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2012 Honda Civic Si Review [video]
Poster child of a shrinking segment, Honda and its fans know the Si is too good to live without
By Colum Wood, Photography by Honda, Video by Michael Nardi, Apr. 20, 2011

When asked if he looked to another automaker’s high performance model in building the new 2012 Si, Honda Civic chief engineer Mitsuru Horikoshi was unequivocal. ‘No’, he said, in plain English, his translator not being needed to communicate this most basic thought to the assembled journalists.

FAST FACTS

1. Powered by a larger 2.4L 4-Cyl, the Civic gains just 4-hp, as well as 31 lb-ft of torque, which comes on 1900 rpm earlier.

2. New for 2012 is Honda’s i-MID system with a 5-inch color monitor on the dash and steering wheel mounted 5-way controls.

3. Novelties include a Power Monitor that shows what percentage of the engine’s power you’re using, as well as an i-VTEC light and rev indicator with shift light.

4. Si models are priced from $22,205 for the Coupe and $22,405 for the sedan.

Were it another car, we might have had our doubts, but as the flagship performance offering in the Civic lineup – a vehicle that spawned a generation of import car tuning – the Si is the benchmark to which others are measured. This held true even late into the previous car’s product cycle, with newer rivals hitting the market, when it could no longer be considered the obvious performance king.

Still, it never shied away from comparos with an equally big fanboy favorite, the VW GTI, or with the MazdaSpeed3, which overwhelmed with abundant torque – and torque steer. While close on paper, track tests with cars like the Kia Forte Koup SX and Scion tC were still too distant to consider, while even a modern generation of sports cars, like the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, found themselves humbled by a front-driver that knows how to turn.

And so it’s back, debuting as one of six new models in the new ninth generation Civic lineup, defying naysayers who have been ringing out the death knell for the sport coupe segment since Tyrese Gibson filled in for Vin Diesel.

LARGER-DISPLACEMENT ENGINE ADDS TORQUE, DOESN’T KILL EMOTION

From styling to in-car technology there’s a lot that’s new about the 2012 Si, but there’s arguably only one fact that really matters; what’s under the hood. For 2012 Honda has finally made the swap that tuners have been doing for years, opting to upgrade the car’s engine from the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder to a larger-displacement 2.4-liter. At first the numbers don’t seem all the impressive with peak-power up just 4-hp, but it’s torque that this Honda gains with a 22 percent improvement. Up from 139 lb-ft to 170, what’s perhaps more important is that it comes on full at just 4300 rpm compared to 6200 rpm on last year’s car. True, some in the Civic nation may cringe at the new 7000-rpm peak horsepower output (down from 7800), claiming Honda has lost its soul, but you won’t find any critics of added torque at lower rpm.

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The 2012 Si might not beg to be strung-out quite like its predecessor did, but it’s just as rewarding when you do. Plus, tuners are certain to love how well the new car responds to modifications, with the larger displacement engine almost certain to deliver bigger gains from even minor bolt-ons.

Buyers aren’t likely to have fuel economy high on their list of shopping priorities but it is nice to not spend more than you have to. That being said, despite the 400 cc increase in engine size, the new Si is up 1 mpg in the city and 2 on the highway for a total of 22/31-mpg.

PROOF THAT FRONT-DRIVERS CAN HANDLE

Known as much for its solid handling as for rev-happy engine, continued improvements in this area can only be further applauded. Sitting almost a half-inch lower to the ground than the 2011 model, numerous suspension changes include thicker say bars front and rear, with 18mm front and 15mm rear, up 1mm and 4mm respectively.

As a result, the Si remains one of the few front-drivers that actually likes to turn. Drive it hard, on a race track (or an auto-x as we had the chance to) and it rotates easily. Paired with direct but not overly heavy steering the Si inspires confidence, as does the chassis with minimal body roll. Point it and apply the power and it tracks just as it should.

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Like in the past a mechanical limited slip differential is included and it does wonders. In fact it’s so good that Honda’s already uninvasive Vehicle Stability Assist traction and stability control systems almost never come on.

Just as impressive is that despite its handling prowess it’s still a comfortable daily-drivable Civic and Honda says the ride quality has been improved to be more comfortable than even the current LX Coupe. Throttle response is direct, although not too touchy, and there’s a tuned-up exhaust note as well as an even better sounding air intake hum. As a boy racer model we’d gladly trade comfort for even more handling and while an all out fart-can would be a step too far, turning up the noise a few decibels wouldn’t hurt.

INTERIOR BRINGS USUAL GOODS, NEW SURPRISES

From the driver’s seat there’s a lot that’s familiar about this new 2012 model, but there are also a few new items, including some surprises.

Well-bolstered seats, aluminum pedals, a leather wrapped steering wheel and individual shift knob are all expected. New is Honda’s i-MID (Intelligent Multi-Information Display), with a 5-inch color display screen mounted in the dash, displaying vehicle and trip info, as well as serving as a control center for different media and the standard Bluetooth. Sync your iPhone and it will even display album art on the screen, plus you can scroll through your music or through the rest of the i-MID system using the two five-way controllers mounted on the steering wheel – similar to the MyFord Touch system. Models equipped with the optional navigation system will even get turn-by-turn instructions fed to the screen, which sits higher up on the dash and more in the driver’s field of view.

On most of the rest of the Civic lineup eco driving monitors help measure fuel economy in different ways, but the Si turns the system on its head, instead showing a Power Monitor that displays the percentage of engine power being used – like the Bugatti Veyron. Also trading eco driving for performance, to the left of the steering wheel the green ECON button has been replace with an easily-accessible traction control off switch.

A gimmick worth noting, and one that’s sure to please those that worship at the temple of VTEC, is a new i-VTEC light and rev indicator. When the engine hits that sweet spot at 5200 rpm a little dot illuminates, then as the revs rise a series of four yellow dots light up in sequence, followed by two red ones. The second red light sparks up at the peak 7000-rpm level, indicating it’s time to shift.

NEW BODYWORK LACKS AGGRESSION

Masking its performance potential is a swoopy new design. It actually makes for a much-improved look for the standard coupe, but steals some of the drama from the Si model.

Exterior changes are minimal compared to the new coupe, with black gloss front upper and lower grilles plus fog lights, while out back there’s a subtle trunk lid spoiler, a new rear bumper with black painted diffuser and an exhaust tip. And of course there are the requisite ‘Si’ logos. While a similar pattern to what we’ve seen in the past, considering the young male target buyer for this car, some more aggressive bodywork would be nice. How about one of those clean Honda skirt packages?

The 17-inch wheels are more creative than past Honda rollers, although the real enthusiasts will be certain to upgrade to some more creative aftermarket designs. Those who want to keep their tuning in-house do have some options though, with Honda offering high-performance summer rubber as a stand-alone option.

And what vehicle in this segment would be complete without a serious audio system. With 360-watts and 7-speakers (including a subwoofer) there’s no reason to go aftermarket.

THE VERDICT

It might not have the big horsepower numbers that we’d like to see (if even just for bragging rights), but as with past iterations of this car Honda has proven that there’s far more to making a performance machine than power. Few cars are as rewarding to drive as the Civic Si – and there are even fewer for this money. Plus, the Si still doubles as a perfect daily driver.

Whether scared off through lack of demand, or just because of how steep the competition is, the Civic Si now stands very much alone in the front-drive performance coupe segment. With strong sales and a loyal fanbase Honda has proven that while there might not be room for a whole sport coupe segment, when you build a car this good, there’s room for an Si segment.

LOVE IT
  • Bigger engine, more torque
  • Still a perfect daily driver
  • Responsive in every way
LEAVE IT
  • Styling too subtle
  • Could use a louder exhaust note
  • Could use a few extra horsepower, if only for bragging rights

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