CANTIL, CA – With the Civic Type-R debuting in the U.S., it may seem like an opportune time for Honda to cancel the Civic Si.
After all, the Si variant has been seen by some as the equivalent of diet soda for American driving enthusiasts, who have been chomping at the bit to get their hands on the cane-sugar real thing, aka the high-performance Type-R Europeans have enjoyed for years.
But after recent drives at Honda’s newly refurbished California proving grounds here and on the street, the Si remains relevant. And it’s by no means muted or sport lite. And, oh yeah, it is more affordable than the just-released $33,900 306-hp Type R.
While it’s true the new ’17 Si has the same horsepower peak as the outgoing generation, 205, it does come sooner, 5,700 rpm vs. 7,000.
But the real news is increased torque and an earlier peak, fixing an oft-heard complaint of the previous-gen Si: weak midrange torque. The outgoing Si was adept at going screaming down a highway full throttle tickling the redline, but passing a slow-moving vehicle on a surface road? Sometimes labored and usually forcing a downshift.
Truth be told, pulling away from a stop reveals still-not-great low-end torque, but you can’t win ’em all.
The ’17 Si has a peak torque rating of 192 lb.-ft. (260 Nm), up 18 lb.-ft. (24 Nm) from the ’15 Si (the car skipped the ’16 model year). That’s also 25-30 lb.-ft. (34-41 Nm) higher than the peak torque achieved in the non-Si Civic’s upper grades.
And peak torque comes 2,300 rpm sooner in the ’17 model than in the outgoing Si, with the 192 lb.-ft. spread over a healthy stretch of 2,100-5,000 rpm.
All this is made possible via the Civic Si’s new engine, a 1.5L direct-injected and turbocharged 4-cyl., replacing a 2.4L naturally aspirated 4-cyl. in the ’15 Si.
The 1.5T is a boosted version of the mill in the non-Si Civic’s EX-T, EX-L and Touring grades and basically the same as the 1.5T in Honda’s new ’17 CR-V CUV. The CR-V and Si’s 1.5T has a lower compression ratio of 10.3:1 vs. the 10.6:1 in the upper-grade Civics.
This, in combination with Honda’s recommendation for premium unleaded in the Si, helps the sport coupe achieve maximum boost pressure of 20.3 psi, higher than Civic EX-T’s 16.5 psi and the CR-V’s 18.5 psi. Fun fact: The Si and CR-V’s turbine impeller has nine blades compared with 11 in the Civic EX-T.
For a maximum enthusiast experience, Honda mates the 1.5T in the Si solely to a 6-speed manual transmission, not a CVT that can slow response time when you want power.
Throws are predictably short, making gear-rowing fun, not labored.
Not as engaging is the light clutch pedal. It’s not as light as the clutches in manual Corollas or Cruzes, which remind this reviewer of the flapper in the Hungry Hungry Hippos board game, but it’s still feels flimsy.
Helping improve handling is the tenth-generation Civic platform. It’s lower and wider than the ninth-gen Civic’s base, making for excellent road-hugging capability.
Dimensionally the ’17 Si coupe and sedan are closest to the Civic’s EX-T models, although unique front and rear styling adds a half- inch (13 mm) of length.
The Si’s low-profile tires drop its height 0.2 ins. (5 mm) from the EX-T’s, and Honda engineers shaved 0.4 and 0.3 ins. (10 and 8 mm), respectively, off the EX-T’s front and rear tracks for the Si.
The 10th-gen Civic’s body has all the material (590 MPa-strength steel floor pan, 1500 MPa hot-stamped-steel A-pillars) and rigidity specs (25% greater torsional rigidity) you’d expect in a modern automobile.
The Si gets all of that, but Honda further bolsters the Si sedan’s body with greater high-strength steel content than the non-Si Civic 4-door, 64% vs. 59% in the ’16 Civic sedan. Coupe high-strength-steel content remains the same at 63%.
Also present are the same aerodynamic improvements the 10th-gen Civic gets, including a flat underbody. Boosting the Si’s slippery-ness even more are front and rear spoilers, as well as lateral strakes to direct airflow around tires. However, Honda doesn’t release coefficient-of-drag figures to gauge how much slippier this car may be compared with the competitive set.
For the likely to-be-driven-hard Si, Honda chassis engineers firm up the Civic EX-T’s MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspensions and add a 2-mode adaptive-damper system integrated into normal and sport drive modes.
The latter, which solidifies the car’s hydraulic dampers to flatten and stabilize the Si’s body during quick steering maneuvers, also raises the rack-and-pinion EPS system’s feedback.
The Si gets larger front and rear disc brakes than the Civic EX-T and unique 18-in. aluminum alloy wheels and standard 234/40R18 all-season tires.
Compared to non-Si Civics, the front suspension has 7% stiffer spring and stabilizer-bar rates and 18% stiffer upper damper mounts. The rear suspension gets a 32% stiffer spring rate and, most notably, high-stiffness upper control arms and solid front- and rear-compliance bushings shared with the new Type-R.
Fun on Track, Street
This aggressive suspension tuning is revealed as we fling our test sedan and coupe around Honda’s proving grounds’ winding track. Tossing the cars in and out of corners, rowing from second to third to fourth and down again, the car maintains a confident, I-can-handle this poise no matter how tight the turn or how big (deep?) the dip in the road.
The driver’s seats in the Si sedan and coupe, front buckets unique to the Si with bigger side bolsters, grip us securely on the track portion of our drive, although side-to-side isn’t too intense on this reviewer’s upper body.
Off the course and on the local roads near here, our only complaints are the previously noted so-so low-end torque and excess wind and road noise at higher speeds.
We return a very respectable 35.2 mpg (6.7 L/100 km) on a 70-mile (113-km) route, mostly on freeways and surface roads with few stop signs, to Bakersfield. That’s just below the car’s 38-mpg (6.2 L/100 km) highway rating.
The Civic Si’s interior is standard issue for a performance compact: black and red; (faux) carbon-fiber trim; aluminum pedals; leather-wrapped wheel and shifter; turbo-boost gauge; and G-force meter.
While its appearance may not be unexpected, the Si’s interior is executed better than one might expect for a car that starts in the $23,000 range. Most materials are high-quality, with soft-touch skin covering large expanses.
Gripes include the IP’s fake stitching and an interior a bit too heavy on the black, not enough on the red, especially on the dark passenger-side dash.
Seat comfort is high during long drives and a welcome change from the standard Civic models is decent thigh support for taller occupants.
The Civic Si coupe has the same interior dimensions and total passenger volume and cargo volume as the EX-T 2-door. All specs also hold for the Si vs. EX-T sedans, although cargo volume dips 0.4 cu.-ft. (0.01 cu.-m) in the Si 4-door.
Ergonomics are good and center-stack controls are within easy reach of the driver. While Honda has restored the volume knob in many recent redesigns, the Si is based on the 10th-gen ’16 Civic so it has that car’s volume slider. Fortunately the controversial controller can be ignored thanks to a more user-friendly steering-wheel volume switch.
Voice-recognition-system performance isn’t great, but that’s not unusual for a car in this price class.
And what a price it is. For $23,900 – $10,000 less than the Civic Type-R’s starting price – you can get an above-average performance compact coupe or sedan that also is subtle enough for everyday driving.
It lacks some of the refinement and style (read wind and road noise muffling, no snazzy plaid interior) of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, but it also is $1,000 less. The Si also undercuts the Subaru WRX by $2,000 and it is $1,000 less than the aged Ford Focus ST. You do get a higher horsepower engine with the WRX, though, so those shopping this segment have a lot of options to weigh.
The Honda Civic Si continues to be built at the automaker’s Alliston, ON, Canada, plant and is on sale now. Honda projects the Si variant will account for 3%-4% of total Civic sedan sales annually and that 20%-25% of all Civic coupes sold will be Sis. In the ’15 model year, 6.3% of the 413,931 Civics assembled in North America were Sis, WardsAuto installation data shows.
Civic U.S. sales through May tallied 144,854, an 8.3% decline from January-May 2016 but good enough to keep it the No.1 seller in WardsAuto’s Upper Small Car segment.
'17 Honda Civic Si Specifications
|Vehicle type||2-door, 5-passenger front-wheel-drive coupe|
|Engine||1.5L turbocharged, direct-injected gasoline 4-cyl., all-aluminum|
|Power (SAE net)||205 hp @ 5,700 rpm|
|Torque||192 lb.-ft. (260 Nm) @ 2,100-5,000 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||73.0 x 89.5|
|Wheelbase||106.3 ins. (2,700 mm)|
|Overall length||177.4 ins. (4,506 mm)|
|Overall width||70.8 ins. (1,798 mm)|
|Overall height||54.7 ins. (1,389 mm)|
|Curb weight||2,889 lbs. (1,310 kg)|
|Base price||$23,900 not incl. $875 destination and handling|
|Fuel economy||28/38 mpg (8.4-6.2 L/100 km) city/highway|
|Competition||Ford Focus ST, Hyundai Elantra GT, Mazda3, Subaru WRX, Volkswagen Golf GTI|
|Affordability||Lacking some power, refinement of comps|
|Better midrange torque||Low-end still lacking|
|Great fuel economy||Interior on the dark side|