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, tenability, 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,  with 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.

1999 Civic Si

1999 Civic Si

 

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.

 

2006 Honda Civic Si

2006 Civic Si

 

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.

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.

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.

Crucial Cars: Honda Accord EX

2014 Honda Accord EX

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

In this installment, Street Talk heads down memory lane to appreciate the remarkably practical, but fun-to-drive Honda Accord EX.

Back in the 1990s, there were only a few midsize sedans that really appealed to driving enthusiasts, and the Honda Accord EX always stood apart. Man, I can remember going on a test-drive with my dad in a ’94 Accord EX sedan, five-speed manual of course, and I’d never known the old man to have an inner Earnhardt until he redlined that VTEC four-cylinder through first and second gear, cackling all the while.

Tell me something: What other volume-selling family car could bring a grown man that kind of joy?

Any mass-produced product that’s this good deserves its own retrospective, doesn’t it? Let’s hop in the time machine and give the various Accord EX models their due.

1990-’93

The Accord EX first appeared on our shores as a high-end version of the fourth-generation Accord, which is still a great-looking car, by the way. This was back when Honda was light-years ahead of just about everyone on the design and engineering fronts. You got a standard sunroof, upgraded interior trim and extra speakers for the stereo, which would become the basic formula for most EX Accords to follow. Oh, and you got a little extra under the hood, too, culminating with the 140-horsepower engine fitted in ’92 and ’93. It was a tantalizing taste of things to come, and even today, I wouldn’t mind picking up a well-cared-for EX from this generation. Goodness, Hondas were gems back in the day, were they not?

1994-’97

The Accord went all futuristic with its styling for the fifth-generation model, and the EX continued to lead the way. The ’94 and ’95 Accord EX shared a particularly attractive set of alloy wheels, and all EX Accords from this generation boasted the first application of dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder with variable valve timing technology, or DOHC VTEC for short. The sharp triangular taillights got a bit generic with the ’96 refresh, but the engine — same one that put that silly grin on my dad’s face — was still a highlight, and the EX’s six-speaker stereo was amplified by Alpine for crisp, clear sound. Let me tell you something, driving a fifth-gen Accord EX with the sunroof open, the stereo cranking and the VTEC on boil might be the best time you’ll ever have in a top-selling family car.

1998-2002

The Accord got bigger for ’98, but not too big, with the four-cylinder engine swelling to 2.3 liters but carrying over that DOHC VTEC technology. In fact, all four-cylinder Accords shared in the VTEC love this time around, but the EX continued to offer its exclusive sunroof, trim and stereo upgrades. If you ask me, this was the last time that the Accord’s dimensions were just right. It had plenty of room in the backseat, but it wasn’t that big on the outside, and it maintained Honda’s traditional low cowl for superior outward visibility. Throw in a five-speed manual that positively glided from gate to gate, and you had an all-around package that was still tough to beat.

2003-Present

This period includes three Accord generations, and I’m lumping them together because in my humble opinion, they’re all too big and boring to be considered in the same league as the EX Accords that came before. When the seventh-generation Accord appeared in ’03, it lacked that low cowl and tidy styling that had always set the Accord apart, and the eighth-gen model was just plain overgrown — the EPA even classified it as a large car! The current Accord (2013) is the best since ’03, no doubt, but it’s still a relatively tubby, ungainly thing that’s nothing like the sophisticated, visceral, light-on-their-feet EX Accords from 1990-’02.

Honda had something special going there for quite a while, and talking about it makes me nostalgic for those days. If I could turn back the clock and buy any of those first three Accord EX models brand-new, I’d do it in a heartbeat — wouldn’t even think twice about other family sedans on the market today.

Let’s Talk Accords

1991 Honda Accord EX picture

Have you ever owned a 1990-’02 Accord EX? Have a different take on how Honda’s been doing since then? I love talking about these cars. Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.

Editor’s note: Got projects on the horizon? Visit Advance Auto Parts for the best in selection and values. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

The End of the Honda VTEC Era

2001 Honda Prelude

Source/Oh Snap! Photography by Lj/Flickr

We’re biased when it comes to DOHC VTEC Hondas. The 1995 Acura Integra GS-R with its little 1.8-liter motor and the 8,100-rpm redline couldn’t be beat. The “luxury coupe” 2001 Honda Prelude redlined at a comparatively meek 7,400 rpm but had other stuff going for it that the Integra lacked. These were great cars–stylish, fun, and relentlessly reliable.

And we’ll never see the likes of them again, because Honda has turned its back on that whole scene. The Prelude was quietly put out to pasture in 2001, having become too refined and expensive for its own good. The Integra kept kicking for a while as the Acura RSX (it was still called “Integra” in other markets), but 2006 marked the end of the line. For a few more years, the Honda Civic Si carried the torch with its sweet 2.0-liter motor, a high-revving marvel that reminded drivers very much of the Integra GS-R’s 1.8. But these days the Civic Si uses a warmed-over Accord engine. FAIL.

The Honda VTEC era is gone, and it’s not coming back. But we can still remember the good times, right?

1994 Acura Integra GS-R

1994 Acura Integra GS-R

First of all, as soon as the second-generation GS-R came out in ’94, everyone wanted those shiny five-spoke wheels. Man, Honda knew how to do alloy wheels back in the day, didn’t they? Admittedly, the rest of the car’s looking a bit dated. It’s got that bubbly 1990s look going on from some angles. Many drivers loved the four round headlights, even though they swapped them out for the JDM lenses. And from the back, the GS-R still looks pretty purposeful with its standard spoiler and wide taillights.

This car wasn’t about creature comforts. The road noise at speed was literally deafening, at least temporarily. As for the ride quality… it was “skateboard-like.” Really, the best thing about the interior was the hatchback trunk; you could fold those rear seatbacks down and fit your whole life in there if you had to.

VTEC Acura IntegraBottom line, the Integra GS-R was all about what was under the hood. The dual-overhead cam (“DOHC”) 1.8-liter inline-4 was rated at 170 horsepower, falling just short of the magical 100 hp/L threshold. Torque was a paltry 127 pound-feet, and that was always the knock against the DOHC VTEC motors. Still, the power ramped up steadily all the way to 8,100 rpm, with the VTEC crossover at 4,400 rpm producing a growl that gave way to a motorcycle-like scream toward to the end. Known to fans by the internal code “B18C1,” the GS-R’s engine was only offered with an incredibly precise five-speed manual transmission, and they were a perfect pairing–the short gears helped keep the revs high, and the pedals were ideally placed for heel-toe downshifts.

Nowadays, turbocharged fours are all the rage because of their supposed fuel-economy benefits, but the GS-R got insane gas mileage, like 37 mpg. Throw in legendary reliability and low maintenance costs, and you’ve got an all-time great. There’ll never be another car like it.

2001 Honda Prelude

2001 Honda PreludeThe angular, understated Prelude was a different beast–a gentleman’s  sport compact. With its long nose and short deck, the 2001 ‘Lude could almost pass for rear-wheel-drive, its extended front overhang being the only real giveaway. It was a classy car, especially with the beautiful alloy wheels shown here. With the Integra, you expected a kid to be driving it, and it was normal to see an enormous spoiler tacked on the back. But the ‘Lude appealed to everyone.

Inside, the fifth-gen Prelude served up an inviting mix of quality materials and subtle, ergonomic design. You had all the controls you needed, and no more. People used to say Honda was the Japanese BMW (hard to believe today, right?), and this dashboard is a case in point. Everything was right where it needed to be, and the simple layout aged really well.

VTEC Honda PreludeOn the road, the Prelude was significantly quieter than the GS-R. The general comfort level was a lot higher. Really good stereo, too–so much better than the Integra’s clock-radio-quality sound. But it still handled great, albeit with slightly slower reflexes.

The fifth-gen Prelude’s engine was a torque monster by DOHC VTEC standards, cranking out 156 lb-ft along with a healthy 200 hp. But we liked the GS-R’s engine better. The ‘Lude’s 2.2-liter four-cylinder, a.k.a. “H22A4,” had a Jekyll and Hyde character, coming on real strong all of a sudden at 5,200 rpm. We preferred the way the GS-R’s motor smoothed the VTEC transition out. But the H22 made a great snarl, and the five-speed shifter was lighter than the GS-R’s, gliding friction-free from gate to gate.

If you wanted genuine Honda VTEC performance without the boy-racer looks, the fifth-gen Prelude was the ultimate solution.

Honda VTECs used to rule the street, and for good reason. Did you ever have a DOHC VTEC car? Leave us a comment.