I drive a lot of cars for work. So much so, that my personal car, a 2004 Honda Civic SiR—or just the Civic Si, if you’re American—is rotting away in press office parking lots covered in bird turds, fuel tank dried up, brakes all seized up. The poor thing just never gets driven. I’m an asshole for neglecting my Civic.
It ends now. It’s time I take my EP3 out of the shadows and show the world why it’s the best car I’ve ever owned. You’ll also be happy to learn that I have restoration plans for this thing.
But what you really need to know is that the 2002 to 2005 Honda Civic SiR is one of the most under-appreciated performance Hondas in history. It looked like no other Civic before it. Drove like no other Civic before it. And here in North America, its story is a sad case of bad product planning.
These cars deserve to be saved, here’s why.
(Full Disclosure: the white 2004 Honda Civic SiR you see here is my personal daily driver. I’ve owned the car for 4 years now. The odometer reads 295,000 original km, or 183,000 miles. Except for a set of wheels from an Accord Euro R, the car is all stock, and has never let me down.)
Introduced to the North American people in 2002, the seventh-generation Honda Civic Si was the first Honda we got to be built in Swindon, England, the same plant where they build the current Civic hatchback.
Back then, Honda had discontinued the Civic hatch body style in our market, but had plans to sell a Civic Si that paid homage to the first Si-badged hatchbacks of the early eighties. The three-door EP3 would be that car.
At the time, the Si was built on a shared platform with the Acura RSX and borrowed the same 2.0-liter i-VTEC engine (K20) and five-speed manual transmission. Except the Civic got the RSX’s shitty version of that drivetrain, but with an added balance shaft for some reason, so it ended up being warmer than hot.
Rated at 160 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, the Si was underwhelming compared to the beloved car it replaced, the famous Civic Si coupe. Meanwhile, Europe and Japan got a Type R version of the EP3 which apparently kicked a lot of ass. That never came here.
So clearly, the EP3 is a weird misfit, but I think that’s part of the charm.
The EP3 Civic Si came out at a time when sport compact cars were blooming here in North America, and ironically because the earlier Civic Si was such a success. This sudden spike in popularity for sport compact cars forced carmakers from Japan, Europe and America to unleash a full squadron of hot compacts. Think Dodge SRT-4, Ford Focus SVT, Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, Subaru WRX, Toyota Celica GTS, Mazdaspeed Protegé or Volkswagen Golf GTI.
All of them outperformed the EP3.
But the saddest part about the seventh-gen Civic hatch’s failure wasn’t its lukewarm performance. It was that Honda ruined an opportunity to sell us a Civic Type R out of fear it would hinder sales of the more potent Acura RSX Type S.
The result was a porky Si that tried to be more gown up and refined, but with no substantial power on tap. Sure, the car’s new electronically controlled i-VTEC system was tuned for low to mid-range punch, a welcome feature for a Honda back then, but it lacked the revs, screams and yelps we wanted from the car.
Finally, it was relatively expensive compared to its rivals, even more so in Canada. Its styling was controversial too; people compared it to a minivan, and the car’s stock drivetrain didn’t offer much tuning potential.
You won’t believe this, but when I began Clavey’s Corner, driving my first press cars, I’d actually use my EP3 as a benchmark to review cars. I mean, what else would I base them on? This was the only car I had in my life.
I’d always figured if my old Civic acheived something better than the new car, either the car I was reviewing was doing something wrong, or my Honda was a brilliant machine. I vote for the latter, because, except for performance, this little hatch delivers on so many levels.
First there’s the manual gearbox. 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 syncros 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.
My car has also largely been bulletproof. Save for issues I’ll get to momentarily, I have never owned any machine as resilient as my Civic. In times when things couldn’t get worse in my life, the little Honda kept marching forward. Through Canadian blizzards, bad breakups and family emergencies, the EP3 prevailed.
This is the hardest paragraph in which to write about my car, because I can’t see many let-downs except for the measly performance. Oh, and the lack of an area to rest your right arm due to the that phallic shifter.
I could also bring up the full battalion of electrical issues I currently experience with the Civic as it ages. Don’t get me wrong, my car’s as reliable as a rock, but the gauge cluster has lost half of its lighting, the OEM CD player is long dead, the gas cap release is gone, the heated mirrors are out, the daylight running lights module is fried, one of my power windows is acting up when using the auto function, and half of the rear defroster is lacking.
I guess this is what happens when you ask the British to build a Japanese car.
The Civic EP3 is a formidable daily driver. Those cool-looking sport seats are comfortable and supportive, even after all these years. The car is much more refined and quiet than the other Civics of that era. The rear seat is surprisingly spacious considering there’s a flat floor back there, and it’s a hatch, so the car will carry quite a bit of gear.
There’s about 36 available cubic feet with the seats folded down, which is more than a current Ford Fiesta. Fuel economy is good, but not great - I pull about 28 combined MPG with mine.
The only two areas where the SiR falls short for the everyday stuff is its stiff suspension and a ridiculous turning radius. My god this car is hard. Like track ready hard. But why?
So except for shocks that grind your bones into dust, and an inability to turn itself around in a narrow alley, this thing is a fantastic daily runabout.
The big let down with this Si really is its engine. Sure, it has VTEC, but only on the intake valves, which means it lacks that symbolic switchover wail we expect from a Honda. The revs also fall short at 7,000 RPM, almost feeling like half an engine.
Granted, the gearbox is sublime to operate, but the gears are oddly spaced, requiring a 2-3 shift during a 0 to 60 mph sprint. Which explains the lamentable 7.9-second claimed acceleration time.
Otherwise, the EP3's chassis is marvelous. By today’s standards it’s tiny, feels light on its feet, nimble, and its steering is among the most precise I’ve ever felt, in any car.
Considering the EP3 was one of the first production cars to be fitted with electric power steering, that’s a huge compliment.
But what I love the most about my little egg-shaped hatch, is that you can really trash it and beat on it hard without fear of breaking it. You can rev that little 2.0-liter to hell, pound on that shifter hard, throw the car violently into a bend, hear the tires squeal, and feel its little rear end wiggle as you lift off the throttle at the limits of adhesion. Yet everything remains controllable, fun and cheerful.
These things haven’t retained a lot of market value. Yet.
I feel like people are starting to take notice and owners of clean examples are hanging on to their cars, then later asking decent prices for them. The EP3 is slowly becoming a future classic. Why? Because it’s just so weird.
What’s great, for now at least, is that they still go for cheap, which makes them a superb second-hand bargain. I paid $6,000 (CAN) for mine back in 2013. Facelifted models, like the one you see here (2004-2005) are rarer due to their five lug bolt pattern, making it easier to convert their brakes to Type R specs.
So yes, considering the uniqueness, performance potential due to all the available aftermarket parts, and stupid reliability of these cars, this Honda Civic Si(R) is a great value.
The Honda Civic EP3 was just an engine swap away from being a real hot hatch. If Honda had come to its senses the same way it did with the current Civic Type R, this car’s fate could have been similar to the Integra Type R’s. Today, it would be a legend, a unicorn, a car impossible to find unmolested, and worth a healthy sum of money.
And yet, the EP3's North American demise is precisely what makes it so intriguing. It was the oddball forgotten Honda that dared to dance to the beat of a different VTEC drum, but failed at grabbing people’s attention while doing so. But some understood and appreciated the car.
I count myself among these people. My EP3 has never let me down. And I will never let it down in return.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com