Honda Civic Si: Greatest of All Time
Picking the GoAT Honda Civic Si
Only nerds feel the need to rank good things. Hand your average non-nerd a fine bottle of wine, delicious hamburger, or keys to a sporting car, and they'll happily go on about their day. People like me (and a lot of you, let's be honest) can't handle that. We have to figure out where the latest Imperial Stout ranks amongst every other Imperial we've ever tasted, write three thousand words to back it up, and create an app so that we can compare Imperial Stout pictures with our other nerd friends.
Car guys get a bad rap for being basic, blue-collar, down-to-Earth, and other non-nerdy descriptors. But the truth is that most of us are ranking-geeks just waiting for a chance to argue. Take a revered and venerable model of sport compact, ask which iteration is the Greatest of All Time, and you're bound to incite a kanji-strewn brawl.
In the spirit of passionate argument then, I'm posing the GoAT question about the much-loved Honda Civic Si. But, to avoid the bickering, I'm going to settle the argument with data, and some pseudo science, and one totally subjective factor.
I started by asking myself "What makes a good Si?" The characteristics that I came up with were these: low weight; a potent, revvy engine; practicality for everyday use; good value; and a kind of Japanese-y, Honda purity that my astute editor-in-chief dubbed "Dream Power." (Using stats from the first-year car of each generation.) With all of that that in mind, I created these scoring categories:
- Relative weight: Civic Si curb weight relative to that of the average car sold in the same year of manufacture.
- Relative horsepower: Same as above, with hp.
- RPM: The higher the engine has to rev to make max power, the better. (I know, I know, but this is Civic Si we're talking about – nuts to your accessible power curves.)
- Relative fuel economy: Using EPA "combined" ratings, and again, comparing it to the average for that model year.
- Adjusted cost: Original MSRP translated into today's dollars.
- Dream Power Score: A rank from first (best) to seventh (worst), as judged by a sampling of your Autoblog editors. We're professionals, guys.
With the categories and the spreadsheet hot, I awarded points based on ranking in each. Seven points for first place, one for last. Read on, and get set to argue a lot, nerds.
7th Place: 2003-2004 Civic Si (Gen 7 Civic) – 17 Points
Weight: 2,745 lbs, 69% of avg.
Horsepower: 160 hp, 80% of avg.
Fuel Econ: 28 mpg, 143% of avg.
Adj. Cost: $24,656
Dream Power: 6th
After going all-coupe in the previous generation of Si, Honda went back to the hatchback formula for the 2003 car. The resultant “bread van” Si brought European styling with a cool, console-mounted shifter, but none of Europe’s Type R power.
Adjusted for today’s dollars, the wedgy hatch is the most expensive Si of the bunch, dragging down its overall score. Dropping the redline from the screaming 2000 Si, with no more power and added weight, doesn’t help either.
6th Place: 2012-Current Civic Si (Gen 9 Civic) – 18 Points
Weight: 2,877 lbs, 73% of avg.
Horsepower: 201 hp, 91% of avg.
Fuel Econ: 25 mpg, 106% of avg.
Adj. Cost: $23,672
Dream Power Score: 7th
The current formulation of the Si is an odd duck; compared with its forbearers and its contemporary competition. It’s a naturally aspirated offering in an era of turbo-fed compacts, and a heavy, thirsty thing in terms of Si heritage. The low Dream Score isn’t too surprising in light of all of that, and the fact that it isn’t old enough for any of us to start to romanticize it.
Still, the most powerful US-market Si ever, and it has a killer shifter. You could do worse for a practical, sporty coupe.
5th Place: 1989-1991 Civic Si (Gen 4 Civic) – 23 Points
Weight: 2,116 lbs, 63% of avg.
Horsepower: 108 hp, 84% of avg.
Fuel Econ: 30 mpg, 141% of avg.
Adj. Cost: $18,767
Dream Power Score: 5th
I personally think that the 1989 Civic Si typified the Japanese hot hatch. Pert styling, extremely lightweight body, low-grip and low-power but with sweet-enough handling and shifting to make up for all of that. I still want one.
But the facts aren’t as kind as my kid-of-the-90s memories. The Gen 4 powertrain (D16 engine) really gives up any advantage in terms of power to all but the progenitor of the line, and doesn’t make that power at a high engine speed. A terrific relative fuel economy rating is still just below the high-bar set by the other models.
4th Place: 2006-2011 Civic Si (Gen 8 Civic) – 25 Points
Weight: 2,877 lbs, 71% of avg.
Horsepower: 197 hp, 92% of avg.
Fuel Econ: 25 mpg, 124% of avg.
Adj. Cost: $24,030
Dream Power Score: 4th
You’ve got to hand it to Honda, with a two-year hiatus to think about the complaints about the Bread Van Si, it brought a strong game with the 2006 coupe. Power was up by 37 hp, revs had climbed to appropriately shrieking levels, and the styling seemed derived from UFO comic books (perfectly JDM, in other words).
Dynamically, this might be the best Si ever, regardless of era. But practically speaking it didn’t hew as closely to core Honda strengths of value and high mpg.
2nd Place (tie): 1999-2000 Civic Si (Gen 6 Civic) – 26 Points
Weight: 2,612 lbs, 68% of avg.
Horsepower: 160 hp, 89% of avg.
Fuel Econ: 28 mpg, 142% of avg.
Adj. Cost: $24,493
Dream Power Score: 2nd (tie)
The “EM1” Civic Si Coupe has been a sort of brass ring in terms of Honda tuners for the last decade and a half. The cars are rare, good-looking sleepers with tremendous powertrains and huge street cred. On reputation alone, I expected that the facts would bear out this coupe as the Si GoAT.
Of course, I was wrong. Excellent stats put it in a dead heat with another generation, and only its second-highest adjusted MSRP keep it from owning second place outright. As you can see, even our voting judges couldn’t break the deadlock, as Dream Power for the ’99 is neck and neck with the next entry. Age ahead of beauty, after all.
2nd Place (tie): 1986-1987 Civic Si – 26 Points
Weight: 1,944 lbs, 60% of avg.
Horsepower: 91 hp, 80% of avg.
Fuel Econ: 31 mpg, 142% of avg.
Adj. Cost: $17,000
Dream Power Score: 2nd (tie)
In 1986 Honda tightened its hot hatch game. In previous years an “S” badge affixed to the flyweight Civic hatch meant better handling, but the “Si” was more complete. The granddaddy Si squeezed more power from its 1.5-liter four (and was the only Si to have more torque (93 pound-feet) than horsepower, at a low power peak of 5,500 rpm. It boasted a five-speed stick shift, weird/cool flat-faced wheels, and the tiniest hint of attitude from the quirky Japanese company.
The lightest and cheapest Si ever, both by relative scores and outright, it’s a fitting number two for the list (even at a tied score). But there can be only one number one.
1st Place: 1992-1995 Civic Si – 32 Points
Weight: 2,326 lbs, 66% of avg.
Horsepower: 125 hp, 86% of avg.
Fuel Econ: 32 mpg, 154% of avg.
Adj. Cost: $19,781
Dream Power Score: 1st
The runaway winner. By the early 1990s Honda had hit its stride in terms of innovation and engineering, and it showed in this fifth-gen Civic’s Si treatment. Some 125 horsepower arrived at 6,600, but the engine would run past seven grand and the tach went to 9k. (Full disclosure: I drove this one for a number of years; when I first ran it up the ladder it felt like an F1 car to me. Of course, I’d recently owned a Suzuki Samurai.)
If I was biased on Dream Power, so were my fellows. The Autobloggers gave the ’92 car consistently high marks for pure Honda-ness. It’s also a smoking bargain in terms of purchase price, and the most economically running Si of all time (by a lot).
Does one spreadsheet close the case of the GoAT Civic Si? Probably not. Get into comments and start mixing it up. Or better yet, show me a list of your own.