This is a shoot-out between two brand-new Honda Civic Si coupes. The twist is that Honda built one of them, the 1999 Civic Si, 20 years ago, and it’s arguably the most pristine example in the world. It belongs to Honda North America and has been driven just 930 miles in the last two decades. It lives in a state of preservation under a blanket in a parking garage at the company’s headquarters in Torrance, California, hidden from the ravages of the hot California sun, the clogged Los Angeles freeway system, and the temptation of aftermarket modifications. It’s perfect and perfectly stock, just as it left the factory in East Liberty, Ohio, years before anyone ever heard of Dominic Toretto and The Fast and the Furious.
The other is a 2019 Honda Civic Si coupe fresh off the East Liberty assembly line, although its odometer already reads 2750 miles. It’s also the most powerful Civic Si ever and the first to be fitted with a turbocharger. These two machines basically bookend the Civic’s sport compact heyday, and driving them back to back shows just how far that movement has come over the last two decades. As expected, the performance gains since those early days have been significant, but we’ve also lost something along the way.
Honda lit the Civic Si’s fuse with the first hatchback model in 1984. At a time when a V-8 Chevy Camaro only made 150 horsepower, the 91-hp Civic Si was stout, and sales lasted until 1987. The Civic’s fourth generation landed in 1988, but the Si didn’t reappear until 1989, once again only as a hatchback. With the Civic’s fifth generation sold from 1992 to 1995, Honda finally offered a coupe body style, but the Si still only was available as a hatchback. Meanwhile, guys on the street, emulating cars like the BMW M3 and Nissan’s Skyline GT-R, clamored for a high-performance version of the new two-door. Engine swaps and other mods became common as America’s first wave of sport compact enthusiasts made every attempt to dial up the performance of their Civics.
Honda finally saw the light in 1996 and introduced the sixth generation of the Civic and the first Civic Si coupe, but only in Japan. When it finally arrived in the United States in 1999, it was powered by Honda’s B16 VTEC-equipped double-overhead-cam 1.6-liter inline-four making 100 horses per liter and revving to a sky-high 8500 rpm. It was so good, so on point, it helped ignite the modern revolution of small-car, small-displacement performance that lives on 20 years later.
This is a shoot-out between two brand-new Honda Civic Si coupes. The twist is that Honda built one of them, the 1999 Civic Si, 20 years ago, and it’s arguably the most pristine example in the world.
In-text citations :