Thumbs Up: Slightly quicker than the car it replaces.
Thumbs Down: Missing the magic that made the previous car great.
Buy This Car If: You want a sporty commuter with bulletproof reliability.
To understand the history of the 2012 Honda Civic line, you need to take a step back in time to 2009. In what most would agree was the bottom of the current worldwide financial collapse, Honda was smack dab in the middle of the new Civic’s redesign. As the outlook for the worldwide automotive industry grew darker by the day, Honda’s president, Takanobu Ito, was forced to decide between continuing the Civic’s planned redesign or cutting it short. Ito opted for the financially sensible option, and chose to bring the car to market with few significant changes and quite a bit of cost-cutting. The result is a new generation of Civic that simply hasn’t lived up to the legacy of former Civics models.
That’s not to say the new Civic Si is a bad car, or that there’s any reason to doubt that it will run (nearly) forever, just like Civics of the past. It’s got an engine with more torque, pulled directly from the Acura TSX, and it’s still available with any transmission you’d like, so long as that’s a six-speed manual. It’s just not the car that the last generation Civic Si was, and it’s really best suited for those wanting the image of a sporty car instead of a true driver’s car.
Sure, the new 2.4-liter engine pulls harder from down low, thanks to its additional torque, but it’s nowhere near as engaging to drive as the 2.0-liter engine in the previous Si. As evidence, the new car includes a V-Tec bar graph to let you know when the cam switches profiles, since you can’t really feel it anymore. The new engine isn’t particularly entertaining to run to redline, either, as it seems noticeably harsher than the 2.0-liter in the previous generation.
The transmission, which used to be the best on the market at the price point, is now simply average. Worse, the car isn’t easy to drive fast, or even smoothly, thanks to an engine that wants to continue revving even after you lift off the gas and put the clutch in. I’m not sure if it’s an ECU programming issue or a mechanical issue (since it feels like a heavy flywheel), but the result is that experienced drivers will need to deliberately slow their shifts, not what you want from a car with sporting intentions.
Outside, the new Civic Si doesn’t look radically different from the old Civic Si, except for the new 17-inch wheels the car wears. Opt for the Si, and you’ll automatically get fog lights, a moon roof and a chrome exhaust tip. There’s also a subtle rocker panel decal reminding other drivers that you’re Si has i-VTEC and a double-overhead cam (DOHC) engine, just as on previous Si models.
Inside, the front seats aren’t nearly as nice as the sport seats in the last car. Not only do they lack the suede-look microfiber panels of the old car, but they aren’t nearly as well-bolstered, either. To be specific, you sat IN the old Si’s front seats, while you sit ON the seats in the new car. Those gripes aside, the new seats are comfortable enough for the daily commute, and I’ll admit to linking the coarse fabric better than the last model’s finer-knit fabric.
The rear seat of the new Civic Si is also a step backwards from the seat in the previous model, which featured sculpted bucket for the outboard passengers. The new Civic Si gets the same kind of rear bench you’d expect to find in a base model Civic, with no lateral support whatsoever.
While the dash shares the same bi-level layout as last year, there’s more hard, shiny plastic to contend with in the new car, and the overall design isn’t nearly as nice. On the plus side, the layout does appear to be a bit better, with controls tilted more towards the driver (as on the old Acura RSX).
Instrumentation is a step backward, too. Last year’s Civic Si used a tach trimmed in aluminum plastic, sporting the Si logo and featuring numbers that conveyed a sense of speed. The new tach isn’t trimmed, uses plain numbers in a generic font and lacks any kind of logo reminding you of the car you’re driving.
Atop the dash an i-VTEC gauge replaces last year’s temperature gauge. The i-VTEC readout isn’t needed, but it’s there to let driver’s know when the i-VTEC system is engaging. Unlike the last car, you really can’t feel a significant change in acceleration, so the gauge is there to advise that the system is working as designed.
To the right of the speedometer and fuel gauge, the Civic Si gets a “power meter” with an icon of a twin-cam engine. Like the i-VTEC gauge, this readout doesn’t provide any useful information that you can’t derive from the tachometer, but the display can easily be changed to another readout for better functionality.
The 2012 Honda Civic Si gets the 2.4-liter four cylinder used in the Acura TSX, which produces 201 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s only four more horsepower than last year’s SI, but it a jump in torque of 31 pound-feet, which makes a difference in acceleration from low rpm. Last year’s Civic Si ran from 0 to 60 in 7.1 seconds, while the new car can accomplish this in 6.9 seconds (without working quite as hard). In terms of fuel economy, the 2012 Civic Si is rated at 22 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, and I was able to achieve 23.4 mpg in primarily-city driving.
Behind the wheel, the new Civic Si lacks the magic that the old car had. The last Civic Si was an absolute blast to run through the gears and throw into corners, and even novice drivers could quickly learn to rev-match on downshifts. It was evident that the previous car had been designed and tuned by engineers with a passion for driving, and it remains one of my all-time favorite cars in its price point. If you truly like to drive and want a Honda Civic Si, the 2011 is the car to buy.
The 2012 Civic Si, however, drives like a sporty version of an economy car. It doesn’t want to be driven hard, and tossing the car into corners with any amount of speed yields nothing but tire squeal and understeer. The suspension doesn’t encourage spirited driving, either, with lots more body roll in corner and dive under braking than I remember from the last car. The new Civic Si is best thought of as a sporty commuter, aimed at those who favor reliability above all else and would never consider a track day or autocross event in their car. As long as your expectations are modest, the new Civic Si probably won’t disappoint.
Is there a silver lining in all of this? The answer is yes, and Honda has listened to those critical of the Civic’s redesign. Ordinarily, a mid-cycle refresh wouldn’t happen until 2014 or 2015, but Honda is reportedly working on an update for 2013. Let’s hope the Civic Si is part of that update, and that Honda fixes the issues with the engine, transmission, seating and instrumentation that those of us with a sincere passion for the old car have pointed out.
Honda supplied the 2012 Civic Si for my review, and my press fleet tester had a sticker price of $23,175, including a destination charge of $770; there were no options on the car provided. For comparison purposes, a similarly equipped VW Golf GTI 4 door would sticker at $25,065, while a comparable Nissan Sentra SER Spec-V would sell for $21,380.