The Mountain Meets a Legend: Why the 1999 Honda Civic Si Is a Modern Classic
The road is a scalpel coiled through the primordial forest. The trees arch over the sidewalk, bending down to retrieve it. Peer to the side and the undergrowth between the massive trunks is as dark as the midnight sky. Sunlight passes through the interstices of the canopy and lights up the electric blue hood of the 1999 Honda Civic Si. The revs slowly climb and its stuttering induction sound bounces off the passing trees, changing from a roar to a mechanical scream. while the trunks become more confused.
Through a break in the trees, a jagged ridge cuts through the sky. The dark, bare knives of ancient rock soar into space – everywhere else people would spend hours contemplating geographic phenomena. But for now, it goes unnamed and unnoticed, barely buttresses next to the glacier-strewn volcano that seems to rise above. When not shrouded in clouds of its own making, Mt. Rainier dominates its surroundings. This is the reason for the road we are on, which winds through Steven’s Canyon, and which decades ago was the only way to access the Ohanapecosh Hot Springs at the base of the volcano by car. .
These springs have returned to nature, just a few swampy seeps reminding Washington state is perched on the Ring of Fire and Mt. Rainier is an active stratovolcano ready to throw searing mud on its flanks at any time – in a geological period, of course. The mountain slumbered, thankfully, as the immaculate and irreplaceable Civic from Honda’s corporate collection grumbled through tunnels pierced with solid rocks and bobby pins that look more like shelves – a steep incline to one side, one solid cliff wall on the other. With only 1,600 miles on the clock, it would be a shame if this historic Honda tumbled down the canyon below.
Find an open corner and bend the Si. As the rpm increases – slowly, too slowly – a transformation takes place. The little B16A2 peaks at 4000rpm after climbing over the summit and the anticipation becomes deliciously unbearable as all of the typical sensory inputs tell you to prepare to move on. And then the crankshaft spins at 5600 rpm. A computer sends a signal and a pulse of pressurized oil pushes a pin through the rocker arm, which begins to vibrate on a new cam lobe. The tone changes, a full-throated moan, like a recording of a liter sportbike engine being played at half speed. From there, it’s 2,400 delicious RPMs until the tachometer needle hits the 8,000 RPM red line.
This is Si’s flagship event: the totally mechanical and fantastically binary VTEC failover. It’s the sound and the fury, the charming contradiction of an economy coupe with two personalities and 160 hp for those who wait (up to 7600 rpm) that make this old Civic worth the price of admission. That’s an ever-growing sum, too, with a clear example recently sold for $ 50,000 on Bring a Trailer – a number more representative of the car’s charm, multiplied by its nostalgia, than its inherent value. Because this aging Si is a terribly crass thing in other ways, especially when viewed through the prism of modern sensibility and compared to its contemporary analogue: the 2020 Honda Civic Si Coupe.
Old or new?
You see, in the few decades since the arrival of the sixth-generation Honda Civic, the compromises it embodies have for the most part evaporated. Power is now cheap and plentiful, and often comes at a low cost in terms of fuel efficiency, at least within the limits of the Environmental Protection Agency’s testing regime. Safety and convenience items previously reserved for flagship models are now on the low-end vehicle specification list of automakers. The 2020 Civic Si puts out 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque (available at just 2,100 rpm), which blessed the modern model with a treatable nature absent from its ancestor. Thank the 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder underhood for most of the Si’s latest performance upgrades, as well as the car’s ultra-smooth six-speed manual transmission, which slams through its doors with incredible precision.
There is a catch, however. The old Si’s stratospheric red line and wild camera tilt are gone. The Si’s latest forced induction four-pot runs at 6,600 rpm, while engine power peaks at 5,700 rpm. In short, the current Si doesn’t require its pilot to work almost as hard, or wait that long, to reach the sweet spot in its power band. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?
This is where the intangibles come in and confuse the specifications. There is no doubt that the new Si trumps the old in almost every objective measure. These two cars are not competitors. The old Si, with its humble all-season tires and non-adjustable suspension, could never hold on to the new one, especially an HPT version on sticky Goodyears. Getting the new Si moving quickly is effortless.
But is this really what effortless enthusiasts want? Anyone looking for something to take to the track every now and then will be well served by the Si, which is brilliant when pushed hard the same way a Toyota 86 is glowing to the limit. But the character of the old Si bursts with every change. Plus, the way it looks (and we mean lean) in every corner makes it a wonderfully bubbly and cheerful machine for mastering the limit. There is an honesty to its charms that Honda cannot capture in the new Si. There is simply no turning back.
Honda can no longer build a car as thin and slender as that old coupe, which places its driver on a high pole overlooking an airy greenhouse and makes the driver feel like a backpack gunner in a B-17 bomber (which, coincidentally, was built at Boeing Field’s No.2 Plant, about 65 miles north-northwest of the mountain). The dashboard extends to the lower edge of your peripheral vision, but the orange-glowing analog gauges are just a glance away. Bucket seats keep you out of the way. With little reinforcement, it feels like you’re sitting on the seat and not the seat, which contributes to the illusion that the old blinking trees are close enough to touch. Car manufacturers can no longer build a cabin like this given modern safety regulations. We cannot go back.
Take a look at the profile of the 1999 Civic Si. Long doors aren’t just an exercise in vanity. Instead, each one helps extract the most character from the coupe’s simple folds, low waistline, and expansive greenhouse. Compare it to a sixth-gen Civic sedan or the rolly-polly hatch. Or park it next to the current Civic Coupe, with its overworked sheet metal, waist belt, and plastic front grips. The latest Civic coupe does not improve the look of the compact Honda because the proportions are not correct and the details are disturbing. No wonder Honda is pulling the plug for the Civic Coupe for 2021.
Honda continues to strive to match the looks of the Civic Si to its rugged performance. It also did not resolve the few issues affecting the model’s driving engagement. In 2006, we lamented the dreaded eighth-generation Civic Si’s revs for its ability to suck the joy out of switching between the car’s six gears – a distraction right where you and the machine should be completely and subconsciously. simpatico. The 2020 Civic Si suffers from this problem again. Wrong. And, while you can coax your muscle memory to make up for the diet blockage, it constantly reminds you of just how much current Si has fallen from its ancestral tree.
The must-have nostalgia factor
Is the rev hang of the 2020 Civic Si an irremediable sin? No. The car still offers impressive performance for its price. Arguably, the 1999 Civic Si benefits more from the affection of nostalgia than the 2020 Civic Si suffers from its powertrain faults.
There are a few things we can learn from the old Si, though. It delivers inordinate joy thanks to modest specs at legal road speeds – not a tsunami of power or skidding grip. Experience, not numbers, defines Si.
It pays off when a large motorhome hoists its fiberglass body in front of the senior Civic and forces us to wallow endlessly through some of Stevens Canyon’s most amazing chunks. We briefly release the throttle from the Si and fall back to create some extra space before downshifting to second and pinning the right pedal. With the four-cylinder engine pounding hard on its hot cam, the motorhome swells in the windshield and the mountain disappears behind the trees.
|Honda Civic Si 1999|
|Place of final assembly||East Liberty, Ohio|
|Body style||2 doors, 5 passes.|
|EPA size class||Compact|
|Transmission layout||Front engine, front wheel drive|
|Type of engine||4 cylinders in line, block and cylinder head in aluminum alloy|
|Bore x stroke, in / mm||3.19 × 3.05 / 81.0 × 77.4|
|Displacement, ci / cc||97.3 / 1595|
|Compression ratio||10.2: 1|
|Valve gear||Variable, DOHC 4 valves / cylinder|
|Fuel / induction system||SEFI|
|Power, hp @ rpm, SAE net||160 to 7600|
|Torque, lb-ft @ rpm, SAE net||111 to 7000|
|Power / liter||100.3|
|Red line, rpm||8,000|
|Transmission type||5-speed manual|
|Axle ratio||5.19: 1|
|Final transmission ratio||4.40: 1|
|Recommended fuel||Premium unleaded|
|Wheelbase, in / mm||103.2 / 2620|
|Track, f / r, in / mm||58.1 / 58.1 / 1475/1475|
|Length, in / mm||175.1 / 4450|
|Width, in / mm||67.1 / 1705|
|Height, in / mm||54.1 / 1375|
|Ground clearance, in / mm||5.9 / 150|
|Base curb weight, lbs||2612|
|Weight distribution, f / r,%||60/40|
|Loading capacity, ft3||11.9|
|Fuel capacity, gal.||11.9|
|Power to weight ratio, lb: hp||16.3: 1|
|Suspension, f / r||Upper and lower control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar / upper and lower control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Direction type||Rack and pinion, electric assistance|
|Turn, lock to lock||3.6|
|Turning circle, ft||32.8|
|Brakes, f / r||Disc / ventilated disc|
|Wheel size, material||15 x 6.0 aluminum|
|Tire size||195 / 55VR15|
|Manufacturer / model||Michelin XG-T V4 M + S|
|0 to 30 mph||2.7|
|0 to 40 mph||4|
|0 to 50 mph||5.4|
|0 to 60 mph||7.2|
|0 to 70 mph||9.6|
|0 to 80 mph||12.3|
|Quarter mile standing, sec / mph||15.7 / 88.4|
|Braking, 60-0 mph, ft||150|
|Lateral acceleration, g||0.8|
|Speed through a 600 foot slalom, mph||65.5|
|Fuel economy EPA, city / highway, mpg||26/31|
|Estimated range, city / highway, mpg||309/369|
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