ABC. That sums up three subjects that I can write extensively write about, or agriculture, boxing and, yes, cars!
So when Fast Times supremo Ben Kritz agreed that we should write columns alternately for the motoring page even if I already have a column largely devoted to boxing (Anti-thesis that comes out every Thursday), the itch to write about cars and anything automotive was very hard to resist.
So here we go. First gear, second gear, third gear, fourth gear…and so on….
A fellow motoring scribe once asked me which of the more than 100 cars or vehicles I have test driven so far still leaves an imprint in my mind up to now. He asked me to name two. I forgot the other one but the Honda Civic SiR was definitely one of them.
While Honda Car Philippines Inc. (HCPI) has introduced a turbocharged sporty version of its latest generation Civic, one of the former motoring scribes of Fast Times noted its not being hard edged. Maybe the DNA of the SiR was somehow lost as Honda developed its next line of sporty Civics.
So back to 1999….the day I got the Civic SiR for a test drive was actually “bad trip” because I was apprehended for driving a test unit that was not supposed to be in the street under the current number coding scheme. I wonder if the HCPI representative who turned over the vehicle to me was aware of that then.
But having to accept a traffic ticket (I did not care to scare the traffic officer of the MMDA with my press credentials) and paying the fine was somehow worth it, because along the NLEX and the Batangas Racing Circuit, testing the Civic to its limits proved to be a real delight. And at the time, there was virtually no speed limit imposed in the NLEX (remember that was in 1999).
What set aside the SiR from other run-in-the-mill compact sedans was its engine; 1.6-liters of displacement produced 160 horses! And the engine was purely stock and I could just imagine what would the result be if some “Stage 1” modifications were done to the engine like fitting it with a free-flow air filter (K&N would be best), iridium spark plugs (Denso would be best), headers and maybe a “piggy-back” electronic control unit.
Producing those 160 horses from a mere 1.6 liters of power was made possible by giving the SiR’s engine DOHC (double overhead camshaft) while the standard stock engines of the usual Civics only had SOHC (single overhead camshaft).
At the time, the only small engine I knew that could produce 100 hp from one liter of displacement was Toyota’s 4AGE that had 20 valves, or five valves per cylinder. (I also test drove a Trueno that was fitted with the 4AGE and I tell you, it was a demon of a small car! That’s another topic though.)
Although HCPI did not make much claims about the SiR’s handling, its firm suspension was actually a cut above the regular Civics. This made the SiR very stable at high speeds.
It was from 180 kph that the SiR proved fun to drive. The steering feel was not light (variable steering was not yet the norm yet) and that proved to be an asset at above 180 kph. And while it had no anti-lock brakes, its brakes responded well even from very high speeds.
The five-speed manual was almost perfect for the SiR and for as long as you keep the engines revs high even when shifting, the slight drop in engine speed was compensated by how fast the DOHC engine would rev. And when the DOHC engine of the SiR revved, it really revved!
Rarely do I push a stock engine to the redline unless I know it won’t get wrecked. But in the case of the SiR’s DOHC engine, it was willing to rev to the redline or to 7,000 rpm.
Up to this day, I still remember the time I pushed the Civic SiR between 180 and 205 kph along an empty stretch of the NLEX. I mean, this was a “stock” compact car and if the speed limiter was disabled, reaching 220 kph would be really possible.
At the twisty Batangas Racing Circuit, throwing the SiR hard into corners does not produce a perceptible body roll, while you can ask it to blast out of a corner given its engine that was willing to rev.
And the brakes – they could save you at the last minute in case you miscalculate your maneuver into a fast corner. The SiR did not have anti-lock brakes but that is the least you need when doing track driving.
So why I am writing about the Civic SiR? Well, most of the vehicles today feel like they are “dead” from the steering wheel (given electric assisted steering) and the complicated engine electronics make it hard to “feel” as to when power will kick in predictably. I truly miss the “rawness” of old school cars like the SiR.
The Civic SiR, even if I was impressed with it, however, can never match up against “stock” versions of the Nissan 350Z or the Porsche 911.
But at its price then, it was quite a steal for its performance. And given that many tuning shops know how to modify Civics, getting as much as 250 hp from its 1.6-liter engine was possible. Thrown in a turbo and just imagine the results! Three-hundred hp maybe?
I really do not know what was in HCPI’s mind when it introduced years later what was the successor of the SiR; a 2.0-liter variant with automatic transmission. Whoa! Did the SiR turn out to be a “widow maker” that HCPI decided to introduce a tamer sporty variant of its Civic?
So much for having a devil-may-care attitude many years back!