COAL #10: ’90 Honda Civic SI

This was another one of the few cars that we bought new. In many ways, it was my favorite of all the cars that I have ever owned. It was one of those cars that just did everything right.

Compact and handsome, This is exactly like my car.
All photos from the Web.


I had been doing my research, studying the various automotive magazines. Besides the Civic, I was considering the somewhat similar looking Dodge Colt, the sporty GEO Storm, and the Volkswagen GTI. The newly introduced Acura Integra was also another consideration, but those were at a higher price point. This was back in the “hot hatch” era and this type of car was very popular.

Hot Hatch is right.


The Dodge Colt was a good looking alternative, but the lack of opening rear windows eliminated it from my consideration. I wasn’t planning on getting a car with a/c, and I still remembered my Astre. The Geo Storm was a bigger coupe. Somewhat like an Integra, but at a lower price point and not up to the quality and styling of the Acura. The Integra would have been great, but I was really looking for something a bit lower priced. I had admired the Volkswagen GTIs and had checked out a few older models at a local consignment lot, Wheels and Deals. I had read many road tests and had been impressed by their performance. But I really preferred the Japanese cars.

Once I settled on the Civic it was just a matter of finding the right car. Due to their popularity, these cars didn’t remain on the lots very long. I was very clear with my wife, that it had to be the SI model, the other models were not acceptable.

Unknown to me, my wife had located a car and collaborated with one of my buddies to buy the car, bring it home, and spring it on me as a surprise. I was at home when my wife told me to take a look outside. I went out front and found a Honda Civic SI with a bow on the hood. This was the first and the last time that has ever happened!

Such comfy seats.


Honda knew how to make a low priced car look like a million bucks. Quality!


The Civic fulfilled my desire for a basic car, with no power assists; no automatic transmission, and unfortunately no a/c either. But it did have a moon roof and those opening rear windows. In some ways, it reminded me of the 1980 BMW 320i that my older brother had bought ten years earlier.  A simple but high quality vehicle. The seats were “Recaro like” and very comfortable. Being a hatchback with split folding rear seat backs, it was very flexible in its utility. As an SI, that meant that it had the more powerful 108 hp. engine, with bigger tires, disc brakes all around, and firmer suspension. The moon roof was standard – I like Moon Roofs, all of my current fleet, except my F150 are so equipped. It was a great handling and driving car, and it had superior fuel economy, as high as 42 mpg. on extended highway trips. Mixed use mileage was reliably around 36 mpg. I haven’t owned a car with such high fuel economy since then.

I do love a Moon Roof!


I liked Hondas. I’d already had many Honda motorcycles and even a couple of older model Civics. I was impressed by the quality and the thoughtful engineering that was used in building this car. This generation had the famous double arm front and rear suspension. The cowl was low with great visibility over the short sloping hood. All of the materials used in the interior were of appropriate quality and were assembled perfectly. The ergonomics were spot on.

What was wrong with the older system?


This car was built before air bags were mandatory. I was satisfied with a three point seatbelt/shoulder belt combo, but Honda had to come up with a passive system. This was accomplished by having the belts attached to the door. The driver was required to slip in under the attached belts and was a cumbersome setup. I got around this by unfastening the buckle that was next to the center console, like a normal setup. This worked out well and was much more convenient.

That cargo area was surprisingly useful.


The car had very great utility. Our oldest daughter was in high school, and I drove in the carpool for a couple of years. The car carried a load of five passengers comfortably. I found that I could carry long objects inside the car by folding the rear seat down. I would then slide the right front seat forward, and by laying the seat back as far as possible, I could carry an object that would stretch from the back of the car into the front floor well. I replaced all the plain interior doors in our house with panel doors. I carried them home from the hardware store in my Honda. It took several trips, but it got the job done.

The Civic was white with a gray and black interior. A very crisp, no-nonsense looking car that made me feel smart, just driving it. It was very satisfying to drive and I enjoyed it immensely. I taught my wife how to drive a manual transmission with this car. My wife usually drove the Caravan and I either drove the Honda or rode my motorcycle. Usually my motorcycle. When we went places with the family it was in the minivan, so mileage was accumulating very slowly on the Honda. There was no reason to keep the mileage so low, as it wouldn’t really make the car any more valuable at trade-in time. Once my Wife learned to drive stick, we started doubling down on driving the Civic. She left for work in the morning, and when she came home, I’d drive to work in the afternoon.

We used the car for regular commuting and errands. One weekend we drove up to Gualala, near Mendocino, to spend our anniversary at the Whale Watch Inn.  I’d also driven it up Sacramento and down to Southern California. It was comfortable without a/c except in the middle of Summer.

It was completely reliable. There was one issue that occurred in my early ownership. The ignition module was known to go bad intermittently, but that was fixed under warranty. We never added a lot of mileage to the odometer during the time that we owned it. The only modification I made was the addition of a folding cup holder to the dash.

The engine compartment was neatly laid out and nicely detailed.


Even the wheel covers looked great.


Overall, the Civic was the perfect combination of sportiness and practicality. While it didn’t look like a sports car, it sure drove like one! I’m sure that my experience with this car was the precursor to my acceptance of smaller cars. At one time I had told my son that I’d never own a small car! The Honda changed my mind.

We sold the Civic to a young woman who had been looking for this specific model for some time. She was looking for a clean, low mileage example, like ours. She told us that she was going to have the dealer install a/c, and then the car would be perfect.

The Acura Legend had been introduced around this time and I felt that a Legend would be my next move up. I was never dissatisfied with the Civic, I was just tempted by the Legend. I thought we could keep our minivan and trade in the Honda. After planting the seed, my wife started thinking along the same lines.

My wife liked the Legend also, but she knew that there were other cars that I was interested in. The ’92 Cadillac Seville had been introduced and the Cadillac lover in me was very interested. After the NorthStar engine was introduced in ’94, I was totally hooked. There was also a new Buick Riviera introduced in 1995, and I’d had a few Rivs in the past. Even a used S-Class Mercedes was a consideration.

My wife had told me to think about what I really wanted. I might as well get something that I really wanted. Within reason of course.

Of course!