The shift lights flick on, yellow, yellow, yellow, red, red, up to fourth at about 80mph through the flat left-hander, tuck into apex, throttle on and wash out to the right. Big wheels, big wing, big boost: this should feel heroic. It should feel like hijacking semi-trailers in the desert with Dom and Letty. Instead, everything just feels... easy?
Slotting into the obvious space between high-content versions of the standard Civic and the coming Type R, the Civic Si marks the return of a well-loved badge. For decades, the Si was the Civic to save up for and then immediately improve/ruin with a host of upgrades. Honda sells CR-Vs to young families in suburbia, and the Civic Si to people whose family gets together to K20-swap an EK hatch and then drink Coronas.
As a fan service album, all the elements appear to be present. There's more boost for the 1.5L four-cylinder engine, some 20.3psi at peak. It's only available as a manual. Sedan and coupe versions both get a wing. 18 inch wheels are standard, with Goodyear summer tires a mere $200 premium.
And in terms of visual aggression, the Si looks like the design team was forced to watch the entire Gundam fighting space robot series in one sitting and then assemble the prototype model out of gaming computers. It's a wild mix of slashes, creases, gloss-black trim, and twinned do-nothing grilles front and rear. The coupe especially looks like it's come directly from having a Veilside kit fitted.
It's hard to see how this much shouting can claim a linked heritage to the shoebox simplicity of the mid-80s Si hatchback. However, these days your average crossover looks like it was designed to process pedestrians into Soylent Green, so perhaps the Si needs to riot a little to stand out in the crowd.
The interior, happily, is much less polarizing. The Si-specific seats are grabby and look durable, with metal tabs incorporated in the bolsters in the seat back and bottom. The instrumentation places the tachometer front and center, with a digital speed readout. In sport mode, the tachometer also incorporates switchable displays both useful (rev lights, lap time), or fun (boost, throttle/brake, g-meter). Navigation isn't an option, but Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard.
Niceties dealt with, on to the oily bits. First up is the engine, which is already mildly disappointing Soichiro's footsoldiers. Essentially the same 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder as found in the CR-V, it makes 205hp at 5700 rpm, and 192 lb-ft of torque from 2100-5000 rpm. Hands up everybody who wanted something in the 250hp neighborhood.
Still, Hondas have always been able to make the most of modest horsepower and meager torque. To that end, while the Si makes less thrust than the Volkswagen GTI, Ford Focus ST, and Subaru WRX, the coupe's curb weight of 2889lb also makes all those cars look a little fat. At 300-plus pounds lighter than the ST and WRX, it's like you asked your friends to get out and walk.
The Si is also slightly lower and wider than the previous-generation car, with track widened by 1.3 inches and a lengthy 106.3 inch wheelbase for both coupe and sedan. No additional bracing was added to the chassis, but the suspension benefits from stiffer springs, uprated roll bars, and hardened mounts. In the rear, the upper arm and the compliance bushing are shared with the Type R.
There's also a two-mode adaptive damper system, a unique feature at this price point. Engaging sport mode in an Si doesn't just sharpen throttle response and increase steering effort, it triggers a solenoid that bumps up damping force.
At Honda's proving grounds in the Mojave desert, both Si coupe and sedan easily swallowed up a rolling course with a mixture of elevation and off-camber corners. A proper helical limited slip differential helped take advantage of the excellent mid-range torque, and the Si nosed sharply into the apexes.
A simulation of a canyon road rather than a proper track, the rolling circuit provided a few challenges. On the far side of a blind crest, braking hard at the second mark was asking the Si to shed speed quickly while the chassis dealt with a sudden dip in the pavement. No problem. Brake rotors are up to 12.3 inches up front and 11.1 inches in the rear, and the cars were all wearing Honda Performance Development (HPD) brake pads to reduce fade.
Like most front-wheel-drive cars, the Si favors a little patience on the throttle, but grip is plentiful and the chassis delivers. If there's something missing from the experience, it's the engine. The torque advantage over the previous Si's 2.4L four-cylinder is obvious; for flexibility, turbo trumps VTEC every time.
But as speeds increased with course familiarity, the new Si clearly favored early upshifting. Wringing the engine out, always a previous Si delight, felt unnecessary. Sure, stringing up the full set of shift lights is fun, but past 6000 rpm boost is dropping and power with it.
Out on the street, the Si reinforced its competent nature, with only a few mild complaints. Pedal placement makes heel-toe downshifting mildly tricky, and while Honda claims improved shift action, it's still not quite as good as the old dustbuster Si of the late 2000s.
For covering distance, however, the Si is relentless. On paper, more power would be better; in the real-world, there's plenty for passing. Further, the more technical the road gets, the better the Si's chassis shines.
This a good buy, particularly the sedan version, which serves up a mix of practicality and fun for a mere 17 pound penalty over the coupe. At a cost of $23,900, both cars represent great value for the casual enthusiast, crammed with everything from heated seats to a power moonroof. The new Civic Si is quick, practical, comfortable, and capable of punching above its power rating. Honda's product planning department has knocked this one out of the park.
But for those of us who might include titanium valve springs when saying grace before meals, the new Si lacks a little character. Take hope?the faithful are already cracking the ECU for more boost. The Si is a good car; to make it a great one, the mad scientists are gonna have to rip it apart.
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