ClubSi meets the Si
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Story and photos by Laurance Yap

The Internet is an amazing thing. Its ability to unite people of similar interests and hobbies – no matter where in the world they may be – is immense. Before the age of eBay, for example, it was tough to be a collector of something obscure, like vintage record-album covers or antique pocket watches. But now, thanks to some electronic pulses passing along the wires in the ground and through the atmosphere, you not only have an audience of people all over the world who are willing to buy something you may be selling (and who may wish to sell you something you’re looking for). You’re also part of a virtual community.

Naturally, car enthusiasts have found a home online too, and there exist Web sites and discussion boards on the Internet for virtually every automotive affection and affliction. Whether you drive a Toyota Echo or a Ferrari Enzo, there’s a forum somewhere for you to commune with people who drive the same car and share the same passion.

Not surprisingly, owners of Honda Civics – particularly high-performance Honda Civics – have formed a huge presence in the online world. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds with Google to bring up a huge list of Civic-related sites, each with a different focus and a slightly different attitude.

One of the larger Civic enthusiast sites, ClubSi, has been around since 1997, and there’s been an active group of Ontario members since 1998. Of the registered users, there are about 50 members who know each other in person and meet on a regular basis – usually at least once a week during the summer, and slightly less frequently during the winter months.

ClubSi meets the Si

ClubSi meets the Si
Click image to enlarge

What began as a group united by their passion for a car has developed into something much more complicated and social. While early meets were at the racetrack, dragstrip, or in parking lots where people would check out each others’ cars, meetings these days are as often as not in coffee shops or restaurants and are conducted on a purely social basis. Indeed, says one member, half of the posts have nothing to do with cars. Browse the message boards, and you’ll find threads on hockey, politics, and what’s for lunch.

What’s interesting is that only about 15 of the regular ClubSi people actually still drive a Civic Si. When I met with a group of about 10 Ontario chapter members last weekend in (where else?) a Tim Horton’s, only four Civics showed up, a new 2006 model like the one I was driving, a 1997 coupe, and a couple of older hatchbacks. Part of the blame, such as it is, can be laid at the feet of people wanting a more “grown-up” car as they move along in life – in the parking lot alongside our Civics are an Infiniti G35 coupe, Audi A3, and Honda Prelude.

ClubSi meets the Si
Click image to enlarge

Part of it is also because you get the sense that they thought Honda put a foot wrong with the last-generation car. The 2001-2005 Civic Si coupe, which sold in decent numbers, didn’t represent a clear advantage in terms of design, power or handling over its competitors that other Civics did, suggests member zc911, who now drives an Integra Type-R. “And the SiR hatchback was too expensive and nothing special to drive.” For Venomous_1, who drives a 1992 hatch – it’s currently three colours thanks to some bodywork being done – the last-generation car was a disappointment. “I bought my Civic – it’s my first car – because of word-of mouth over the Internet, and the word on the boards about the last version wasn’t good.”

ClubSi meets the Si
Click image to enlarge

JDM_S14_Silvia, who used to deliver Chinese food in his CRX Si, notes that word spreads really fast over the Internet. “ClubSi is open on my computer all the time; it’s only when I turn off the computer that it goes off. Most of us are on each others’ instant-messenger lists, and you’ll find us online most of the day, killing time at work or school and cross-posting to other Honda sites.”

Luckily for Honda, the buzz around the 2006 model seems to be pretty good. Visit the ClubSi main page (forums.clubsi.com) and you’ll find a discussion forum dedicated entirely to the new car. KittiKatSi, who was driving the 1997 coupe, says she loves “the design aspect of the car. It doesn’t look like a minivan anymore, and the interior is a lot more luxurious.” It’s certainly packed with features that you wouldn’t have found on earlier Civics. Side-impact airbags and head-curtain airbags are now standard, and the six-speaker stereo plays MP3 CDs and has an auxiliary input jack for your iPod.

ClubSi meets the Si

ClubSi meets the Si
Click image to enlarge

Venomous_1 notes that the seats are a big improvement over older Civics as well – they have big side bolsters upholstered in the same material as the Integra Type-R but are substantial enough to be comfortable over a long journey.

Opinion on the dual-level dashboard, with the tachometer right in front of the steering wheel and the digital speedometer at the base of the windshield, seems to be split. Zesti1, who just recently got his 2006 Si (it was a replacement for, of all things, a 1993 Ford Aerostar with a manual transmission) says he’s gotten used to it. While I’ve really tried to like the setup, I’m still not sold; it works fine on a regular Civic, where you don’t need to focus as much on keeping the revs up to stay in the power; on the Si, where the real action happens beyond 5,000 rpm, you’d like the speed and the tach to be closer together.

For Zesti1, the biggest adjustment was the new Si’s drive-by-wire throttle. “It likes to hang on to revs when you’re shifting, and you get that jerk after you’ve let off the gas.” Like most cars these days, the Civic’s electronic throttle stays open for a fraction of a second to improve emissions,

ClubSi meets the Si
Click image to enlarge

but it makes driving the car smoothly more challenging. This trait wasn’t evident in my first experience with the Si, which was on a racetrack, where we were gunning it pretty much all the time; it’s all the more annoying on the street given how slick the car’s controls are. TypeRBoy – whose G35 is the same pearlescent white as the Integra he used to drive – puts it more succinctly: “electronic throttles suck.”

Interestingly, one of the things that I thought would be a major point of discussion – the strut front suspension that, in the previous-generation Civic, replaced Honda’s traditional race-bred double-wishbone setup, didn’t seem to be an issue with anyone. And why should it be? The car works just fine with the struts, thank you very much, and especially with the fitment of a limited-slip front differential, it goes around corners like few other front-drive cars. Even on snow tires, my tester was a hoot on winding roads, darting into turns with a mere twitch of the wrists, and with a surprisingly lively rear end. On aggressive summer rubber, especially the 18-inch setup that Honda offers as an option, its grip and poise would likely shame cars that cost many thousands of dollars more.

What’s perhaps most remarkable about the Si is just how much you get for (relatively) little money. Never mind the fully-contented interior and the standard safety gear, which not only includes all those airbags,

ClubSi meets the Si
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but standard ABS and an “ACE” crash structure that’s designed to be compatible with much larger vehicles. With 197 horsepower from an 8,000-rpm engine, a six-speed gearbox, and its incredible handling ability, the Civic Si is thousands less than the 1998 Integra Type-R, which I consider to be its spiritual forebear, but also makes other sport compact cars in the market look positively overpriced. A VW GTI, before you add the nice wheels or some interior upgrades, starts at almost $5,000 more, and the Honda’s corporate cousin, the Acura RSX Type-S hatchback, costs even more, though it does include a leather interior and a Bose sound system.

The Si ain’t perfect – TypeRBoy wishes it could weigh a bit less, Zesti1 would like more torque, and JDM_S14_Silvia would like HID headlights and an available navigation system – but given its balance of abilities and its low price, there’s no wonder it’s inspiring some fresh buzz.

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