My desk faces a big window, and while I sometimes curse this window — it makes me look white as a ghost when I’m on Zoom calls — it has a few perks. Through the window, I can see an intersection. Some days, interesting cars stop at this intersection. Friday was one of those days, because I saw an Si version of the seventh-generation Civic.
Now, I don’t know if the seventh-gen Civic Si could be considered a truly rare car, though in my experience it is an uncommon one. That’s not especially surprising, though, because Honda produced it only in 2002-05. During those years, the Si trim and the hatchback were exclusive to each other. You couldn’t get a non-Si three-door hatch, and Honda didn’t build Si versions of the more popular coupe and sedan.
Not only that, but the Civic Si hatchback was made at Honda’s Swindon, England factory — right alongside the Civic Type-R — and shipped to North America. In Canada, it was called the SiR.
All this makes the seventh-gen Si an odd duck in the Civic’s long history. I should note that the example I saw last week was painted a weird shade of greenish yellow (appropriately dubbed Euro Yellow) as pictured above, adding to its strange, quirky and unique aura. What a great color that is.
This is the Civic Si nobody really liked. It was less powerful than its contemporaries — not to mention Acura’s own RSX Type-S, which generated 40 more horsepower from the same 2.0-liter K-series inline-four. The Si was a little on the pricier side of its category, too. It started at about $19,000, while impressive competitors offering more value, like the Dodge SRT-4 and Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS, were priced a shade under $20,000.
And then there are the looks. Personally, I find this three-door hatch “EP3" body style — particularly the Type-R flavor of it that never came stateside — to be the prettiest Civic ever made. I’ve found this to be a rare sentiment, and many people think the seventh-gen Si looks like an egg. For me, it epitomizes Honda’s clean, classy and optimistic millennium aesthetic, just like the original HR-V did. Oh, what I’d do for a hit of that design from Honda today.
Even the shifter is a curiosity, jutting out from the bottom of the center of the dashboard, just below the climate controls. William Clavey of Clavey’s Corner had high praise for this approach to ergonomics in his 2017 review of his Civic SiR. The perpendicular angle makes it look awkward to operate, but “awkward” wasn’t one of the words Clavey chose to describe the experience:
It still remains one of the best ones I’ve rested in the palm of my hand. Even the new Honda’s aren’t this good. It’s mounted on the dashboard, not between the seats, and close to the steering wheel like in a an actual race car.
And mine’s old and withered. Some synchros have wrinkles on them, and the leather on the dashboard-mounted shifter, the EP3's signature ornament, is worn to shit. Yet, it remains a peach to operate. It’s slick. Quick. Precise.
Overall, the polarizing looks and weak powertrain fell at odds with the snappy gearbox and pin-sharp handling, causing the seventh-gen Civic Si’s legacy to land somewhere in “mixed bag” territory. Which is what made Honda’s tease at SEMA in 2002 all the more bittersweet.
See, Honda brought a Civic Si “concept” to that event, dressed up with a “rally-inspired” body kit, six-spoke rims clearly lifted from the Type-R, upgraded suspension and most important, a GReddy turbocharger. That turbo, plus the high-flow intake and exhaust systems and tweaked engine mapping, bumped power from 160 HP to a far more respectable 230. Quite a bit better than the Japanese-market Type-R, which sat at the top of the EP3 pecking order with its 212 HP.
Of course this was nothing more than a show car, thrust out to perhaps inspire an unconvinced public that the teardrop-shaped Civic Si could be a formidable adversary to its contemporaries with a bit of help from the aftermarket. Today, it just serves as a scathing reminder of what could have been. Which, honestly, doesn’t make it feel all that different from the one I just saw outside my apartment.