In a lot of ways, the new Honda Civic Si is a fairly unremarkable car, so, why did I come away from it thoroughly impressed? Really, the Si isn't all that different than lesser Civics, with only a few hardware changes to differentiate the two. The Si gets bigger, stickier tires, more boost pressure for its 1.5-liter turbo four, adaptive dampers, bigger brakes, and some other exterior and interior trinkets, but no radical changes.
But with the Si, Honda has tuned these basic Civic ingredients to perfection and put them in a package that feels remarkably complete. And affordable: Factor $25,000 with your destination fee and the optional $200 summer tires. The Si isn't the radical performance machine its exterior styling suggests, but it's one of the best all-around cars on sale.
The Si's chassis is a real highlight. Compared to the Civic Sport, the Si rides a just a little too stiffly in both normal and sport modes, but its body motions are really nicely controlled. The Si strikes a good compromise between ride and handling, and the fact that it comes with adaptive dampers at this price point is truly remarkable. And while I experienced some harshness with the Si, you might not. I spent a lot of time in New York City with this car, where the roads are notoriously bad, favoring cars with soft dampers and generous suspension travel.
Honda has employed electric power steering at least as far back as the S2000, so the company is quite good at tuning these racks. The Civic Si's steering is a triumph. The rack is quick, with just 2.11 turns lock-to-lock. Weight builds with gorgeous linearity in Sport mode. This is genuinely world-class steering in a car that costs $10,000 less than the average new-car price in the US.
Handling is similarly sharp too. The Si uses brake-based torque vectoring to help get the car turned in sharper and an honest-to-god front limited-slip differential helps put the power down at corner exit. On a twisty road, the Si is remarkably easy to drive quickly. I haven't taken it out on track yet, but I'm betting it'd be an excellent car for novice drivers. And those with experience would probably have fun too.
This chassis feels sophisticated. Even in the Civic Sport, you get the sense that Honda engineers really pored over the details making sure the car rode and handled well, and the Si is that much sharper. It's amazing for what is at its core, one of America's top-selling economy cars.
Now, we come to the Civic Si's most controversial component: Its engine. Probably by now, you're aware that the Si is turbocharged for the first time. It uses the same 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder available in lesser Civics, but producing 205 hp and 192 lb-ft thanks to increased boost pressure.
And now here's where I make a confession: This is the only Civic Si I've driven. Therefore, I can't compare this engine to those of previous models, which I'm reliably told are the single greatest things in the universe. So, I can only judge this motor on its merits.
I get the common complaint that this engine isn't all that exciting. With the proliferation of turbo fours, the Si's engine doesn't feel remarkably different than others from competing manufacturers, but it's more than up for the task. The single turbo comes to life around 2000 rpm, with peak torque delivered nicely between 2100 and 5000 rpm. This torque made ripping between stoplights in the city a breeze, but the engine starts to run out of life before its 6500-rpm redline.
So, you shift around 6000 rpm, which is no issue because the Civic Si's shifter is damn near perfect. It's fairly light, but each gear engagement is incredibly crisp. It's a cliche to say, but this is truly a car you shift not because you need to, but because you want to.
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