Honda's long-running enthusiast car was a bit of an accident.
The Honda Civic Si sits somewhere between the standard fun-to-drive dynamics of a standard Honda Civic and the track-ready performance of a Type R model and has come to represent a sweet spot in Honda's Civic lineup for people that want genuine sportiness in a small reliable car they can drive every day. The Civic has a long history of having fun driving dynamics baked in but is mostly built to serve as an appliance, while the Type R is where Honda crams all the performance it can into the chassis. The Si is the thinking person's performance car, assuming you have to think about your wallet and getting to work every day as well as enjoying driving for driving's sake. While the nameplate has now been around for a while, the SI is not actually as old as many think, and expectations vary every time Honda adds the Si badge to a new generation of Civic. Here is what you should know about Honda's low-key gem of a trim level.
In 1984, Honda added an S trim to the Civic, and it stood for "Sport." It came with the same engine and suspension as other Civics, but only a manual transmission was available. At the time, the cutting-edge Prelude coupe and the two-seater CRX were where Honda expected enthusiasts to land. However, the Civic S was light, nimble, cheaper than a Prelude, and more practical than a CRX. Honda realized what was happening, and in 1986, the automaker added its PGM-FI fuel-injection system to the 1.5-liter engine, lifting its output to a rev-happy 91 horsepower and 93 lb-ft of torque. Honda had put the "i" in Si and created a new warm hatchback.
No Civic Si has been available from the factory with an automatic transmission. Honda has ensured the Si badge is only for people that know what they are buying, and those people know how to work a clutch. What you get now with a Civic Si, and definitely as of 1992, is a full-featured sport trim where weight-adding luxury, such as a sunroof and extra speakers, aren't taken out of the mix for weight saving. There have been a few exceptions, like the last-gen Si that didn't have all of the HondaSensing safety tech, but for the most part, the recipe has stayed the same.
The first Civic Si debuted as a JDM model before making its way around the world, but it has become mainly a USDM thing. The Si designation disappeared completely from 1996 to 1998 but returned in 1999 to the US, while other countries got VTi or SiR badges for their sporty variants. That sixth-generation Civic Si set the new benchmark with stiffer and progressive rate springs, a tower brace to stiffen the chassis, and stiffer front and rear anti-roll bars. It also came with a larger-bore exhaust system, wider wheels and tires, and disc brakes all around. The aesthetics were subtle with just Si badging, a chin-spoiler, and painted side sills giving the game away. A dearth of Civic Type R models in the US compared to the global market also spurred on the SI's success here, as it became a range-topping performance model for Honda in the Type R's absence.
Think hot Civic, and you immediately think VTEC, but it wasn't until the fifth generation of the Civic that the Si got its first VTEC engine. The variable intake valve timing technology was a huge deal and brought higher performance at high rpm and lower fuel consumption at low rpm. The 1.6-liter engine made 125 hp and revved out to 7,200. After its three-year hiatus, the Civic Si returned with the engine enthusiasts really wanted, though. The B16 is a gem in Honda's range of engines, and the fun doesn't start until it's tipped over the 5,500 rpm point where it switches to the high-rpm valve profile. The rev-limiter cut in at 8,200 rpm, making it one of the most fun engines to go in a four-seater car as it was at its best when being wrung out.
While the sixth-generation Civic Si is remembered as the most exciting model, the 2002 model isn't. The three-door hatchback was built only in the UK, and the engine was a 2.0-liter unit, but it made the same 160 hp as the previous generation's 1.6-liter lump. That wasn't the problem, though. The new engine had more torque lower down the rev range, but it redlined at 6,800 rpm and was slower overall. Add to that Honda trying too hard to be modern inside with a dash-mounted shifter, and you have an Si that fell woefully short of its mark.
If you want to get into touring car racing, you can go right ahead and buy a Honda Performance Development (HPD) prepped Civic Si TCA to go racing in. The Si TCA is built for the entry-level TCA class in the SRO Touring Car America series and comes with upgraded brakes, suspension components, a full roll cage, and a Motec digital cluster instead of the factory gauges. The interior is stripped out and the steering wheel is swapped for a quick-release unit. By the time HPD is finished with it, the Si TCA weighs well under 3,000 pounds and grips the track like cat hair to velcro.
While the power varies depending on the series the car is aimed at, it maxes out at 220 hp but comes with a high-strength 4th gear, an HPD/Cusco Limited Slip Differentia, and an HPD single mass flywheel. The turnkey entry-level race car clocked in a $55,000 last time we checked and comes in white, ready to be wrapped in your race colors and sponsorship logos.
The tenth-generation Si sports Honda's 1.5-liter turbo engine that leaves power on the table and gives tuners a lot to work with. MAPerformance claims its battered-looking Civic Si is the fastest 10th generation on the road, which may still be true. Whether it is or isn't the fastest isn't the impressive thing, though. What's impressive is that MAPerformance eked out 513 hp with a stock bottom end and a stock ECU. That's way up from the stock 205 hp, and it makes full power on normal pump gas. The main things the tuners changed were the turbo and the injectors to get more fuel into the engine. The company now sells the upgrade as a kit if you want something that can keep up with a Type R but without catching all the attention the spikiest-looking hot Civic gets.