Thumbs Up: Fun to drive and filled with content for the price
Thumbs Down: Hatchback version discontinued
Buy This Car If: You’re looking for serious driving fun on a budget
My idea of an automotive Utopia is simple: everyone would learn how to drive in a 2010 Honda Civic Si. That’s not to say that the Si is suitable for new drivers only, because it’s a good option for drivers of all ages and skill levels. Instead, the Honda Civic Si is the perfect choice for impressionable new drivers because it teaches you that driving can be fun, perhaps better than any other car in its price category. Once you learn the joys of a proper, rev-matched downshift, or experience the rush of i-VTECH above 6,000 RPM, you’ll never seriously consider buying a slushbox equipped Camry, and you’ll never look at driving as a tedious chore. Imagine roads filled with people who actually enjoyed driving and took it seriously; if that’s not paradise, I don’t know what is.
The current Civic Si debuted in 2005 as a 2006 model. Despite being five years old, the design still looks contemporary, and doesn’t resemble anything else on the road. The Si models differ visually from the regular Civics in several key styling areas. The Si gets a revised front fascia to incorporate its standard driving lights, a unique grille, a trunklid spoiler, an oval rear exhaust and Si specific 17” wheels. Larger Honda emblems and Si badging adorn the front grille and the rear deck lid, and i-VTEC logos on the rocker panels in front of the rear wheels let people know what’s under the hood. On some cars this would look gaudy, but on the Civic Si it just looks right. A character line runs from the front fenders, across the top of the doors, blending into the rear fender. A separate character line starts at the front fascia and spans the door, just below centerline, before continuing across the rear fender and into the rear fascia. These break up the side sheet metal and give the car a sporty appearance, which is also helped by the angle of the A pillar and the rake of the windshield. The Civic Si visually communicates its sport coupe mission rather well, and it’s design doesn’t scream “Fast & Furious”.
Climb inside, and the first thing you’ll notice is how good the front seats are for spirited driving, with firm but comfortable side and hip bolsters. Honda takes a unique approach with the Si’s seats, blending a ventilated fabric with faux suede panels on the bolsters. Red Si logos pop on the black seat fabric, and red stitching adds a premium touch you don’t expect in a car at this price point. The seats are adjustable only for position and seat back angle (although the driver gets a height adjustment, too), but that’s OK since they’re so comfortable as is. The faux suede treatment is continued on the center console armrest and on the door armrests, and the ventilated seat fabric is also used to provide texture on the doors. Aluminum colored plastic trim is used throughout the interior, which provides a visually interesting contrast to the black and gray plastics used in the interior. Even the back seat is reasonably comfortable for anyone under six feet tall, and there’s a surprising amount of legroom for rear passengers given the Civic Si’s compact dimensions. Ford and Chevy would benefit from a review of the Civic’s interior; it’s a much more appealing place to spend time than the interior of the new Mustang or the new Camaro. If Honda can put an interior this nice in a car that sells below $25k, why can’t the big three do the same in cars that cost $10k more?
The Civic Si uses a split dash arrangement, with a central tachometer positioned directly above the steering wheel. In a separate pod, above the tach, a digital speedometer splits the coolant temperate gauge and the fuel gauge. It’s a bit distracting until you get used to the layout, but once you do it makes perfect sense. In a conventional instrument layout, a driver needs to takes his eyes off the road to check speed. In the Civic Si, the digital speedometer acts almost like a heads up display, allowing you to check speed with a quick scan. My tester also came with Honda’s factory nav and entertainment system, which was intuitive enough to use without consulting the owner’s manual. The nav system includes Bluetooth phone integration, but it adds $2,000 to the car’s price. Whether or not it’s worth it is up to you.
Start the motor, put the Civic Si into gear and you begin to understand why this car is so good. The clutch effort is light and take-up is smooth, making it easy for a driver to learn the joys of shift-it-yourself driving. Shifts of the six speed gearbox are precise, with the lever gliding seamlessly into each gate. If you keep the revs below 4,000 RPM as you upshift, the Civic Si is a relatively docile commuter car that would reward you with reasonable fuel mileage. Wind it out to the point of i-VTEC engagement, at 6,000 RPM, and the Civic Si becomes a whole other animal. You can feel the transition between cam profiles, and the motor pulls like it has forced induction from 6,000 RPM to the redline at 8,000 RPM. The motor’s 197 horsepower is good enough to get the Civic Si from zero to sixty in just about seven seconds, and working your way down through the gears, rev-matching on the downshift, is as enjoyable as winding the motor out. The Civic Si is a car that likes to be driven hard, and you’ll find yourself looking for excuses to take the long way home, especially if the road is twisty. The EPA rates the Honda Civic Si at 21 MPG city and 29 MPG highway; I saw a combined average of 24.3 MPG in a mix of city and highway driving.
On the road, it’s easy to forget that the Civic Si is FWD. There isn’t any torque steer to speak of, and the car’s limited slip differential minimizes wheel spin even in aggressive cornering. The Civic Si can be ordered with “summer only” 215/45-17 tires, which is the route I’d go; you can always buy a second set of cheap wheels and mount snow tires for winter time use. In corners, the turn-in is precise, and the car exhibits moderate understeer as you’d expect it to. Steering is properly weighted for a sport coupe, and feedback from the front wheels is better than you’d expect. Some drivers complain that the steering wheel in the Civic Si is too small, but I found it just right for quick transitions from corner to corner. The suspension allows for remarkably flat cornering, yet doesn’t punish the driver on rough roads. In fact, I don’t think I’d change a thing on the Civic Si; it’s simply that good right out of the box.
My tester came equipped with Honda’s factory nav system, and had a sticker price of $24,765.00. You get a lot of content for the money, including a limited slip diff, 17” wheels, stability control, anti-theft immobilizer and vehicle security system, fog lights, sunroof, cabin air filter, steering wheel mounted controls, Bluetooth phone integration and in-dash navigation system. Skip the nav system, and a Civic Si Coupe will set you back just $22,765.00, which makes the Civic Si one of the true performance bargains on the market today.
The Civic Si faces some stiff competition in the “inexpensive but fun to drive” category. Sure, the Mazdaspeed 3 gives you more horsepower and more interior room, but the massive torque steer of the Mazdaspeed can make it a handful to drive at speed. Yes, I know it would eat the Civic for lunch in a drag race, and I know it would lap your favorite racetrack x.xx seconds quicker per lap, but driving in the real world isn’t always about maximum performance. When you factor in how enjoyable the Civic Si is to drive, as well as the amount of content for the price, it’s certainly worthy of a test drive if you’re in the market. In fact, my only complaint about the Civic Si is that the 3 door hatchback Si was killed in the 2006 redesign; please, Honda, include a three door hatchback version when you pen the next generation Civic Si.