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2002-2005 Honda Civic Si (EP3)

(Submitted by Car Lust reader and commenter Tigerstrypes)

 

Civic 1

While Hondas have not been super-influential to me, I gotta admit that I liked them. I drew their sleek 2-door CG-series Accords and EK9 Civic hatchbacks (both 6th-gen models from their respective models) in my school notebooks from time to time. They were just great-looking cars.

When the 7th-gen Civics rolled in, it took me awhile to get used to the coupe and sedan’s cleaner, sanitary lines. OK, it didn’t take that long. Then I saw the hatch. I was blown away! If the coupe and sedan were evolutionary, the hatch was definitely revolutionary.

Civic 3

Just look at that shifter! It was mounted on the dash!! I asked myself how did Honda ever pull that off! It was a big step towards the future, if you asked me. Given that Civics were hot and common, I thought this puppy would be a smash hit!

Then something happened. Aside from the commuter-car 4-door and the often-times riced-out coupe, I rarely saw a hatch. As I became more knowledgeable, I began to theorize on what happened: Did it get ludicrously expensive for a hatch (import fees kill us around these parts)? Did dealers bother ordering them?

Years passed. While browsing through the magazines on a newsstand, Honda Tuning magazine (August 2011) caught my eye. On its cover was a tastefully modified (EP3) Civic hatch!  But what really caught my attention was its caption: “The Forgotten Generation: Unloved Chassis Gets Mugen Treatment.” As drool-worthy as overpriced goodies from the legendary Honda-specialized tuning company can be, only the first part of that caption resonated inside my head: “The Forgotten Generation…”

So it turned out that it wasn’t all that popular. But why? What could Honda have possibly done that was so horrible, so wrong, so heretic, that caused the automotive community to turn its back on an entire generation and end Honda’s continuous streak of Civic love-fest, at least on an enthusiast level?

To be honest, I thought about it, and since that August 2011 issue didn’t provide me with the answers I was seeking, I was set on finding them… eventually. My mind was set on other things. Sometime later, while looking for another magazine, I stumbled upon -- you guessed it -- Honda Tuning magazine, October 2012. I was surprised to see a Honda Prelude of any generation on its cover (not exactly a common Honda build platform, even I know that), I really wasn’t feeling it. Almost the same story with the road-race Fit. But then I read what was on the attention-grabbing orange button: “Celebrating The Infamous Civic EP Hatchback."

Logic dictated that it had to be the 2002+ Civic Si that I lusted, even for a little while, back in my very early teens. And I was right. I saw the articles as a sign that it would be a good opportunity to not only write a post about this forlorn machine, but also look for more info. And pics. Usually I avoid reading too much of a magazine in one fell swoop, but I had to know what went down!
Here’s what I found out:

Pros:

·    It was the first US-spec Civic to come factory-equipped with a K-series engine, specifically the K20A3, almost the same one found on the Acura RSX (an acquired taste for just about every car-magazine reporter expecting B-series engine characteristics). And for those that don’t know, the torquey K-series engines are growing in popularity at white-hot speeds.

·    It had the stiffest suspension of this generation of Civics.

·    It came standard with rear disc brakes.

·    The flat rear floorpan = more room. The first time I heard this was when I overheard someone from church talk about it, when the Si was still on showroom floors. He said he found them interesting and was looking into them. Keep in mind that all 7th-gen Civics moved up from ‘subcompact’ to ‘compact’ category due to their new levels of interior roominess.

Cons:

·    It was heavier than the previous generation, gaining close to 150-ish lbs., totaling around 2,740 lbs. This was due to its rigid structure.

·    The K20A3 is the least-loved Honda K-series engine.

·    MacPherson struts replaced the double-wishbone front suspension. This cost-effective move made the fitment of the K20A3 possible (another source says it was to allow room for a high-mounted steering box with longer steering arms for improved stability), but at the expense of some of the handling. Further research indicated that the rear suspension wasn’t all that innocent, either.

·    Close-ratio transmission ate up a bit of its 0-60 times.

·    No limited-slip differential.

About its body style, it was derived from the “New Bullet-Form” design concept. Some people like it and others don’t, some of them liking it to minivans like the Honda Odyssey.

*Looks at pics*

I still don’t see it. Some owners just roll with it. It’s the first Civic with electronic power steering. Revisions came for ’04-onwards. Aside from a couple of interior and exterior tweaks (including those tasty side-skirts), you got 5 lugs over 4, bigger wheels (16s) and a bigger sway bar. The Honda Factory Performance (HFP) package was also offered (shown below) for USDM models only.

Civic 4

I had to look for more info, beyond what one single magazine issue and Wikipedia facts from JDM and Euro-spec models. Another thing: Searching Honda Tuning website for EP3 articles, one will only find just 14 of them spanning from 2005 to present-day 2012. That’s a really, really low number.

I recall reading a comparison test with the Civic Si when I used to read Motor Trend Español. I remembered it doing good, but not good enough. Having the luck of finding it, in English though, was a revisit of that cold-bucket-of-water-to-the-face sensation I experienced when I read it back in April-May 2002. Back then, I wasn’t so wild at the idea of 4-cylinder wrong-wheel-drivers beating the highly praised performance hardware of the late 1960s. The caption (here in English), “Civic Si: It ties the quickest 0-60-mph time for the V-8-powered ’69 Mustang Mach 1 we tested way back when” was especially impacting. It took a while to accept the fact that time and technology has moved forward and even longer to accept that pony cars (the examples given were not muscle cars, like everyone says they are… and like I used to do), for all their charm and raw thrills, weren’t perfect.

From all the road tests found, you pick up a couple of similarities: amazing seats, 15-inch wheels (too small), the need for sportier rubber, the conspiracy theory that it was watered down so that the Acura RSX would shine brighter, excellent highway cruiser, European feel, numerous references to tuner car culture and how they’ll fix all its faults (Ha!); a good car, but not good enough when compared with others, a group that consisted the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, Ford SVT Focus, and Volkswagen GTI. The latter two appeared more often butting heads against the Si in road tests.

Civic 5

They also mention about the 197-200 hp (depends who you ask) second-generation Civic Type R version, already available for both Europe (and Japan, but with more goodies) with deep wishes of its arrival to American shores, some making it sound as a safe bet. The closest thing we got was the Acura RSX Type-S, which has the same engine used in the EDM Civic Type R, a K20A2 (Japan’s is K20A). 

There’s a reason why Motor Trend (January 2002) and Car and Driver (December 2001) called this the most European Honda ever: it’s built in the U.K., specifically Swindon, England (this would have totally shocked me back then), with collab work in the United States, and R&D in Germany. Far out, huh? A first for Honda. In fact, they wanted their homeland to know, so apparently all JDM Type Rs (not sure about its other EP-series brethren or specific model years) had the ‘Union Jack’ (UK flag) stuck on their tailgates.

Civic 6

That’s not a joke. The thing can be found for sale, and there are a couple of car pics with ‘em and forum discussions about ‘em.  I don’t think Japanese Honda buffs shared the same level of enthusiasm as the product planners. What’s weird is that UK Hondas didn’t have ‘em. All of the hatchbacks were built there for all the world markets.

As if Japan wasn’t spoiled enough, they also had special editions of the Type R. These included the Premier Special Edition, the C Package, and the 30th Anniversary Edition, celebrating 30 years of Civic. Wait a minute… oh, man! The Civic turns 40 next year! I’ll mark the calendar…

Civic 7

Dig this: the car, in all its versions, was loved, not in Japan, but in the UK (They had the Type R for crying out loud!)! But for a car that was built in its majority in England, I find it interesting that theirs didn’t come fully loaded with all the goodies for the JDM counterparts. Was it internal politics? Regular politics? Gentlemen agreements between hot hatch makers? I mean, how much would it cost to add those goodies for the UK when the plant was right in their country? Could it be that the Japanese kept the goodies in their country and added them to their Type Rs when their batch of Type Rs made it to their homeland for finishing touches, which is how they did for final home-market Type R assembly? Granted, while it specifies that Type R engines were assembled in Japan and united with the rest in Swindon, I didn’t find if it was the same with all engines.

Civic Type R

But a Type R was much more that an engine with hotter bits ‘n’ pieces and ECM tune with extra 15 ponies (215 JDM vs. 200 EDM). I’ll try to summarize from its extensive list of features: It had a seam-welded body, Torsen limited-slip differential (apparently JDM only, like the variation of the RECARO seats and the white exterior paint), excellent brakes, 17-inch, 5-lug wheel pattern, 6 speeds vs. the standard 5, and NO traction control!! Modified.com stated that it could kick Acura RSX Type-S butt and is 146 mph-capable (cue the Acura RSX conspiracy).

I did pick up the notion that the car needs to be pushed to the limit to reap the rewards. It only got better in its latter years, 2004 and later models to be specific, with better, quicker electronic power steering, and lightened clutch and flywheel (forgedchrome-molybdenum steel) assembly along its exterior tweaks. All details found here.

Wait a minute. If the Type R is so good, shouldn’t it have its own post? After all, I did spend considerable amounts of time looking up details on that machine. The reason is this: Inspiration. Since we can’t legally have the EP3 Type R until much, much later, it serves as inspiration for those that wish to enhance the appearance and/or performance aspects of their EP3 as far as OEM pieces are concerned. If you wanna go wilder than OEM, there’s the aftermarket. It is a Honda after all. One could at least start modding using RSX parts, preferably Type-S.

Among other interesting things that I learned of this Si was that it only came in this body style for the US and Canada (the Canadian limited-edition Civic Si Veloz/Si-G Veloz coupe doesn’t count! That one’s basically an appearance package). Canada’s model was actually named SiR, which I find even more misleading because it sounds even sportier than Si. The European Domestic Market (EDM) had the chassis-code EP1, EP2, EP3, and EP4. Japan too had these cars, but I have no proof if they used the same designation as the Europeans. All had the same body style (3-door hatch), but with different engines:

Civic 9

The EP1 (pre-facelift model shown above) had the D14Z6 (16 valves, SOHC). The EP2 (almost no worthy stock pics; looks a lot like the EP1) had the D16V1 (SOHC, 16 valves, regular VTEC). It seems that the EP3 designation was bestowed only on the Type R, for those markets anyway. The EP4 was the 1.7L diesel, the Circle L 4L22, which came from Isuzu, but was modified with ‘common rail’ injection vs. direct injection from other applications. If it wasn’t for the “CTDibadge you’d be forgiven to confuse it with the aforementioned EP1 and EP2. Like EP3’s, all of them got facelifts for ’04.

Civic facelifted

Still, be careful while looking. Each of these cars had their own trim lines, which can get pretty confusing, so here’s the link for all 7th-gen Hondas’ hard data (... well, JDM and EDM models. It still helps!). BTW, if you’re shopping for Euro-Type Rs, don’t assume that what you see is a Type R by the bodykit. It may be an EP2 or EP4 (or EP1 from ’03-onwards) with the 2002-onwards Sport package, either delivered as is from the factory (Sport package-equipped cars all seem to have come from the factory with manual gearboxes, like the diesels!) or cobbled up in a shed. Went British there for a moment…

Civic 10

 

I might as well that mention that there was a 5-door model (also a pre-facelift model), which I’ve found to be more commonly designated as the VTi, but that varied within nations. This body style was under the EU chassis-code designation for both Euro and Asian markets, with only the numbers changing, designation-wise -- from what I’ve gathered. The one exception is the Euro-spec EV1 Type-S. Europe/UK-market EUs are powered with some of the engines - like the 1.7L diesel (EU9), 1.4L (EU6), and 1.6L (EU8) - found in the Euro EP-series. Japan had them with two engines, regardless of chassis designation: a gasoline 1.7L, 1.5L, and no diesel… but they did get 4WD in the EU2 and EU4, and CVT in the EU1 and EU3.

While also built in England, it (and the sedan) was available in Japan a year earlier than the rest of the 7th-gens throughout the international market. Being that USDM EP3 Civic Si’s all came with a manual gearbox, logic says they didn’t come with an automatic transmission (which may also explain lackluster – for Honda - sales). This one did, depending on which you choose and whether or not it’s a diesel, which just like the EP-series, didn’t come with a slushbox. Also like the EP’s, they had their own trim levels that differed depending on country. Their most noticeable change came after their facelift with the introduction of the (EV1) Type-S and 2.0i Sport, both with a 2.0L engine, the same one found on U.S.-spec Civic Si’s, the K20A3. The EU is a different car, but worthy of mention. With potential, too.

Civic 11

 

Back to USDM EP3’s. I already know how I want mine. I’d prefer it to be white or blue, but I’m not that picky. If the candidate’s paint is too far gone, I’d respray it in Eternal Blue, the same color like that EP1 Civic posted above, but I also like Vivid Blue Pearl. If I’d go Type R, it’s gotta be white. No 2004+ Type R conversion bits for me (I’m partial to the pre-facelift version), and I can live without that HFP kit, too. Though that Volvo lip mod that I’ve stumbled on during my research is a rather unique and tasty exterior mod if one’s willing to use a little elbow grease. The more elbow grease, the better the result. I just hope that I can find an Si without a sunroof.

And just so you know, be careful when looking for certain front lips. They may be market specific, as can be other parts. Let me give you an example/word of advice: if you’re gonna go all Honda die-hard with MUGEN parts, a tip on the adjustable wing: the rear glass on USDM cars is different in shape to JDM’s. Either you invest in JDM glass for a flush fit, or you trim the über-cool/über-expensive wing to fit. Either way you go is gonna make you and your wallet sweat.

Regardless, due to their low numbers/popularity, through my observations I’ve deduced that many of these escaped ricer-dom, meaning that they were spared from tasteless/amateurish/questionable mods. Trust me, one of the reasons I tend to shy away from Hondas is because, when buying used, you’ll rarely find an (relatively) unmolested model to your liking/price and - around here at least - have engine swaps/head swaps done. I leave the online classifieds with a migraine.

But there’s one thing that needs to be done: get rid of the U.S.-spec turn signals on the bumpers. Early in the year I saw an Si on the road and that’s when I did I realized how ungainly those glorified reflectors looked. It came to me that it was the beginning of the 21st century and import models were still coming in with generic-looking, tacked-on turn-signals? Come on! They truly looked like a tacked-up afterthought that ruined the look on a car, just like zits on an otherwise clean face (you come up with a clever comparison for the rear turn signals). If the car is black, the bare minimum would be to tint the things to oblivion. Or just paint them. I’ll tolerate the clear versions if need be. I like the EDM and JDM front bumpers, but the USDM ones have a smoother front end and don’t have a front license plate recess. I won’t need it. A luggage compartment cover would be nice.

Brakes will get upgraded. So will the suspension, though I’m not sure how low I will go. Wheels will be replaced for those that will complement the car. The biggest thing would be to add a Torsen limited-slip differential… if I don’t get greedy and start looking for power-adders or engine swaps.

Despite being considered inferior performers compared to their forefathers, the EP3 still manages to shine in motorsports, being Hondas and all that, thanks to their cult fanbase. If you’re having trouble imagining this puppy on the racetrack, turn your attention to across the pond to the (in)famous BTCC series. There were a couple of interesting liveries, but my inner geek fancies this one:

Civic 12

 

It seems that it enjoys doing that move a lot. Here’s a pic on how one looks like from inside. Equally surprising is the number of them in rallying!

Civic 13

 

But let’s say you’re not interested in racing a car whose parts aren’t exactly common. How about as a daily driver? According to our very own Chuck Lynch (aka That Car Guy), who drove one belonging to a friend for a considerable amount of time (as well as through a tree), he had nothing but praise for his friend’s little San Francisco city car.

He even went as far as saying he preferred it over other Hondas that he’d driven. And from what he told me, it appears that one must actually want the car, since it may be a touch too sporty for the average (read: boring) motorist, so a sense of lust is in order. It seems that it still falls under the ‘Hot Hatch’ category after all.

Is this the last of what we’ll hear of the EP Civics? I doubt it. On the contrary, if another story on an EP3 in the latest issue of Honda Tuning (January 2013) is anything to go by, I believe it’s just the beginning.

Civic 14

When I first saw the Type R in Motor Trend Español back then, I was so taken aback by the awesomeness of it that I drew it the best I could (I really went all out in those days) and enjoyed doing so.

--Tigerstrypes

Image Credits:

Yellow Civic Si comes from: http://www.autos.ca/testdrives/images/02civic_sir1.jpg

Civic interior pic from: http://media.il.edmunds-media.com/non-make/as/01/ny/01-ny-as_2_815.jpg

2004 Honda Civic with HFP kit pic: http://www.mad4wheels.com/webpics/hires/00005805%20-%202004%20Honda%20Civic%20Si%20with%20Factory%20Performance%20Package/2004_Honda_Civic_Si_with_Factory_Performance_Package_004_6820.jpg

White Type R from: http://www.todofondosdecoches.com/wp-content/uploads/images/honda-60.jpg

British flag/‘Union Jack’ on Honda from: http://www.boomplustoys.net/images/JDM%20Honda%20Parts%20Cars/Civic%20EP3%20British%20Flag.JPG

Silver Type R from: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-_TJV90GoNuE/UHjUXyM2VuI/AAAAAAAAAms/2HZxhTp2KK0/s1600/honda_Civic_type_R_1.jpg

Silver Honda Civic Type R from: http://hondamarketplace.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=66550&stc=1&d=1251668968

EP1 Civic pic originally from this Flickr account, but found on: http://www.hondacivicforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=52&t=40551

The trio of facelifted Civics from: http://gallery.themspros.com/albums/album25/04euciv_11.jpg

Civic 5-door pic: http://i194.photobucket.com/albums/z80/OMAREJ1/honda-civic-vii-3d-1-7-cdti-1.jpg

Blue and stanced Civic Si on XXR wheels: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_marwvqPgUF1r41iyuo1_1280.jpg

BTCC LEGO Star Wars Civic Type-R from: http://www.btcc.net/images/gallery/st_1055_7d12.jpg

Silver, battle-damaged Civic Si courtesy of That Car Guy (Chuck)

Type R drawing by moi.

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I had never seen a 5-door in this body style. It's amazing, the good stuff sold around the world, that we don't get here in the USA.

I have a 2002 SI hatchback and I think is is great. Plenty of pep. I had an old 3-door Honda Civic before, and when I first got the SI I was surprised that it got fairly poor gas mileage compared to my previous Civic. I met a woman in a parking lot one day who also had an SI, and she said the same thing about the poor mileage. Overall though, it is a great car and the hatchback provides plenty of room.

It looks like an Odyssey that the owner, failing to observe the 'proper care' label, tumble dried on hot.

The US version of this car makes a fantastic daily driver. I almost bought one new towards the end of the production run. The only thing that stopped me was the salesman telling me to run it to redline and feel V-TEC kicking in. I wouldn't buy a car off the lot with 100 miles of salesman-encouraged abuse prior to a proper break in. Sure, they weren't lightning fast. That doesn't really matter if you're into keeper cars. It was a great design with nice seats, reasonable power, good economy, excellent long term prospects, and tons of utility. I almost bought a used one for a girlfriend a couple years ago. I'm not sorry I didn't, but only because she's history.

In 2004 my wife wanted a new car. The hatch was roomy.
We drove the Si and found it ho hum. It was utilitarian, the shifter on the dash precise. Handled well.
But like most every Honda it was an appliance. Not that this is a BAD thing, but a sport hot hatch should bite back a little, sound cool, give some feed back. The steering felt numb.
We saw no reason to buy this car for fun, when a Subaru Forester was just as exciting and even more utilitarian, with similar fuel #'s it appears. We get 32 MPG with our 5 speed on the freeway. With AWD, folks!
Now I have a 92 VW GTI 16v. THIS car "feels" like a hot hatch. Grrrr. I think the last of the true hot hatch was in 1993 w/ the Nissan Sentra SE-R. Everything after that was bloated and boring.

I was interested in this SI back when they were a current Honda in the showrooms. But not after the test drive. The biggest turn off was the high seating position, it felt like you were driving a minivan, not a sporty car.

I enjoyed this appreciative essay. I love my 2003 si, and believe it deserves much more respect than it gets. If you want a car to win at the track, you'll have to modify it, I suppose. But I use mine for daily driving to work and so on, and for that it's a dream: unbelievably smooth and comfortable, with enough pep and fine handling to make it fun on those winding mountain stretches in my neck of the woods.

Bought my 05 at 30k in 07. I live in az and when the environment isn't beating on my car, I am. It's rally raced on a weekly basis catching air constantly holding its own against purpose built vehicles such as rhino and basic dunebuggys. Stock ball joints are still fine with no play at 120k. Water pump went out at 70k but I'm sure it's because the previous owner had it flashed for 8 grand redline. The stock water pumps have trouble with high rpms. From 30k on the engine has need rode hard. And I willing to bet the first 30k were roughy too. No mechanical problems whatsoever on this engine! And though I'm a mechanic we've fallen on hard times and gone up to 30k overdue for and oil change. I'm not lying. I cold start this solid aluminum engine everymorning and hit redline al the way to 80 with no warm up whatsoever. Have a new engine to put in it which is why I'm so careless with this one but the abuse it endures from me every single day amazes me and it still has every drop power from the day I bought it. I wouldn't trade it for anything... Besides a Jdm b16 crx that is.

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