Although Canadian buyers have usually embraced hatchbacks, American buyers seem to have a love/hate thing with them. A case in point: the Honda Civic SiR.
Introduced to the North American market in 2002, this stylish sport hatch lasted a scant three years before it was replaced by the Si coupe. The reasons for its demise are many, but one of them was Honda U.S.A.'s stubborn refusal to take this body configuration seriously.
Designed in Japan and built in the United Kingdom, the SiR's heritage dates back to 1984, when Honda released the first Civic 1500S, with added interior and exterior features and an upgraded suspension - a model that ran until 1987. In 1989, after a brief hiatus, the S evolved into the Si, which carried on in three-door form until 1993.
The Si was also the first Civic to benefit from the introduction of Honda's i-VTEC variable valve engine technology, which came as standard equipment with the SiR's 2.0-litre twin overhead cam engine. This powerplant was also found in the Acura RSX hatchback.
The result was 160 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 132 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. At the time, the SiR was the most torque-y Civic ever produced. It also surpassed the all-important California Air Resources Board (CARB) Light Emission Vehicle (LEV2) requirements. It was peppy, clean and reasonably thrifty: 9.0 L/100 km in the city and 7.1 on the highway.
That said, a common criticism levelled against the SiR was that it could have used a performance shot in the arm. By way of comparison, the same vintage of Mini Cooper S had 163 horses and, because of its lighter weight, was a quicker automobile. Ditto with the Volkswagen Golf GTI, which, although more expensive, featured up to 20 more horsepower.
But the SiR was equal to these two when it came to coolness. It had some nice styling touches, including a very hip-looking body style, a "bee sting" roof antenna and, inside, a shift lever mounted halfway up the centre console, as opposed to being located on the floor. Alfa and Citroën have both utilized a similar setup for years, and this feature alone gave the SiR a hefty dose of coolness.
It came with a five-speed manual transmission only, and Honda borrowed technology from its S2000 sports car for the shifting linkage.
The SiR was also surprisingly roomy. With its 60/40-split rear seat folded, it boasted 445 litres of cargo area, with a completely flat rear floor. Its rear hatch opened wider than some of its closest competitors, which included the VW Golf, the Mini Cooper and maybe even the Ford Focus.
Standard equipment included sport-type front bucket seats, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, dual front airbags and electrically assisted rack and pinion power steering. Honda was particularly proud of this latter feature, having used hydraulic assist up to this point in all its North American models.
There are no safety recalls for this model of Civic on file with Transport Canada, but the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has 36 recalls for all Civics manufactured from 2002 to 2004. These mainly concern improper headlights and exterior lighting, as well as aftermarket replacement parts and a rather unusual recall for "certain" Honda Civics powered by natural gas, manufactured from 1998 to 2007.
NHTSA also has an unbelievable 563 technical service bulletins for all Civics manufactured from 2002 to 2004. The SiR is not singled out by the government agency, either for safety recalls or technical service bulletins, and many of the TSBs seem to deal with the Civic Hybrid, but there's a vast array of mechanical glitches and service advisories for these years of the vehicle: alternator output problems, clutch shudder, engine cooling issues, body squeaks and rattles - you name it.
Despite these contretemps, Consumer Reports likes the Civic hatchback. It gets top or near-top marks in every category from this organization, earning a "good bet" used-car rating and a "better than average" new-car prediction. However, CR does point out that the SiR hatchback model doesn't feel very "sporty."
Market research company J.D. Power also likes five-year-old Civics - SiR and otherwise - giving all models of this vintage its highest rating for dependability in the compact car segment.
A five-year-old SiR seems to be going for a little more than half of what it cost new, in 2004. Expect to pay from about $9,000 to $11,500. Potential buyers should bear in mind that, aside from cost, there's very little difference between the '02 and '04 models.
As well, this model of Civic may also become collectible in the fullness of time, as Honda really didn't give it much of a chance in Canada and discontinued it after 2004.
2004 HONDA CIVIC SiR
Type: Two-door compact hatchback
Original Base Price: $25,500; Black Book Value: $10,825- $11,450; Red Book Value: $9,100-$11,000
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder
160 hp/132 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km):
9.0 city/7.1 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Mini Cooper, VW Golf GTi, Ford Focus ZX3, Hyundai Accent GSi, Mazda3 Sport, Acura RSX