Preview Drive: 2002 Honda Civic Si

How to get sports car performance with an econobox budget.

by Photo by: Ron Sessions

What´s New: Hatchback body style, torque-rich 4-cylinder engine
What´s Good: Sharp handling, seemingly anticipatory responses to driver input
What´s Not: Generic styling
Base Price: $19,000 (est.)
Major Option: Side airbags, $250
Bottom Line: The econobox that really scoots
Photo by: Ron Sessions

PS TECHNOLOGY QUOTIENT: 37 (OUT OF 50)

Enthusiasts have their hot hatchback back! Honda's Civic Si reigned for 15 years as the affordable hot rod, then disappeared two years ago when the Japanese automaker embarked on a major remodel of its entry-level sedan.

During that time, front-drive street machines that were inspired by the Si gained in popularity, and new production cars like Volkswagen's Golf GTI and Ford's Focus SVT quickly drew a following. Reintroduced this year, the Civic Si is playing catch-up.

Beneath the demure exterior lives a torque-rich (132 pound-feet) 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, which features a valve-control system that alters both lift and timing to improve low-end torque and high-rpm horsepower. During our tests near Seattle, we found that the 160-horsepower engine loves to rev. It's expertly teamed with a precise five-speed manual, with a shifter that sprouts out of the center dash. A stiff suspension mixes razor-sharp responsiveness with rock-solid stability, and oversize four-wheel disc brakes inspire confidence.

The interior is unremarkable, and cargo space is extremely limited. Of course, you don't need much room when the only thing you're hauling is serious tail.

Powertrain: 8

Road Manners: 9

Safety: 6

Electronics: 7

Design: 7

What's New: Hatchback body style, torque-rich 4-cylinder engine

What's Good: Sharp handling, seemingly anticipatory responses to driver input

What's Not: Generic styling

Base Price: $19,000 (est.)

Major Option: Side airbags, $250

Bottom Line: The econobox that really scoots