Photo: Daniel Goodman / Business Insider
In other parts of the world, the Honda Civic Type R has long been one of the top cars for enthusiasts on a budget. Unfortunately, the Type R-badged Civics never officially made it to America.Instead, we have had to make do with the Civic Si.
The Si was first introduced to the market in the mid 1980s and is now entering its seventh generation of production. Like every car, over the years the Civic has become heavier and more powerful. So it is not surprising that this is the largest Si yet.
We recently spent a week with a Civic Si Sedan to find out if the growth for 2012 was a positive or a negative. This year’s Civic has received an overwhelmingly negative reception. There are even rumours that Honda is planning a major refresh for the next model year, which is far ahead of the normal schedule.
Photo: Daniel Goodman / Business Insider
What began as a lightweight hatchback has evolved over the last 20 years into a premium compact sedan. Our test car was the top Si sedan that Honda makes, with navigation, satellite radio, 17-inch wheels, and a premium sound system.
The price came out to just shy of $25,000 for all of these features.
Unlike competitors such as the Volkswagen GTI, Mazdaspeed3, and the upcoming Ford Focus ST, the Civic Si does not have a turbocharged engine.
However, the ace up the Si’s sleeve is iVTEC. Honda has been using this variable valve timing system for years, and the performance gains are obvious. VTEC activates at 5,000 RPM and changes the profile of the camshafts to create optimum timing of the valves.
All you need to know is that the changeover is obvious and the power gain is very noticeable.
But what was it like to live with the Civic for a week?
First and foremost, the Si is intended to be a driver's car. And we were not disappointed by our Civic at all.
Honda has always made great transmissions, and the gearbox in the latest Si is one of the best points of the car. The gears slide to the next ratio with ease and the throws are short and sweet.
We found ourselves shifting more than we needed to, just because we could.
For this year's Si, the engine has grown to a 2.4 liter inline four. While the increased displacement has only netted a gain of four horsepower to total 201, torque has grown substantially to 170 pound feet. The VTEC camshaft change also occurs at 5,000 RPM, 1,000 lower than last year's car.
This makes for a Civic Si that is quick off the line but also has great pull in traffic.
And while it is a bit light, the steering is communicative and confidence inspiring. We also liked the stiff suspension.
It is a pleasure to drive.
The last generation Civic was a substantial departure from the earlier cars in the design department.
We cannot say the same for the 2012 model. If you parked a 2011 Si next to a 2012, we are willing to bet that the average person would not be able to pick out which is the newer car.
Instead of calling this a brand-new car, we think of it as more an aggressive refresh.
That is not to say the Si is an unattractive car. The subtle Si badging, honeycomb grill, lip spoiler on the trunk, and what appears to be a small diffuser in the back make it look pretty aggressive and sporty.
We just wish the change was more substantial.
This is where the Si falls apart.
On the surface, it all looks great.
There are tight bucket seats, Si specific badges, red stitching throughout, aluminium pedals, and a great screen for the navigation system.
However, once you touch the surfaces, you will notice that the premium price does not mean premium materials. Plastics are hard to the touch and feel very cheap.
Simply put, the interior is just not up to snuff for a car that costs this much. This has been a frequent refrain about this car, and we are hearing that Honda is already planning a mid-cycle update.
The dash is also huge. We felt like we were miles away from the windshield and the gauge cluster. It kind of feels like a space ship.
We were not fans of the price, but we will get back to that.
As we said, the interior of the Si is a major letdown. Subpar touchpoints make for a lackluster experience inside the car.
And because the engine encourages you to rev it, the Si can return somewhat lower than expected fuel economy. The engine needs premium fuel, which is another cost that adds up these days.
The design also does not feel 'new.' It looks good, but it does not differentiate itself enough from the last generation car.
There is a lot to like.
On the interior, the seats were supportive and comfortable. The navigation was easy to use and the dual screens inside made sure you were getting all the data needed.
The styling has been called boring since it came out; we really liked the last generation car so we like this one too.
But by far the best part is the way the car shifts and corners. The gearbox is such a joy. The Si also loves to rev, and we were more than happy to keep pushing it as much as we could.
The cornering is confidence inspiring and the suspension is not too stiff. Overall, the car is just a lot of fun to drive.
Now this is a tough question.
We want to love the Si. It really drives great.
But when you have a car like this, you are not spending a lot of time looking at it; you are inside it. And the interior is an issue from a quality standpoint.
Asking us to spend nearly $25,000 for a car that is lacking a premium interior is where we have trouble.
For about $3,000 more, you can get a similarly equipped VW GTI, which has a truly first class, premium, interior. Leave off the navigation and the GTI's price falls right in line with this Si.
And for the same price, the Mazdaspeed3 offers 60 more horsepower and over 100 more pound feet of torque. It also has the benefits of hatchback utility.
Hopefully, Honda will make some interior improvements soon so the Si can once again take its place where it belongs, at the top of the performance compact class.
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