The Honda Civic Si Walked so the Type R Could Run

Kyle Patrick
by Kyle Patrick

I’ll admit it: there was initial disappointment when I found out I’d be driving a Civic Si instead of a Type R. And that was unfair.

As it turned out, the 2023 Civic Si was an almost-perfect car to handle Los Angeles and the surrounding area for the week of the auto show. While it would have been fun to test my theory that a Type R is just a little bit extra to live with in LA—I’m more of an Integra Type S person—the Si hit all the right notes.

On a more personal level, the orange sedan redeemed itself after an initial lukewarm reception in an AutoGuide 2022 sport compact comparison. Was this really the same car? (No, not really: there are a lot of differences between US and Canadian Civic Sis.) The experience prompted a re-evaluation of the Si, which has spent the last few years overshadowed by its red-badged brother. It’s easy to take for granted, but the Type R wouldn’t exist were it not for the Si.

Civic Si made a performance model standard

Back in the mid-80s, the Honda brand consisted of just three core models: Civic, Accord, and Prelude. The latter was the sporty personal coupe, and introduced us to the idea of an Si-badged Honda in 1985. The Civic got its own a year later, a fuel-injected 1.5-liter pushing out a heady 91 horsepower. This engine was shared with the CRX Si, which packaged the Civic underpinnings in an even sportier, two-seat package. But the blueprint was set nonetheless.

The Si took a few years off, only to return as a hatchback for 1989. This was where the sporty Civic found its footing: the fourth-generation model ushered in a dual wishbone front suspension and independent rear, something still not guaranteed in the compact segment today. The engine grew to 1.6 liters and 108 hp, once again exclusively paired to a five-speed manual. Steel wheels measuring just 14 inches across, wrapped in 185-section rubber, put all that power to the ground. Hey, it was the ‘80s, after all.

That basic recipe did the Civic Si well for a decade, culminating in the much-loved sixth-gen coupe of 1999 and 2000. Blessed with a 1.6-liter now belting out 100 hp per liter care of VTEC, this little zinger provided 8,000 rpm thrills for under $18,000 at the time.

A quick return to a hatchback shape—imported from Britain no less—for the seventh generation made way for a Civic Si coupe and sedan duo, which persisted right up until today’s generation. The engines grew in displacement, then shrunk for the tenth generation model to accommodate the move to turbocharging. That 1.5-liter debuted in the 2017 and has evolved into the setup we have now—still proudly hooked up to a manual transmission only. The Si is now only available as a sedan, differentiating it from the hatchback Type R.

Si is a Brand Builder

The Type R is now a $45,000 car (or $53,000 CAD). That’s still less than the average new-car transaction price, but not by much. The Si offers up an added level of driving involvement over the rest of the Civic range with a price tag more palatable to newer and cost-conscious enthusiasts.

Crucially, many of the important Type R touch points translate to the Si. One of the very best six-speed manuals on the market, now with rev-matching? Check. The same great driving position, with a low window line for excellent visibility? Check. Still a ton of space for four other folks and their stuff? Absolutely. The Civic Si offers up a pleasant all-rounder experience, one that can make Civic fans out of folks early since it's so accessible. That flagship Type R can be further down their path—but even if it isn't, there's still lots of fun to be had here.

Keeping the Segment Alive

I don't have to tell you that the car market is much smaller now. That's doubly true for affordable enthusiast rides: there are still sport cars aplenty for six figures, but the pickings down under $40,000 are slim.

Want a small four-door sedan with sporting pretensions? It's Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, Volkswagen Jetta GLI, and this. Manual transmission? Drop the Koreans. The other fun choice are more focused (Mazda Miata) or more muscle car (Mustang and Camaro).

Honda keeping the Civic Si in the lineup is dedication to a model that planted the seeds for today's Type R. The humble Civic Si has an important legacy, and it's one worth celebrating in 2024, 40 years after the badge first debuted in Japan.

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Kyle Patrick
Kyle Patrick

Kyle began his automotive obsession before he even started school, courtesy of a remote control Porsche and various LEGO sets. He later studied advertising and graphic design at Humber College, which led him to writing about cars (both real and digital). He is now a proud member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), where he was the Journalist of the Year runner-up for 2021.

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