To SiR, with Love
Sporty Civic Puts the "Fun" in "Functionality"
by Jim Bray
When pondering cars with a high fun to drive quotient,
one doesnt normally think of the Honda Civic. After all, while the Civic
is a fine car, its focus is on economy and practicality, not
Unless one looks at the Honda Civic SiR (which is
comparable to the Si model in the US), which is not your average
Civic. Starting at about $26,000 Cdn (the Si starts at about $19,000US) the
SiR is a stylish three door hatchback whose sleek body looks almost extruded
in one piece to maximize aerodynamics. It also comes with a bigger engine and
larger wheels than the garden variety Civic sedan or coupe.
Honda says the SiR is based on the British-made version of the Civic, from
the country which brought us such classics as the MGB and Austin Mini - which
might explain why its such a blast to drive. It also might explain why
my tester had a couple of minor, but very un-Honda-like rattles in the vicinity
of the roof area.
Now before you pop off an e-mail slamming me for slamming British cars, Ill
fully admit that my comments stem from personal experience thats more
than twenty-five years old and that todays British cars (which arent
particularly British, at least in ownership) have come a long way. Besides, IT
WAS A JOKE!
But I digress
This Civic also brings back memories of the Honda CRX, a
pocket rocket priced for the masses. And that isnt a bad
Inside, the Civic SiR looks and feels very Civic,
including the sedan and coupes extremely handy flat floor that facilitates
five passengers more comfortably than cars that still have the center hump. It
also uses the standard Civic knobs and buttons, except that this versions
HVAC controls are closer to the driver and therefore more legible.
Power comes from a different engine than the other Civics. This ones
a 2.0 Liter DOHC 16-Valve powerplant with i-VTEC (Intelligent Variable Valve
Timing and Lift Electronic Control) that Honda says puts out 160 horses @ 6500
rpm and 132 lb.-ft of torque @ 5000 rpm. It also meets 2004s stricter
Low Emissions Vehicle II standard.
That extra oomph (the regular Civics 1.7 liter engine is
rated at 115 hp @6100 and 110 lb.-ft @4500 rpm) more than makes up for the
SiRs coupla hundred pounds extra weight - in fact, the SiR feels much
lighter and more nimble than its more staid brother. Honda says its new variable
timing control (VTC) allows for maximum torque at all engine speeds, and I
believe it. On some older Hondas with old fashioned VTEC, you can
feel the changeover from low to high rev cam by the way you suddenly get pushed
back into the seat. With the SiR, however, youre always pushed back in
the seat when you gun it.This is a good thing.
The car goes like heck, too, pushing one back into the seat in a very satisfying
manner when you gun it. Theres a little more engine noise than I seem
to remember from other Civics, though not enough to be annoying - and the noise
does seem to be more a squeal of delight than of complaint. While I didnt
actually race anyone (anyone who realized we were racing, anyway!), the SiR
moves swiftly and eagerly from a standing start and youre in speeding
ticket range before you can say Thanks, Soichiro!
Honda has given the SiR State-of-the-art Toe Control-Link Independent
Strut front suspension with centralized steering gearbox, a compact,
high-performance Reactive Link double-wishbone rear suspension, and has also
included stabilizer bars front and rear. Thanks to this, the SiR loves the
twisty bits and even on straight bits you can tell it has a much more catlike
demeanor than the other Civics. Its far stiffer than its brethren and
transmits very nice road feel. The Electrical Power Steering System features
a Variable Gear Ratio and also transmits a nice road feel at all speeds.
Bringing the SiR to a stop are disc brakes with ABS (with electronic brake
distribution) all the way around. One must also mention the attractive fifteen
inch alloy wheels.
When you first plant your bum into the drivers seat youll probably
notice the gear shifts position and you may even snicker at it. Thats
because rather than sticking out of the center console, the shifter protrudes
from the bottom part of the dashboard. This does, indeed, look strange, but
after driving it for even a couple of minutes it feels exactly right. In fact,
when you arent looking at it it feels much the same as the shifter in
one of those low-slung sports cars like the MG or the Mazda Miata, where youre
sitting low and handling a short-throw shifter mounted on top of a tall transmission
This is also a good thing.
I first felt the seating position to be too high for a supposedly sporty car,
but after about a day behind the wheel I changed my mind and was very happy
wearing the car as designed.
Youll also probably notice that the SiR has lovely front seats that
wrap around you to hold you in place when you hit those twisty bits. Theyre
also comfortable for long trips and despite the fact that they dont have
a lot of adjustments (theres only forward and backward and seat back
tilt) its easy to find a comfortable sitting position. The sporty, tilt
steering wheel facilitates 9 and 3 oclock hand positions
and, as with other Civics, theres a well-placed rest for the left foot.
The rear seat is fine for two and okay for three, though of course since there
are only two doors getting in and out is a relative treat.
Outward visibility is very good. Theres a big greenhouse; the front
windshield is steeply sloped from the hood to the roof and the side windows
are plenty large enough even though from the outside they appear a tad small.
Likewise the rear window offers excellent rear visibility, though since its
at the very back of the car looking in the rear view mirror almost feels as
if youre in a very small minivan until you get used to it.
The analog instrumentation is straightforward and easy to read and at night
the black on white display turns to an attractive red on black.
Creature comforts include about everything youd need. My tester was
equipped with cruise control, power heated outside mirrors, a power moonroof,
air conditioning, keyless entry, and an AM/FM/CD stereo that in typical Honda
tradition is good but not great. There are also abundant storage nooks and
a very flexible center console.
The moonroof has an annoying feature I first noticed on the Pontiac
Vibe, so it may be some dumb safety feature thats becoming an industry
standard - or, worse, yet another law. Anyway, when you close the moonroof
it only goes half way and then youre forced to press the button again
to finish the job. This may be safer for people (or kids or animals) dumb
enough to stick their arms out the roof, but it sure isnt safer for
the driver who has to take his hand off the wheel long enough to perform
two functions instead of one.
This is so dumb it must be a government regulation
About the only shortcoming that comes to mind about the SiR is the tires (or
should it be tyres, in honor of the British connection?). The car
comes standard with a set of P195/60R15 88V M+S that are fine for most driving,
but which dont handle the twisty bits as well as a more aggressive set
of rubber would. Its an acceptable compromise, however, since better
rubber wouldnt be as flexible in what is, after all, a relatively inexpensive
mainstream vehicle that's meant to be driven in all road and weather conditions.
I also wonder about the lack of a six speed manual transmission, especially
since Honda offers one on its Acura RSX Type S (from which the SiR's engine
supposedly comes). Still, the five speed works and feels well, with short throws
that let you flick away to your hearts content.
Storage space obviously isnt as good as in the sedans (except possibly
for the Hybrid), since theres no real trunk, but the back seat folds
down quite flat and opens up a lot more cargo area.
My tester was finished in what Honda calls Euro Yello Pearl but
which could be more accurately referred to as bile
or, to be kinder, Grey Poupon. Fortunately, there are other colors
Honda has a real knack for making cars that are elegantly simple, yet which
offer excellent technology and economy. With the Civic SiR, you can add plenty
of fun to drive to that list of Civic virtues.