You have to respect cars like the Honda Civic Si, as well as the manufacturers that build them.
After all, Honda has taken what is basically an entry-level compact sedan and created a whole sub genre underneath that—namely the sports contact segment—that has allowed folks who couldn’t afford a proper sports car (or could, but didn’t want to lose the practicality associated with a sedan or small crossover) and given them something sporty, something that’s just a little more fun.
And the Civic was one of the pioneers—just think of the original Si from the late ‘80s—and much of what made the cars good then remains today.
Trouble is, lots of what we saw in the cars back then also remains today, and that presents a bit of a problem for the Civic.
You see, as the segment evolved, other manufacturers began to wade in for fear of losing too much ground on the sales front to pioneers like Honda. And, as we know, competition often breeds quality and so it goes here, with Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Ford and even Chevrolet coming to market with sporty hatches of their own. This is a segment that has thrived in Europe for years, but has only really just arrived in North America these last few years.
Which means the Civic Si is in the trenches now, taking shots from more angles that before.
Of course, the question is: does it have the armour to withstand it?
Troubling aspects do remain; Honda can slap on all the faux carbon fibre it wants, but you won’t escape the swathes of plastic that cover the doors, centre stack, console and dash upper. There is, however, a smattering of leather on the dash as well; now there’s something you wouldn’t have predicted seeing on Civics five or six years ago. Nice touch.
The red tachometer, once one of the more attractive treatments, is also looking a little long in the tooth as the ice blue treatment in the Hyundai Veloster or the motorcycle-inspired instrument cluster in the Chevy Sonic RS. Even the optional navigation screen is surrounded by a dizzying array of buttons that are small and tough to see and access. Work needs to be done here; luckily, the Accord has a much more modern set-up which we’re sure to see in the Civic eventually.
One thing that’s definitely not retro—and a detail that I love—is the dual-tier treatment on the dash, punctuated by a big digital speedo. The sound system ain’t half bad, either.
Which is kind of moot, because when you hop in and let ‘er rip, well, that’s all the sound a car geek possibly needs.
Honda has a way with little four-bangers, and the 201 hp, 196 lb-ft 2.3-litre unit is no exception. Yes, the redline sits at an eardrum-shattering 7,000 r.p.m. (which is also where peak power comes) and the tone only changes for the better once i-VTEC is activated and the full grunt of the car is released.
Best of all, it’s all fed through a properly old-school six-speed manual transmission that remains one of the best in the biz, encouraging you to bang home gears with abandon. Which is good, as you’ll be shifting often as the six-ratios are closely-spaced.
As hard as your arm works reaching for the shift lever, your two arms in unison will be working themselves into a twisting frenzy as you hit the bends. The steering is nice and weighty, and even has some proper feel through the thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel.
This is a car that responds way better through the twisties (or, indeed, on an autocross course) than a front-driver should—this aspect of the Civic Si is definitely intact in 2013, and it’s almost enough to make you forget the competition that’s drawing ever closer.
But the competition is drawing nearer—indeed, the Focus ST and its retina-frying colours makes that act hard to miss—so it’s not so much of a slam dunk to recommend the Civic hands-down over the rest of the sport-compact crowd.