Enthusiasts didn’t take kindly to the 2012 Honda Civic Si. From the power, to the styling, to the feel behind the wheel, it simply wasn’t edgy enough. A more refined performance machine perhaps, but not what the Civic Nation expected, at a time when Honda was already seen to be losing its appetite for performance vehicles.
|1. The HFP package includes a complete aero kit and rear spoiler, lowering springs and shocks, 18-inch wheels with high performance summer tires and red floormats. 2. The HFP package retails for $3,830 on top of the $22,355 base price of a Civic Si. 3. Just 500 Civic Si HFP models are available. 4. HFP items like the aero kit and wheels can be ordered a la carte.|
Acknowledging the car’s faults and looking to combat critics while catering to a young male demographic, Honda unveiled the Civic Si HFP (Honda Factory Performance) at last year’s SEMA Show. Little has been done to promote the car since it was introduced but we were recently invited to test it out in Canada – where the Civic’s reputation means even more due to it being the most popular car sold in that country.
Looking at the spec sheet, this new HFP model appears to solve most of our original complaints about the car – many of which became more obvious after we tested it against the Mazdaspeed3 at the track. What it doesn’t do, however, (and much to our disappointment) is improve upon the engine’s power with the 2.4-liter engine continuing to be rated at 201 hp at 7000 rpm and 170 lb-ft of torque at 4300 rpm.
A noted improvement in mid-range power with 30 more lb-ft of torque compared to the old model, the engine lacks the rev happy feel of its predecessors. For a special edition model like this, new engine internals aren’t going to happen, but would it be too much to ask for an intake, exhaust and a few extra rpm?
While the new Civic’s styling has grown on us, it certainly is a smoother interpretation of the iconic coupe without any boy racer flare. Added to the HFP model is a complete aero kit with a new front lip, rear diffuser and side skits.
Also helping improve the looks of the Si considerably are the handling upgrades with large 18-inch wheels and a set of lowering springs that reduce the overall height of the car by 15mm (roughly half an inch).
Paired with those new wheels are some sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires measuring 215/40/18. No wider than the factory rubber, the lower sidewall should help in reducing tire roll in hard and fast cornering maneuvers on an auto-x, or when loading up the car on twisty roads or the track.
As for the suspension, not happy to half-ass it, Honda mated new shocks to the lowering springs, which also boast stiffer spring rates to help minimize lean in the corners. Surprisingly, that the package doesn’t include stiffer sway bars – an easy way to help curb body roll. No brake upgrades are included in the package either, though based on our previous experience with the car they aren’t needed.
RESULTS YOU CAN FEEL
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When we compared lap times for the standard Civic Si with the Mazdaspeed3, the results were less about being unimpressed with performance and more with being disappointed with overall vehicle feel. Looking at the numbers, the Civic was undoubtedly the slower car, down 1.9 seconds a lap compared to the Mazda, though that gap isn’t as significant as one might expect considering the Si is down 62 hp, 110 lb-ft of torque and our test model at the time was running mediocre all-season rubber.
Tested on a sizable autocross course the Civic Si HFP is the Si we expected the first time around. The base car is actually quite impressive in what it can do; it’s just that those capabilities are overshadowed by a sloppy suspension that also has a negative impact on driver confidence.
The big wheels and high performance rubber vastly improve turn in, while the lower center of gravity helps improve transitions, as do the stiffer springs. Perhaps most notable in the package are those springs, allowing the car to ‘set’ much earlier in the corner before you can get back on the power. That feeling also drastically improves driver confidence.
As a result, you can much better utilize the built-in advantages all Si models come with, rowing though the gears on one of the best manual transmissions money can buy.
Plus, the improvements also allow you to better utilize the Civic’s ability to rotate the rear. An anomaly among front-drivers, Honda’s careful suspension and chassis setup means you can swing the rear around to help point you in the direction you want to go. On the auto-x, this makes it possible to dive in hard, twitch the car, scrub off speed using the tires rather than the brakes and then be pointed in the direction you want to go next.
There’s also no replacement for the mechanical limited slip differential Honda uses, which also instills confidence by letting the driver feel their way out of the corner. High-tech electronic units that actually limit torque to the wheels by using the brakes can deliver the same results, but lack feedback, distancing the driver from the equation.
Honda’s LSD is so impressive, even on an autocross it’s amazing how little the traction control system intervenes.
Daily driven on the street, the package is certainly livable. Noticeably stiffer than a conventional Si, it’s infinitely more comfortable than even the most basic aftermarket setup.
In addition to the upgrades already mentioned, the HFP package gets a selection of other add-ons, ranging from HFP badges to some bright red floormats that will send any Honda nut into a Type R fanboy frenzy.
PRICED AT A PREMIUM
While Honda does offer the cosmetic options, like the wheels and aero kit, as stand-alone options, those who want the handling advantages and don’t want to go to the aftermarket can get this warranteed factory package as a complete limited edition model. In fact, just 500 will be offered in the US (and 400 in Canada).
Half proof that it can still build fun-to-drive cars and half a marketing exercise to help restore some faith in the Si, Honda admits that most of those vehicles are already sold. While in some ways a tease, the car’s popularity suggests it’s likely to return for 2013.
As much fun as Honda makes driving this car, they certainly don’t make it easy to get behind the wheel. The complete package retails for $3,830 (or just $2,700 in Canada). As a result, a $22,355 Civic Si that performs the way you’d like an Si to, will run you $26,185.
Likely to stack up more favorably with hot hatches like the Mazdaspeed3 or the new Focus ST in terms of raw lap times, we’re eager to bring the HFP to our test track to measure its improvement. Regardless of what those numbers say, driving enjoyment is now at a respectable level.
Still, with Honda’s unwillingness to offer more high-revving power from the 2.4-liter motor (adding direct injection should help by as much as 10%), even the HFP model isn’t at a level to challenge a new breed of sport compacts.
Decisively more fun, though missing some power, the HFP is the Si we wanted all along. If there’s any down side it’s that you have to pay so much more to get what the Si should have been all along.