LOS ANGELES - Honda is introducing the high-performance Civic Si model this month, adding some excitement to a longer-than-usual product life cycle.
For its past several generations, the Honda Civic has seen a four-year cycle, with cosmetic and engineering changes, to maximize its packaging and fuel economy.
But Honda has seen fit to give the current Civic a five-year lifespan through the 2000 model year.
After all, the current Civic was a sales success in 1998, the third year of its cycle - and without incentives, except for the occasional regional lease deal.
Even though the small-car segment is fading, Civic sales were up 6 percent in 1998 to 334,562 units, its all-time high.
Honda knows that for many hip youths, the Civic is the car of choice for customizing and lowering. Honda executives admit they have missed a glorious revenue opportunity by not selling factory-authorized aftermarket kits.
The new Civic Si is really Honda's first attempt to reach out to that consumer.
'We understand this is a light attempt at fighting the aftermarket. We're still trying to learn and address it,' said Stony Furutani, assistant manager for optional equipment marketing in American Honda's parts division.
Just the same, the Civic Si is no lightweight.
Giving the Civic Si its performance is a 1.6-liter, dual-overhead-cam, VTEC four-cylinder engine resurrected from the defunct del Sol line.
The engine boasts 160 hp, tops of any vehicle in the compact class. The engine is built in Japan then shipped to the Civic assembly line in East Liberty, Ohio.
The car also has a tailored exhaust system from the manifold back, including a stainless steel finisher and larger outlet pipe.
The result is a power curve pretty close to that of the Civic EX to about 6000 rpm. Beyond that, the revvy Si takes off to its 8000 rpm redline.
The Si is available only with a five-speed manual transmission.
On the suspension side, the Si model features a thicker front stabilizer bar and the addition of a rear stabilizer bar and front tower brace.
The gas-charged struts with a high damping rate combine with stiffer springs to make for a sportier ride.
However, while most Civic 'slammers' tend to put their car as close to the ground as possible, Honda kept the Si ride height the same, because of certification and liability hassles, said Peter Rech, Honda Division assistant manager of product planning.
Low-profile tires with sticky, six-inch-wide rubber ride on 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels. The front and rear brakes are larger than on the Civic EX. ABS is not available.
From the exterior perspective, the Si gets a different mesh grille, a body-colored chin spoiler with (nonfunctional) air scoops, body-colored side sills and special badging.
Inside, the Si has a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, two-tone seat fabric and open-style front headrests.
For value seekers, the Si offers standard moonroof; intermittent wipers; AM/FM/CD audio system; cruise control; remote door locks; and power windows, locks and mirrors.
While the Civic coupe sees about 60 percent female buyers, Honda expects the Si variant to grab 65 percent male buyers who are slightly older and better off.
The price is expected to be 'right at $17,000,' Rech said. The expected annual volume is around 15,000 units.