s more than straight-line thrills here, as a romp through a twisty mountain road will readily prove, thanks to the ST’s agile demeanor and quick, communicative steering.

Although the ST has hogged the Fiesta’s headlines, the 1.0-liter, “EcoBoost” turbocharged three cylinder engine (optional on the SE trim) deserves mention. Worked through a five-speed manual transmission (no automatic available), this little dynamo can pull the Fiesta to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds while also delivering impressive fuel economy to the tune of 36 mpg combined.

Regardless of which Ford Fiesta you own (or may end up with), you may want to check out a few of the enthusiast sites such as Fiesta Owners Club and Ford Fiesta Forum. And whether you go with a base version, an ST or something in between, you’re virtually guaranteed an enjoyable driving experience ranging from fine to fired-up.

No matter what you drive, Advance Auto Parts has the parts, tools and savings deals to ensure you get what you need—fast. Buy online, puck up in-store in 30 minutes.

 

Crucial Cars: Chevrolet El Camino

1970 el camino ss

1970 El Camino SS

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, Gearhead’s Garage puts the spotlight on that car/pickup truck cross breed known as the Chevrolet El Camino

“Is that thing a car or a pickup truck?” That question has been asked of owners of Chevrolet’s El Camino for decades. Certainly for most, if not all of its 26-year (total) production run many have pondered this vehicle’s genetics. Although officially classified as a truck, it is clearly a two-door car whose rear seats and trunk have been supplanted with a pickup-style open cargo bed. Whether it’s a 1965 or a 1985, from the front bumper to the end of the doors, an El Camino is virtually indistinguishable from the Chevrolet passenger car upon which it is based. And being a Chevy, one could have it as a plain Jane, six-cylinder-powered shop workhorse or a full-on muscle car ready to rumble down the boulevard with a “Turbo Jet” big-block V8.

1959 el camino truck

1959 El Camino

The fleeting full-sizer
Debuting for 1959, the first-generation Chevrolet El Camino was based on Chevy’s full-size car platform. As such, the front clip and doors were the same as those seen on the Brookwood, a two-door station wagon, while an open pickup bed dominated the rear half of the vehicle. The cool “cat’s eyes” tail lights with their big chrome “eyebrow”, seen on the other big Chevrolet’s, was also incorporated into the El Camino’s tailgate design.

Under the beefy hood one could choose anything from the base, lackluster straight six through a family of V8s ranging from 283 cubic inches to 348 cubes. Depending on the engine choice, changing gears could be done via a column-mounted three-speed manual (aka “three on the tree”), a floor-shifted four-speed manual or a two-speed automatic. The hot set-up was the 348 with triple two-barrel carburetion, solid lifters and a four-speed. Fitted with the latter powertrain, an El Camino tested by Hot Rod magazine sprinted to 60 mph in just 7 seconds, a very quick time for the day, let alone one for a two-ton bruiser.

But these early, full-size El Caminos were short lived due to plummeting second year sales. They were produced only for 1959 and 1960. But after a three year hiatus, the El Camino would come back strong, this time based on a smaller, more practical midsize car platform.

1967 El Camino Truck

1967 El Camino

Ladies and gentlemen, the El Camino
Debuting for 1964, the same year as the Beatles in America as well as Chevrolet’s new, mid-size Chevelle, the reincarnated El Camino was more practical than its massive predecessor. Based on that Chevelle, this El Camino was easier to park and similarly offered a measure of open-bed hauling ability along with car-like comfort and handling qualities. And now, one could also opt for a Super Sport (SS) version. The ’64 and ’65 El Caminos are very similar with variations in front end styling and top engine choices being the chief differences. For both years, a four-barrel fed 327 V8 was the top power choice, with ’64s rated at 300 hp and ’65s making an impressive 350 horses.

In expected lock-step with the Chevelle, the El Camino was redesigned for 1966 and like the Chevelle SS coupe, could now be had with big-block 396 V8 power. With up to 375 hp on tap, it was ready to lay waste to rear tires and most stop light challengers alike. Indeed, with a quarter mile potential in the low/mid 14-second range, an El Camino SS 396 wasn’t to be taken lightly in the performance game. And you still had that big open bed in the back to carry spare tires. The 1967 edition was similar to the ’66 apart from the expected front end styling and interior updates.

This successful formula of offering everything from a six-cylinder, bench seat stripper to a big-block-powered, 4-speed with buckets-and-console street machine continued for the redesigned ’68 and similar ’69 El Caminos. The styling was bulkier than in past years, with thicker rear roof pillars and angled downward bed sides.

The 1970 through 1972 examples were arguably the most attractive, with the SS versions boasting the dual wide hood stripes and power-domed hood as their coupe brethren. You could even top off that hood with optional “Cowl Induction” that, upon laying into the gas pedal, opened up a small rear-facing flap to admit cooler air into the carburetor. The 1970 model year was the El Camino’s most potent, as the SS version could be optioned out with the legendary LS6 454 V8. Cranking out 450 horses, this brute could propel an El Camino down a quarter mile in the low/mid-13 second range. Power began to drop off after that point.

1975 el camino photo

1975 El Camino

Performance becomes passé
The redesigned 1973 through 1977 model years would be the last of the bigger El Caminos and also were examples of the “Malaise” era. During that time, performance grew increasingly lackluster due to the increasingly stringent emissions standards and the need to run on lower octane gasoline with lower compression ratios.

By 1975, catalytic converters were fitted cope with emissions regulations and engine outputs hit new lows. The engines ran cleaner but performance suffered. Heck, if you checked off the 454 V8 option for your 1975 El Camino, you were rewarded with just 215 hp, and it was only available with an automatic by then. The adoption of a Mercedes-like grille for 1975 and then stacked, square headlights the following year were the major styling changes for this generation.

Lighten up, will ya?

1978 El Camino Black Night photo

1978 El Camino Black Night

Downsizing was the order of the day for GM’s 1978 midsize cars, including Chevy’s own Monte Carlo and Malibu, so by default the El Camino similarly slimmed down. About 12 inches shorter in length and 600 pounds lighter, the ’78 El Camino provided about the same passenger and cargo space as before and was more fuel efficient. Engines ranged from a 3.3-liter V6 on up to a 5.7-liter (350 cubic inch) V8 with 170 hp. In addition to an automatic, there were 3- and 4-speed manual transmissions, both floor-shifted.

The SS was gradually phased out, essentially replaced by the seemingly Pontiac Trans Am-inspired, black and gold trimmed “Black Knight” (later replaced by “Royal Knight”) edition. For ’79, a new 4.4-liter V8 debuted with a weak sauce 120 estimated horsepower. The following year the 5.7-liter V8 was gone, leaving a 5.0-liter (305 cube) V8 with 150 horses as the top power choice.

For 1982, this longest-lived generation of the El Camino received a facelift in the form of a new grille and quad headlights. This year also marked the availability of the ill-fated 5.7-liter diesel V8, a mill known for returning good fuel efficiency but bad reliability.

The biggest news for this generation came late in 1983, when the SS returned in flamboyant fashion. Actually the result of a joint venture with a company called Choo Choo Customs, the resurrected SS sported the aerodynamic nose of the Monte Carlo SS along with the requisite “SS” decals. Options for this SS included a raised power dome hood that recalled that of the ’70-’72 SS, simulated side pipe exhausts and a roof-mounted air spoiler. Sadly, no special engine was offered, as the 305 V8 was as good as it got.

Apart from minor engine shuffling that included the introduction of a 140-horse, 4.3-liter V6 for 1985, not much changed from that point on through 1987, the El Camino’s last year.

1984 El Camino SS photo

1984 El Camino SS

Entertaining the purchase or restoration of an El Camino?
Although most El Camino enthusiasts will likely lust after a ’66 through ’72 SS big block (396, 402, 454 V8s), one can still get plenty of pin-you-to-the-seat thrills with a small block version thanks to a huge variety of aftermarket hop-up parts including high-performance heads, camshafts, carburetors, intake manifolds and exhaust headers.

Whether you want to maintain an original El Camino in factory-spec condition or you’re looking to modify one from the Malaise era into a true muscle machine, Advance Auto Parts is ready to help with plenty of high quality parts.

Editor’s note: It doesn’t matter if you’re a collector or a commuter, Advance Auto Parts has the parts, tools and accessories to keep you running right and looking good. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Crucial Cars: Chevy Tahoe

Red Chevy Tahoe 1

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, the Mechanic Next Door takes on the feature-rich Chevy Tahoe.

Kelly Blue Book voted the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe The Best Buy of the Year among full-size SUVs. ALG awarded it first place in the full-size SUV category. Car and Driver named it the Editors Choice in Full-Size Crossovers/SUVs, and the Texas Auto Writers Association selected Tahoe as the Full-Size SUV of Texas (doesn’t it go without saying that everything in Texas is full-size?) at the Texas Truck Rodeo.

The Tahoe has impressive numbers to go along with those awards and accolades. Tahoe sales increased 88 percent in January of this year compared to the same time period last year, and in the large SUV category, Tahoe sales year-to-date in April were nearly double that of its closest competitor – second-place Chevy Suburban.

Clearly, the Chrvrolet Tahoe has what drivers want, especially when gas prices are low.

Tahoe was born in 1994 for the ’95 model year, springing from the Chevrolet Blazer and capturing MotorTrend’s Truck of the Year Award in just its second year. Shorter than its Suburban brother, Tahoe shared until 2000 the similar GMT400-series platform with Suburban, as did the Yukon, Escalade, Blazer and C/K trucks.

In the 20 years since Tahoe’s debut, consumer demands and tastes have evolved, as has vehicle technology – so much so that today’s Tahoe bears little resemblance to its first predecessor, other than its name.

A quick look inside Tahoe’s interior leaves little doubt what’s front and center on consumers’ wants and needs list, and it’s not just cup holders. We can’t live without our electronics, and Tahoe’s amenities ensure we don’t have to.

Available 4G LTE Wi-Fi Technology accommodates the simultaneous connection of up to seven devices so every passenger remains connected, even on the road. All those devices need power, which they’ll have no trouble finding, thanks to 13 charging stations (airport waiting area planners, take note) as well as the availability of wireless charging and a three-prong, 110-volt outlet for laptops and larger devices. Six of those 13 charging stations are USB ports and there’s Bluetooth capability that can also attach up to seven devices with Chevy’s MyLink system.

Controlling MyLink is accomplished with the swipe of a finger on an eight-inch, color touch screen that features customizable icon locations. Hidden behind the touch screen is a secret compartment for storing small items, accessible only by entering a password on the screen.

Yes, Tahoe has class and style, right down to its instrument cluster, which Chevy describes as being “designed after high-end watches.”

When Tahoe drivers need to haul something other than precious human cargo, there are 94.7 cubic feet of cargo space, and second and third-row seats that fold flat. Chevy also boasts that Tahoe has “the fastest power-release second-row and power-folding third-row seats of any competitor.” Because that’s important when you’re in a big hurry to…..remove or fold your seats?White Chevy Tahoe 1

In addition to a hands-free liftgate that opens with a gentle kicking motion thanks to a sensor hidden under the rear bumper, Tahoe also features keyless entry as well as starting, bringing the engine to life with just the push of a button. Passengers will have difficulty hearing that engine, or any other external noise for that matter, as Chevy claims this is “the quietest Tahoe ever.” Sound-dampening material has been added pretty much everywhere, including in the engine compartment, wheel liners, dash and floor, and there’s an “acoustic-laminated windshield” along with triple-sealed inlaid doors.

All this peace and quiet and style sit atop available 22-inch aluminum wheels with premium paint and chrome inserts, or 20 inchers or even 18’s on the LS and LT models.

Stepping up into a Tahoe – particularly one riding on 22’s – is made easier with the by retractable side assist steps with perimeter lighting. While that lighting is a nice touch, the heavy-duty illumination comes in the form of projector-beam headlamps and rear LED tail lamps that really light up the night, with high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps available on the LTZ model.

Even with gas prices being low, fuel economy is still top of mind for most drivers, and Tahoe delivers about what you’d expect for a vehicle of this size – EPA Estimated Fuel Economy of 16 MPG around town and 23 or 22 – depending if you’re piloting the two- or four-wheel drive version, respectively – on the open road.

That 26-gallon fuel tank is feeding a 5.3-liter EcoTech3 V-8 that features active fuel management which takes four cylinders offline when their power isn’t needed, direct injection for more power and fuel efficiency with reduced emissions, and variable valve timing for maximum power and efficiency. All this engine technology churns out an impressive 355 HP and 383 lb-ft torque that are capable of towing 8,500 lbs.

And, let’s not forget what’s most important – safety. Seven airbags, collision alerts, lane departure warnings, automatic front braking, side-blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, rear park assist, rear-vision camera, and a theft-protection package help protect and prevent.

Available in three models, an LS, LT, and LTZ, Chevy calls it, “the most advanced Tahoe ever,” and they’re not kidding. But first you’ll have to decide on what you need and what you can afford. MSRP is $46,300 and there is a list of add-on accessories – 58 to be exact – in nine categories covering everything from interior or exterior cargo management to electronics to security and protection.

Tahoe’s all grown up and has class and style, making it a perfect match for drivers with similar qualities.

Editor’s note: Stop by Advance Auto Parts for all you need to keep your Tahoe running right and looking sweet. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.

Crucial Cars: Honda Civic Si

2012 Civic Si

2012 Civic Si

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, Street Talk puts the spotlight on the darling of the import tuner set – the Honda Civic Si.

Something of the poster child for the import tuner movement, the Honda Civic Si has long been prized for its performance, reliability, tunability and style. Even bone stock, this sprightly Civic usually satisfied those looking for kicks behind the wheel. Eager acceleration, athletic handling, supportive seats and subtle styling tweaks round out this pocket-rocket’s impressive credentials.

The feisty first edition

1986 civic si

1986 civic si

One could argue that Honda’s first sporty Civic was the Civic S of 1983, but we’re putting the spotlight on the sportier and more significant “Si” variants, the first of which debuted for 1986. Boasting fuel injection (hence the “i”) and other engine tweaks, the debut Civic Si had a noticeable bump in power output compared to other Civic hatches – its 1.5-liter four packing 91 horsepower versus the 58 to 76 horses found in its siblings.

Ninety-one horses may not sound like much, but in a car that weighed only about 2,000 pounds and running through a five-speed manual transmission (no automatic available), it was enough to send the Si to 60 mph in about 9 seconds flat. Twisty roads provided the most fun, as the light and nimble Civic Si also had firmer suspension calibrations, upgraded tires and front sport seats, the latter with pronounced side bolsters for added lateral support when attacking the curves.

Next generation

Redesigned for 1988, with smoother body lines, standard fuel injection across the line and a double-wishbone suspension system at all four corners, the 1988 Civic took a leap forward in sophistication. Notably, that suspension design, shared with Formula One race cars, did a fantastic job of providing sharp handling along with a firm yet comfortably controlled ride. There was no Si for that year, but it returned in 1989 with a 1.6-liter high-output engine sending 108 horses to this Civic’s front wheels.

More power and performance

The next generation Civic debuted for 1992 and the Si, like the other Civics, got a little bigger and heavier. It also got more power, its 1.6-liter mill cranking out 125 horsepower. Honda’s new VTEC (Variable valve-Timing and lift, Electronic Control) system was the chief reason this little engine made such big power. VTEC essentially allowed the engine to be efficient at lower rpm, while allowing it to breathe deeper at higher rpm for increased performance. By now, the Civic Si could hit 60 mph in about 8.4 seconds.

Where did you go, Civic Si?

1991 Civic Si

1991 Civic Si

When the Civic was redesigned for 1996, a key member of the team was missing; indeed the Civic Si would be absent from the lineup for three years. Finally, for 1999 the Civic Si returned, this time in the handsome, crisply-chiseled coupe body style and sporting 160 horses, good enough for a low 7-second 0-to-60 mph time and a quarter-mile ability in the mid-15-second range. Those are seriously quick times for a naturally-aspirated (not turbocharged or supercharged) four-cylinder-powered compact car. Sadly, this sharp Civic Si coupe was produced just two years, 1999 and 2000.

So-so successor

For 2001, a new Civic lineup arrived, sans Si. The following year, 2002, brought back the Si. Now based on the European Civic hatchback, this Civic Si’s breadbox styling, softened suspension calibrations and tamer power delivery all conspired to make it a disappointment to those fans of the harder-edged Si Civics that came before. Indeed, this automotive writer recalls driving a 2002 Civic Si at the racetrack and wondering if someone had sprayed Armor-All on the tires’ tread, as their lack of grip and propensity to slide made for a somewhat entertaining but frustrating time around the track.

Although the engine was upgraded slightly (same horsepower but more torque), this Civic Si tipped the scales at nearly 2,800 pounds, so performance was about the same as before. And while the power delivery was more linear than before, it just wasn’t as exciting as it lacked the pronounced “VTEC” kick at higher rpm the older car had. A cool feature was the car’s manual shifter, which sprouted out from the lower portion of the center stack, Rally car style, putting it close at hand.

Back in the game

For the Civic’s 2006 redesign, the Civic Si came back strong. Although the styling was a bit odd, with its massive windshield and resulting stubby hoodline, the Si seemed to have returned from a summer at fitness camp and to its earlier, sporty self. A taut, buttoned-down suspension, sticky tires, quick steering and a more aggressive V-tec kick once again made the Si a hoot.

1999 Civic Si

1999 Civic Si

Engine displacement now stood at 2.0-liters while output rated nearly 200 horses (197 hp, to be exact). And with an added gear in the manual gearbox (now six speeds versus the previous five), this Si could sprint to 60 mph in a factory-claimed 6.7 seconds. The quick-revving engine would take on a seriously urgent demeanor once the tach’s needle swung past 6,000 rpm, a potent rush that lasted right through the 8,000 rpm redline.

For 2007, Honda introduced a four-door version of the Si, making this little firecracker more attractive to enthusiasts needing a more accessible and usable back seat. A rare sight is the limited-production 2008 Mugen Si sedan, which featured a stiffer, track-tuned suspension, larger (18-inch) wheels, a performance exhaust and styling tweaks that included a big rear wing.

2006 Honda Civic Si

2006 Civic Si

Current affairs

The most recent full redesign of this icon took place for 2012, when the Civic family received more sculpted body styling and unfortunately a cheapened interior that irked consumers and car critics. That prompted a refresh the very next year that brought styling tweaks and more importantly, upgraded interior materials and added standard features for all Civics, including Bluetooth and a rearview camera.

As far as the Si, 2012 brought a larger (2.4-liter) engine with 201 horses. Although the bigger engine boasted a fatter, more useable powerband than the last Si, it wasn’t as much fun, as it lacked that high-rpm kick that the previous Si had brought back. Handling was similarly muted, lacking the point-and-shoot personality held so dear in the past. On the upside, the ride was better as the suspension was more compliant over pockmarked pavement and freeway expansion joints.

Tuner talk

Even folks not into the tuner scene likely know that Honda’s Civic, especially the Si version, is a favorite of folks who enjoy modifying their cars. After all, who hasn’t witnessed a slammed Civic with a rasping “coffee can” exhaust cruising the boulevard or blasting down the highway?

With massive support from aftermarket suppliers, one can turn their Civic into a capable track day weapon with a few weekends’ worth of wrenching. Installing stiffer springs and dampers, thick anti-roll bars and larger yet lighter wheels with high-performance rubber are popular upgrades. Then there are the quarter-mile enthusiasts, who, via forced induction (turbocharging or supercharging) and perhaps nitrous oxide injection, can turn a Civic into a 12-second drag strip terror.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is ready to help Civic enthusiasts out with a large selection of quality parts and accessories. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.