Honda Civic Si Essential History
Roots of the sporty Civic
The sporty Honda Civic Si has its roots in the semi-sporty 1984 Civic S. The S stood for “Sport,” and though it only came with a manual transmission, it had the same engine and suspension as other Civic hatchbacks; it was the Prelude and the two-seat CRX that were supposed to be the choice of serious enthusiasts. But the Civic S’s light weight and inherent nimbleness attracted the notice of gearheads, and in 1986 Honda gave in, adding its PGM-FI fuel-injection system to the Civic’s 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, raising output to 91 horsepower and torque to 93 lb-ft (from 76/84 lb-ft in the carbureted version). Fuel injection made the S an Si, and Honda had a warm hatch, whether it meant to or not.
Honda gets serious about the Civic Si
When Honda launched a new fourth-generation Civic in 1988, the Si hatch was missing, but it returned in ’89. Still not quite an out-and-out sportster, it had the same 108-horsepower, 1.6-liter engine as the CRX Si, giving it three horsepower more than the EX sedan and 16 hp more than the DX hatchback. With wider tires, a deeper chin spoiler, and a subtle wing above the rear window, the Si was inching closer to becoming a true hot hatch.
The fifth-generation Civic came in 1992, the Si hatchback sporting a 125-horsepower 1.6-liter engine with VTEC variable intake valve timing and a 7,200-rpm redline. Brakes were disc all around, an upgrade from lesser Civic hatchbacks. The Civic EX sedan shared the same hardware, as did the 1993 EX coupe, although the EX models could be had with an automatic transmission while the Si could not. Unfortunately, the engine that Honda fans really wanted to see in the Si—the 160-horsepower B16A2—was reserved for the two-seat Del Sol.
The Civic Si hits new highs—and new lows
Honda dropped the Si model when the sixth-gen Civic appeared in 1996, but it came back in 1999 with a vengeance—and the long-awaited 160-horsepower B16 VTEC engine. The Si came exclusively as a coupe with a manual transmission, and extracting max performance from the 1.6-liter VTEC engine meant revving it past 5,600 rpm, where the VTEC system cut over to the high-rpm valve profile, past the 8,000-rpm redline to its 8,200-rpm rev limiter. The sixth-gen Si coupe was only sold for two years, and it is widely considered one of the most exciting Si models ever made.
After a one-year hiatus, Honda introduced the seventh-gen Civic Si for 2002, and it tried a slightly different formula this time: The European three-door hatchback body, which was built in the UK and exclusive to the Si. The one-box styling and dash-mounted shifters were nifty novelties. Unfortunately, Honda decided to improve drivability with more low-end torque. Displacement grew to 2.0 liters, the redline fell to 6,800 rpm, and horsepower held steady at 160 hp, but the new car was slower than the old one and lacked the high-revving hijinks. Just as the ’99-00 was a high point in Civic Si history, the ’02-’05 was a low point.
Honda finds the right formula
For 2006, Honda found a better compromise. The hatchback was abandoned, but the Si was now available as a coupe and, starting in 2007, a family-friendly sedan. Its 2.0-liter, 197-horsepower K20Z3 engine had strong low-end torque, but it could also rev like the ’99-’00 Si, with a 5,800-rpm VTEC changeover and 8,300-rpm rev limiter. The manual transmission (still the only choice) added a cog to offer six forward gears. In 2008 Honda introduced the Mugen Si sedan, of which 1,000 were built. The Mugen featured Fiji blue paint, a high-flow cat-back exhaust, sport-tuned suspension, and unique body and interior trim.
The ninth-generation Civic appeared in 2012, and the Si now featured a 2.4-liter engine producing 201 horsepower, bumped up to 205 horsepower in 2014. Though the rev limit was lower—7,500 rpm, with VTEC engagement at 5,000 rpm—it delivered a similar driving experience to the previous version.
Today’s turbocharged Honda Civic Si
The latest iteration of the Civic Si arrived in 2017, with a significant change: It now sported a turbocharger, using a souped-up version of the 1.5-liter engine found in other Civic models. Its 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft represented a 31 hp/25 lb-ft increase over other Civics. Once again, the Si was available in coupe or sedan form and came exclusively with a manual transmission. Unfortunately, the turbocharged Si was eclipsed by the arrival of the Civic that US-based Honda fans had been waiting decades to see: The 306 hp Civic Type R. The Civic Si received interior upgrades for 2019 and a styling refresh for 2020.
Honda Civic Si Fun Facts
The Honda Civic Si has never been available with an automatic transmission.
The first (1986) and latest versions of the Civic Si both use a 1.5-liter engine.
Despite being a (supposedly) sporty model, the Civic Si did not get standard-fit alloy wheels until the 1999 model year. From 1986 until 1995, the Civic Si came with plastic-covered steel wheels.
The Civic Si was available exclusively as a coupe until 1999, and then again from 2002 to 2005. The Si reverted to a coupe in 2006, with the sedan option added in 2007. Today, the Civic Type R comes exclusively as a hatchback.
Honda Civic Si Buying Tips
The Civic Si was sold (or at least seen) as an affordable performance car, and that meant it often appealed to younger male buyers, many of whom thrashed it like the proverbial rented mule. Honda designed its engines for high-revving shenanigans, but it’s still important to check any potential purchase for signs of abuse. Ask about clutch replacements—Honda clutches are durable and long-lasting, and early or multiple clutch replacement indicates hard use.
Be wary of cars with modified suspensions or hopped-up engines. Find out where the work was done and if the person or shop who carried it out has a good reputation.
Engine swaps were popular (and relatively easy on some older Hondas), and shouldn’t necessarily scare you away from a purchase. However, keep in mind that some swaps (such as a B-series engine into an older Civic body) require mount kits and structural modifications (often carried out with a torch and/or hammer), so if you don’t know what you’re looking for, have a reputable mechanic inspect the work.
Honda Civic Si Articles on Automobile
Honda Civic Si Recent Auctions
Honda Civic Si Quick Facts
- First year of production: 1986
- Original price (base): $7,999
- Engine sizes: 1.5 to 2.0 liters
- Characteristic feature: One of very few cars never offered in the American market with an automatic transmission
Honda Civic Si FAQ
Is a Honda Civic Si fast?
Depends on the model. Early Civic Si models were quick due to their light weight, but not especially powerful. It wasn’t until 1999 that the Civic Si got a serious power bump over other Civic models. Civics from 1992 until 2000 and 2006 onward are set up for high-RPM power, and need to be revved right to the redline in each gear to extract best-possible acceleration.
What does Si mean on a Honda Civic?
The “S” stands for Sport, and the i stands for Injection, as in fuel injection. The earlier Civic S had a carbureted engine.
Is the Honda Civic Si turbocharged?
The Civic Si has used a turbocharged engine since 2017. Earlier versions were naturally aspirated.
Is a Civic Si worth it?
Absolutely! The Civic Si has been one of our favorite cars for many years, delivering a good mix of power and performance. Early Civics aren’t very fast, but are light and tossable and great fun to drive. Even our least favorite, the 2002-2005 car, is enjoyable. Later models can run with heavy hitters like the Volkswagen GTI.
What year Honda Civic Si is the best?
The 1999-2000 Honda Civic is, in our opinion, the best Civic Si. The high-revving (8,200 rpm!) B16 engine offers a thrill that few cars can match, and its light weight and well-set-up steering make it huge fun. The 2006 and later cars are just as enjoyable, if not quite as unique.
Is a Civic Si just manual?
Yes—since the model’s inception, Honda has never offered the Civic Si with an automatic transmission.