Young people looking for a sporty, nimble hot looking small car with a performance edge.
Comparable models in this class:
Ford Focus ZX3, MINI Cooper, Volkswagen Beetle, Volkswagen GTI
You were accepted into the college of yourchoice and your straight A's in high school won you a scholarship that will absorb much of the cost of your education. At graduation, youwave to your parents and note that your proud papa has a tissue to his eye while his other hand is giving you a thumbs-up. You know what that means -- you get to pick out a new car of your very own.
With Dad's promise of a new car comes the nervous anticipation of venturing out to choose from among the dizzying array of vehicles on today's market. Dadset a price limit only: it's up to you to pick the right car. So, you sizeup what's out there and make your choice. When you say, "I want a Honda,"Dad looks relieved and even prouder than before.
There is a certain comfort in knowing that your next vehicle will be a Honda,built by a manufacturer with an established reputation for producing solid, reliable cars. In fact, Honda owners are the company's strongest advertisement. I can say this from personal experience. One of the cars in my garage is a 1986 Prelude, and it's still going strong with almost 180,000 miles on theclock.
Thespunky Honda in today's evaluation is the new 2002 Civic Si, a model that has been absent from the Honda lineup for a couple of years. Now back in showrooms, it is capturing the imagination of young people who like to drive.
This diminutive car is capable of transporting five people in reasonable comfort, or lots of stuff--just not both at the sametime. It comes equipped with racing inspired bucket seats, a suspension calibrated for good handling, a high performance 160 horsepower 2.0L engine and a 5-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels. This is a fun car that everyone will like, but only people who don't mind rowing a 5-speed stick will want to own. An automatic transmission is NOT available.
When you jump into the driver's seat, one thing stands out above all else: the placement of the shifter. The shift lever grows out of the dash at the base of the central stack. But, despite its unusual placement, the feel of the shifter is wonderfully crisp and smooth with short throws. The leather covered shift knob falls right to hand and couldn't be positioned better, but then that's no surprise. A good shifter is a Honda hallmark.
The white-faced gauges are easy to read. At night, the faces go dark and the markings light up. The radio face is on the small side by today's standards, but the controls are simple to understand and operate. The radio includes six speakers and a CD player, but no cassette deck, so listening to 'books on tape' is out.
Front seats are firm, but comfortable and wrap around you so that you stay planted during aggressive maneuvering. The leather covered steering wheel has a wonderfully fat grip, just the way I like it. The red stitching on the the inside of the steering wheel rim is a nice touch and is carried over to the seats and shifter knob. Honda interiors have always been well tailored and driver friendly. I particularly like the pop-out cup holder to the left of the steering wheel, just below the A/C vent. Being the left-hander that I am, I found it to be quite convenient. For you north-paws, there are two cup holders beneath a sliding panel in the console. The cup holder count is a bit strange: altogether there are three cup holders for the two people up front and one cup holder for the three people in the back. But the only real complaint I have about this interior is the lack of a center arm rest.
Rear seat room is reasonable for 3 adults (skinny, limber ones) and the passenger seat moves forward and out of the way so they can get in. There are three sets of shoulder belts back there as well as a flat floor, about as inviting a rear seat as a small 2-door can have. Actually, this is billed as a 3-door with the rear hatch counting as one of the doors.
The rear seat is split 60/40 and each side can be folded completely for a fully flat load floor. There is a reasonable amount of luggage room back there with the seatbacks upright along with a cover to keep your belongings out of sight.
Visibility is good all around, although you can't see the hood past the base of the windshield. Not to fear, it takes a short time to get used to the lack of reference points up front. As with any new car, the first couple of weeks, you will slowly pull up to where you think you should be, then get out and look to see if your judgment is improving. That's just the normal new car honeymoon. Before you know it, you will be zipping in and out of parking places like a pro.
And zipping is what this car is all about. The typically smooth Honda 4-cylinder iVTEC engine produces plenty of power and good gas mileage with an EPA figure of 26 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg out on the highway. Acceleration from a standing start to 60 miles per hour comes up in under 8 seconds, while the standard 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS (Anti-lock Brake System) will bring you back down in short order. The suspension is calibrated towards good handling at the expense of some riding comfort.
If you prefer to avoid technical minutia, you can take my word that this car handles beautifully and skip to the next paragraph, butif you are technically minded, you may be interested in knowing that the new front suspension is a MacPherson Strut design instead of the traditional Honda setup of a double wishbone configuration. Honda tells us that they did this to allow room for a high-mounted steering box with longer steering arms for improved stability. The rear suspension is still the double wishbone type and has been biased toward handling as well. Springs, dampers and front and rear stabilizer bars are calibrated toward a firm ride and flat cornering. Power steering is now electric for better control and improved fuel economy. As you speed up, the computer varies the power steering effort in one mile per hour increments up to 99 miles per hour. This is done to provide the best steering feel at highway speeds, while providing a light steering effort during parking maneuvers.
On the road, everything comes together to give you a car with superb reflexes and refined roadworthiness. The steering is precise, throttle response is on the money, clutch feel is light and smooth, brakes are well modulated and the feel of the shifter is as good as it gets. The feeling you get from behind the wheel is of a fine machine that seems to be able to read your mind, making this car a blast to drive.
The front of the car ahead of the windshield is quite short, almost reminiscent of a minivan, giving it a unique profile. I normally don't talk about styling in these reports because you don't need me to tell you what looks good to you. In this case, I will make an exception because I think this is a great looking car and it turned quite a few heads the week that I had it. I expect that this pocket rocket will lend itself to all kinds of customizing and will generate a cult-like following similar to the sub-culture that developed around some '90s Honda and Acura models. An entire aftermarket sprang up with all kinds of customizing parts and accessories designed for those cars.
As for our 2002 Civic Si, the first area that is ripe for change is to replace the smallish 15 inch wheels and tires with 16 inch or even 17 inch wheels with super low-profile tires. Not that the original shoes are bad, mind you, they just don't enhance the look quite the way that they could.
The Civic Si is available one way: Loaded. The only decisions you need to make is the color, and whether you want side air bags. The current crop of colors are White, Pearl Black, Silver and the Euro Yellow Pearl that graced our test car. Black cloth with the red stitching is the only interior choice. For 2003 Vivid Blue will be added to the paint palette.
And the sweetest part is that, no matter which color you choose, when youpull onto campus and are spotted in your new wheels, you are sure to get noticed.