2009 Honda Civic Si

It’s no coincidence the Civic Si is the poster boy for sport compact performers

2009 Honda Civic Si
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The amazing thing about Honda’s Civic Si isn’t how good it is, but that it’s still such a great car after having been on the market for so many years.

FAST FACTS

1. The Civic Si is powered by a 197hp 2.0-liter 4-cyl, putting out some of the most horsepower per liter of any naturally aspirated engine on the planet.

2. A limited slip differential is standard.

3. Also standard is a 350-watt, 7-speaker audio system, which includes an 8-inch subwoofer.

4. The Si starts at $21,905 ($26,880 CDN)

Launched in 2005 as an ’06 model year car, the Si should be almost obsolete as the 2010 models start rolling in, and yet it’s not. Not even close.

POWERFUL 197 HORSEPOWER 4-CYLINDER

At 197hp, its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is actually the least-powerful option for a sport compact performer. The Sentra SE-R SpecV makes 200, the Cobalt SS generates 260 and the MazdaSpeed3 pumps out 263 horses.

What makes Honda’s two-liter K-series motor so much fun though is the engineering behind it. Turbocharged engines like those found in the Mazda and Chevy just can’t compete with the linear feeling of power that a naturally aspirated powerplant can deliver. And if Honda knows anything, it’s how to build a high-revving NA motor.

The Si’s engine screams excitement all the way up to 7800 rpm, and thanks to a specially tuned intake and exhaust system (as well as an excellent electronic drive-by-wire throttle setup) the engine reacts immediately and with an impressive sound.

If there is a complaint to be made about this motor, however, it would be the lack of torque, with just 139 ft-lbs at a lofty 6200 rpm. Still, you never feel wanting for power and as the car begs you to keep the revs up, it’s not hard to find a sweet spot. And when those cam profiles switch over and VTEC is engaged the car just rockets forward. This is one fast four-cylinder, with the power of VTEC coming on more like it does in the S2000 than in the old B-series engines.

AMAZING SIX-SPEED MANUAL GEARBOX

Helping out in the fast department is a short throw six-speed gearbox. Undeniably, Honda makes one of the best manual transmissions in the world, and in case you weren’t aware that the Si was designed for enthusiasts, the lack of an automatic transmission is a definite clue.

The driving experience is further accentuated by tight steering, a small steering wheel (the same size as the one in the Honda S2000) and a grabby clutch. That clutch pedal might actually be a bit too quick on the up-take, however, and as far as the wheel goes, the dimensions are fine, but we’d love an even thicker grip.

LIMITED SLIP DIFFERENTIAL REALLY SHINES IN THE CORNERS

When you combine all these attributes you get a car that just taunts you to drive fast.

Thankfully, Honda has built the rest of the car to do just that. With a well-balanced and reasonably light chassis the Si darts into corners, and thanks to it’s limited slip differential there’s no problem keeping the power down and exiting with full speed.

There is some body roll, although limited. As for understeer, it’s almost entirely absent, unless you really happen to be booting around hard on a track.

The standard wheel and tire package also helps to keep the Civic planted with 17-inch rollers. The 215-wide tires provide an excellent footprint and the stiff 45-profile sidewalls mean there’s no real lean in the tires.

Michelin all-seasons come standard, although high-performance summer rubber is available from the factory. Dealers even offer an 18-inch wheel setup. Lower sidewalls will, however, reduce ride quality, but as it stands even the low 45 profile tires deliver an incredibly comfortable ride.

Part of the amazing dynamics of the Si also have to be attributed to the car’s chassis. When compared to the previous model, the advantages are numerous. Overall the Si Coupe is 0.6-inches shorter in length, is 1.6-inches lower in height and is 1.4-inches wider. The wheelbase on the Si (and all Coupe models) has also been increased by 1.2-inches. The front track is 1.1-inches wider, while the rear track is 2.1-inches wider.

SPORTY INTERIOR WITH PLENTY OF WATTAGE

The interior of the car adds to the driving experience with specially bolstered Si seats and plenty of original appointments. There is an Si-exclusive leather-wrapped six-speed gearshift knob and red stitching on the shift boot. Red Si badging can be found on the floor mats and seats (which also get red stitching) and the Si also gets special red illuminated gauges. Other highlights include a leather wrapped steering wheel and a rev limit indicator light.

Standard features include power windows and locks with remote entry, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, climate control and an outside temperature gauge. The standard audio system is a seven-speaker 350-watt AM/FM/CD system with MP3 and WMA capability. One of those seven speakers is an 8-inch subwoofer, which pounds hard enough to shake the rearview mirror.

In 2006 with the introduction of the new Si and the other new Civic models, Honda also introduced its new two-tier dash, which is particularly nice on sporty models like the Si.

If I have any complains about the interior, it’s that the faux-Alcantara on the seats and doors doesn’t feel nearly as nice as it looks. You’d think it was the same sport material used on a Porsche GT3 until you touch it. Yuck!

DATED EXTERIOR DESIGN… OR JUST TOO SUBTLE?

Outside is where the Si is arguably the least impressive. Perhaps it’s that the car’s design is now almost five years old. Or perhaps it’s the fact that even the Si aero kit, 17-inch wheels and rear spoiler don’t quite give the car a look to match the feel behind the wheel.

Either way, it just doesn’t grab your attention the way it used to, especially with companies like Mazda coming out with such progressive designs for cars like the 3.

We would have liked to have seen a mid-cycle refresh with some new headlights, a new front bumper, a new spoiler and maybe some LED taillights, but at this point in the car’s life, it’s probably best just to wait for the new model. At least there is no end of aftermarket parts for those who want to spice up the car’s look.

THE DULL DETAILS

With such a fun performance car its easy to forget that the Si can also get you from point A to point B in safety and with pretty reasonable fuel economy. The car comes with six airbags as well as ABS and EBD. And it gets 22/31 mpg (city/highway).

THE VERDICT

As a package the Civic Si is pretty much unbeatable. With a tight suspension, an incredibly responsive transmission/engine combination and 197 horses that you can really use all of thanks to a limited slip differential, the Si is a bargain at just $21,905.

Sure it doesn’t have the straight-line speed of the Cobalt SS or MazdaSpeed3, but those turbocharged powerhouses can’t match the driving feel of a high-strung naturally aspirated engine. And as for the top-level Sentra, it’s just not in the same league.

And besides, if you’re looking for a coupe, the Cobalt SS is the Civic’s only competition.

Oh, and surprisingly the Civic isn’t the expensive one. At just $21,905 ($26,880 CDN) it’s far less than the $23,535 Cobalt SS and still less than the $22,740 Mazda..

The level of driving enjoyment that the Civic Si delivers is just unmatched for the price. It’s not just good, it’s really, really good.

And on top of all that it’s comfortable, functional, safe and reasonably good on gas. Even with all the new models I’ve driven in the past year, for daily use I’d take a five-year-old Civic Si over almost any of them.

PLUS
  • Amazingly responsive and powerful 2.0L engine
  • Limited Slip Differential
  • Thumping audio system
MINUS
  • Faux-Alcantara interior accents
  • Subtle/dated design
  • Minimal torque

RELATED READING:

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Review - Could a front-drive Chevrolet be a performance bargain?

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