Honda Civic Si is fun, powerful and has 'smiles-per-gallon'

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on May 25, 2012 at 1:34 PM

Honda began selling the Civic in 1973 with the ad slogan "It will get you where you're going". With a 50 horsepower engine they could have added “but not very quickly”.

Since those modest beginnings Honda has sold over nine million copies in the US and Civic has developed a reputation for value, reliability and a touch of sport. Want a lot of sport? Then you want the Civic Si. It has four times the power of the original Civic, is loads of fun in the corners and is particularly good in the "smiles"-per-gallon department.

The 9th generation Civic has received a fair amount of criticism with Consumer Reports denying it the vaunted “recommended” status for the first time. Honda owners are a loyal bunch though. According to Chris Martin at Honda, Civic has been the best selling compact car for the first four months of 2012. FYI, CR does recommend the Si model.

If you aren’t brand loyal and are shopping for a front-wheel drive performance car you’ll be cross-shopping Volkswagen GTI, Mazdaspeed3, Nissan SE-R and the upcoming Ford Focus ST. Price? The fully loaded Si Coupe I’m driving retails for $24,475 (yes that includes destination). Pony up an extra two Hamiltons and it buys the more practical sedan model.

What You Get For The Money

A quick car for starters. Standard Civics make 140 horsepower. The larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder in Si pumps out 201 hp @ 7,000 rpm and 170ft-lb of torque @4,400 rpm. That’s great, though keep in mind it prefers premium gasoline. This is the motor found in the Acura TSX and compared to the outgoing 2.0-liter there’s more low-end torque (31 lb-ft) and slightly better fuel economy. It doesn’t need to be rung out to redline to extract the power now so it feels more mature.

Don’t drive a clutch? Better learn if you want an Si, a six-speed manual is the only transmission available. With shorter throws, it feels quite nice. Clutch take up is smooth and easy.

Si sprints to 60 miles-an-hour in 6.5 seconds and sounds good doing it. Power delivery is smooth and even right up to the 7,000 rpm redline. So yes, it will still get you where you're going.

There are some fun driver’s toys located on the upper tier of the instrument panel. A “power meter” in the LCD display shows peak horsepower. An i-VTEC indicator light goes on when shifting from low-to high-rpm camshaft profiles. Below it are rev-limit warning LEDs.

Si Can Handle It

Si is very nimble, you’ll look for roads with curves and corners just because it’s fun (and who doesn’t want more fun in their lives). Civic Si isn’t as powerful as Mazdaspeed3 but what it has is very usable. Like the GTI, the overall balance goes beyond the numbers. Si feels light and flingable, not as solid and Germanic as the Volkswagen. There’s very little torque steer and as far as I know, it’s the only front-wheel drive car with a limited slip differential. Si has a summer tire option, it comes standard with all-season treads.

Ride quality is firm though not harsh. This is not a high-strung twitchy car, it’s tolerable as a daily driver. Road noise is on the higher side of normal and it’s fun to hear the VTEC engine spool up when the pedal goes down. Fuel economy is EPA rated at 22 city, 31 highway, that’s of course less than the regular Civic. Just keep thinking smiles per gallon. Disc brakes at all wheels have very good modulation.

Number One Out of Five

There are five different Civic models and I find the Si’s cabin the most appealing with lighting that matches the red stitching. Other Civics have a button for “economy” driving just left of the steering wheel. Not Si. You’ll just have to show some responsibility and personal restraint.

Door panels and seats are covered in an interesting cloth with a trapezoidal 3D quality. It’s a neat touch. Aluminum pedals look great too. The interior plastics on the other hand don’t have the same quality appearance. Si gets a black interior and while it looks best in this hue the materials are of average quality. At best.

While the seats have deep bolsters I don’t feel as if I’m sitting in them as much as on them. You might be different, it’s why there are test drives.

Another personal decision involves the dashboard. Similar to the previous generation’s setup, it’s polarizing. The speedometer is digital, the prominent tach is huge. Honda calls the LCD screen on the top level “i-MID” and it displays an awful lot of stuff. Start by uploading your own wallpaper then scroll through audio information, fuel economy status, and engine power. It also displays the multiple ways you can configure Civic’s lights, locking options and many other parameters that owners can set to their liking. Bluetooth and a USB port are standard.

There are belts for three in the back seat of the coupe but if you’re trying to sell this to your significant other as a practical vehicle, go with the sedan. It’s easier to get people in and out of the four-door and there’s a couple more inches of much needed headroom. The steeply raked back of the coupe means average sized people (like me) will hit their heads on the back glass. The coupe’s rear quarters won’t be used too much so I won’t gripe about the lack a second seat pocket, power port, folding armrest and that the raised center position cuts headroom further.

Details, Details

Other gripes? Honda built their reputation on engineering and small touches that other brands ignored through the 80’s and 90’s. Now the Americans and Koreans are building some very compelling products. Push button start is not available on Civic Si, neither is auto climate control or heated seats. Many of these can be found on Elantra, Focus, Dart and Cruise to name a few. Many of them also offer “tap-for-three-blinks” lane change signaling. Not Civic.

Small details, such as a rubber insert for the console tray would keep phones and coins from sliding and rattling around. The navigation system feels like it’s a generation behind and while its screen brings the expectation that it has a back up camera, it doesn’t. With the coupe’s raised aerodynamic back end it could use one. Speaking of the rear, I’d like a release button on the trunk lid. You have to use the interior lever or dig the key out of your pocket (can you tell I use the trunk a lot?).

How Useful Is It?
 
Is the coupe’s cargo hold as useful as the sedan’s? It’s close. The four-door’s trunk swallows a generous 7 packs, the coupe stops at six. Got to love standardized testing, huh? It can be expanded because of 60/40 split rear seats. Few will mind because few will want to sit back there.

The silhouette of the coupe is very dramatic, a continuation of Generation 8’s mono-form silhouette. To my eye it’s a bit less elegant and organic looking this time around, as if it were designed digitally on a computer screen rather than drawn and sculpted freehand. And yes, this is the 9th generation Civic. Where has the time gone? 

The Si coupe starts at $23,145 and that base model has everything a driver needs for a good time. It will get you where you want to know with a smile on your face. Yes, the competition has become much better but some of them, Cruze and Elantra for example, don’t have a performance model. That means fun hogs have their choices cut considerably. Civic Si remains affordable, powerful and a kick in the corners. Honda does a neat trick by spelling fun with just two letters.

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