I’ve been a pretty harsh critic of the 9th generation Honda Civic Si.
|Engine: 2.4L four cylinder makes 205 hp, 174 lb-ft of torque. |
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Fuel Economy: 22 MPG city, 31 MPG highway, 25 combined.
Price: Starts at $23,580.
Perhaps too harsh, but as a long-time Honda fan (I currently have three Honda products in my garage, an ’02 S2000, a ’07 Civic EX sedan, and a ’11 MDX), former President of a Honda and Acura motorsports club, and a former Canadian Touring Car Championship competitor in a Civic, my expectations for this vehicle were always going to be high.
Given my obvious desire for the new Civic Si to knock my socks off, it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that when I first tested the 2012 Civic Si at our local test track, I was pretty underwhelmed. It had a lot more body roll and understeer than I (and many other auto journalists and hardcore Honda fans) would have liked. It also played it rather safe in the styling department, failing to differentiate itself strongly enough from lower trim models, not to mention receiving some pretty harsh criticism about interior trim quality.
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To Honda’s credit, they listened and responded in record time, offering a revised version in 2013. But rather than sitting back and patting themselves on the back, Honda has gone a step further for 2014, giving the Si coupe an even more thorough refresh including a much more aggressive-looking front end and rear bumper cover, a new exhaust that adds four horsepower and some added technology and style inside. But most importantly, they claim to have addressed the body roll and understeer in a subtle yet effective way.
She’s a Looker, But Does She Go?
Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Say no more! Ok, so you’re probably too young to remember that Monty Python skit, but to my eye the updated styling is a significant step in the right direction. Where the ’12 and ’13 models were kind of smooth and featureless, the ’14 updates give it a lot more edge and personality, especially from the windscreen forward (which is all new). The bigger 18-inch wheels help a lot, not only in the looks department but with grip as well, since they’ve been upsized to a 225 from a 215 section width.
The buttery smooth and fuel efficient 2.4-liter cylinder engine remains unchanged, except for a revised exhaust system that gives it a small but frankly unnoticeable bump in horsepower and torque. Still, it’s an impressive engine with a broad and tractable powerband, including the instantaneous throttle response Honda fans expect.
I will say that I desperately want it to sound like a Type R or S2000 engine, meaning more revs and a more aggressive exhaust note, but perhaps the days of the high-revving, high specific output VTEC engines are gone and I instead should be looking forward to turbochargers in the next generation of high-performance Hondas. Things could be worse.
The ultra-slick six-speed manual gearbox is also unchanged, but for good reason. This has to be one of the best shifting manual gearboxes on the planet. It’s so precise, so low effort, changing gears virtually becomes an afterthought. And the Si’s transmission puts the power to the ground via its front tires very effectively thanks to the included Torsen limited slip differential, even when you’re asking them to turn and accelerate at the same time.
In a world gone mad for torque vectoring electronic “differentials,” I applaud Honda for staying with a mechanical diff because it delivers the kind of connection between steering wheel and tarmac that no e-diff I’ve sampled can rival.
Yeah, But What About The Understeer?
The problem with the ’12 and ’13 Si is that the understeer was so severe, not even the best limited-slip differential in the world could negate its speed-robbing effects. Understeer is the enemy of speed, particularly cornering speed, and even more so, it’s the enemy of fun. Because plowing off the line as the front tires fail to bite is frustrating in a way only a 30-year-old virgin can comprehend.
To address this, Honda has up-rated the rear sway bar, stiffened the spring rates at all four corners and revised the shock damping. The net effect of these changes is less body roll, considerably less understeer and for a Honda fanboy like me, a feeling that some might compare to Tantric release. The aforementioned wider tires help quite a lot, too.
OK, maybe I’m getting a bit carried away here, because you’re not going to mistake the ’14 Si coupe for a Type R or S2000. It’s still a compliant suspension that allows some body roll before taking a set in the corners, but instead of immediately killing the fun with unrelenting understeer, the limits of the front tires are now much farther out and the mechanical limited slip differential is able to transfer power to the front tire with the most available traction better than before.
There are many other benefits to reduced understeer, not least of which is the smile on my face. The steering system also feels more precise and more communicative, partly because of revisions Honda made to its calibration, but also because I’m having to do less with the steering wheel to combat understeer and can instead lighten my grip and feel what the chassis is telling me through the wheel.
Is It Any Faster?
Less understeer also means higher corner speeds, which should also mean faster lap times. And that is exactly what the ’14 Si coupe delivered with a best lap almost a full second quicker than the 2013 version I tested last year. That may not sound like much, but for anyone who drives competitively at a racetrack knows that’s a pretty big chunk of time to save from a relatively subtle set of suspension tweaks.
But really, the revisions Honda made to the 2014 Si coupe aren’t just about faster lap times. Really, they’re more about increasing driver enjoyment, or more precisely enthusiast-driver enjoyment. In other words, Honda has made the Si more fun to drive hard and drive fast, on the street or at the track, but without turning it into a hardcore, kidney-punishing track special like the Type R’s of old. The Si is still a totally civilized daily driver, but just a more enjoyable one when the revs climb and the road starts to bend.
The interior is also more stylish and more functional than ever before, thanks to a new seven inch touch-screen audio and navigation system that uses swipe and pinch gestures much like an Apple product. It’s slick, easy to use and the red push-start button is a nice little touch that ties in with the optional red center section on the seat covers.
I also appreciated the optional carbon fiber dash kit, which appears to use real carbon fiber that adds a touch of high-tech class to the driver’s environment. I wouldn’t object to a lower seating position or more aggressive side bolstering, but the steering wheel is the right size and shape for spirited driving, the pedals are perfectly spaced for heel-and-toe downshifts (for my size 11’s, at least) and the shifter falls perfectly to hand.
Driving the 2014 Civic Si coupe at the limit around our test track is finally the kind of fun I want from a performance-oriented Honda. The entire experience is lower effort and more natural feeling thanks to how effectively Honda reduced the tendency to understeer. And as a result, you can relax your grip, unfurrow your brow and let its excellent chassis talk to you. It’s not as verbose as an S2000 or the Type R we hardcore Honda fans want it to be, but it’s finally a joy to drive hard.
Welcome back, Honda. Now hurry up and bring us that Civic Type R you’ve been spotted testing at the Nurburgring!