2017 Honda Civic Si Review

Back, but better?

Step, push, lift; step, pull, lift. Like walking, you find a rhythm driving the 2017 Honda Civic Si, even while furiously rowing its stubby, metal-trimmed gear selector and pumping the feather-light clutch.

Like other Honda shifters, the one controlling this reborn performance compact’s manual transmission is a piece of art. Light and precise, it glides from gate to gate, seemingly devoid of any friction, making it an absolute pleasure to use. There’s also a constant-mesh, helically cut reverse gear that eliminates the annoying whine Hondas used to make while backing up.

But praising this Japanese automaker’s shifters is merely stating the obvious, akin to saying soy sauce is salty or economy air travel uncomfortable. It’s quintessential.

Aside from this outstanding driver-interface element, there’s plenty more to love about the new Honda Civic Si, from its rapid acceleration and sporty steering to impressive fuel economy and value pricing, more than enough upsides to offset any of its minor shortcomings.

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A First Time for Everything

Breaking with tradition, this is the first Civic Si to feature a turbocharged engine from the factory. Like mainstream versions of the car, a 1.5-liter four-cylinder is nestled under its hood.

Rather than focusing on economical operation, performance was the goal. Accordingly, this Earth Dreams powerplant has been massaged in several ways to deliver more of what enthusiasts want.

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Higher peak boost, which tops out at 20.3 PSI, helps this engine outmuscle lesser Civics. Fill the tank with premium-grade gasoline and you’re rewarded with 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque. Compared to non-Si Civics those are increases of 31 and 25, respectively.

Sodium-filled exhaust valves, direct fuel injection and a forged-steel crankshaft help ensure quiet, efficient operation, though it is worth noting those output figures aren’t particularly impressive, especially compared to the firepower wielded by rivals like the Volkswagen GTI, Subaru WRX, and Ford Focus ST. However, don’t let them deceive you; the Si can run, hard. Given its rapid acceleration, we wouldn’t be surprised if this engine were underrated by a healthy amount.

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But don’t think all that giddy-up results in questionable efficiency. This new Civic Si is rated at 28 miles per gallon city (8.4 L/100 km) and 38 highway (6.2 L/100 km), damn impressive figures, especially for a performance car.

Double the Fun

Available in either sedan or coupe formats, this eighth-generation Civic Si should appeal to a broad spectrum of sport-compact customers.

Size wise, there are some unexpected differences between these two cars. The four-door variant is about five and a half inches longer than its coupe stablemate, something that helps it provide about three more cubic feet of trunk space, which tops out at a claimed 14.7.

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Luckily, these increased dimensions result in a curb weight that’s just 17 pounds huskier than the coupe’s. Both cars clock in at right around 2,900 pounds, making them significantly lighter than key rivals, a whopping 366 pounds trimmer than the WRX.

Winding through the mountainous terrain of California’s sun-scorched Mojave Desert, this high-performance Civic soon revealed its true colors (if you’re curious, up to seven exterior hues are available, with Energy Green Pearl exclusive to the coupe model). The Si’s steering is unusually sharp for an electrically boosted setup, with a ratio that’s just about perfect. Weighting is suitably sporty.

Thanks to its chunky rim, the tiller feels like a precision instrument in your hands. Throw in firm, fade-resistant brakes with a forgiving suspension arrangement and you have a car that’s eager to build driver confidence.

Track Ready

And this is key to on-track fun. Nobody wants to drive something that feels jittery at its limit, as if it will try to kill you if you’re not devoting 110 percent of your attention to it. The Si is a surprisingly capable steed on closed courses and mountain roads alike, remaining as planted as a giant sequoia.

We had a brief opportunity to evaluate this car on a short road course at Honda’s proving ground in the California desert. Performance was strong and handling benign, though truth be told, it was a lot more fun on the street.

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One issue that diminished the on-track fun is a lack of headroom. In normal driving, this is not a problem, but when a helmet is factored into the equation, things get iffy. I had to sit in an awkward, overly reclined position, otherwise my head was mashed against the roof, cocked to one side. If you plan on racing, it’d be smart to bring your helmet along on any Civic Si test drive you take just to make sure this isn’t an issue.

Understeer is the name of the game when cooking corners, though this is no surprise since the Civic is front-wheel drive. Enter a turn too hot and she’ll push wide of your intended line. Tight maneuvers are accompanied by a wisp of body roll.

Altering the car’s feel is a drive-mode selector with two settings, Normal and Sport. The former provides a more relaxed experience, the latter amplifies the power steering, throttle response, stability control threshold and stiffens the adaptive dampers. Yes, this car’s shocks are now adjustable.

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In Sport mode, the Si is noticeably more responsive, with a more eager accelerator pedal and weightier steering. Many of today’s drive-mode selectors are basically useless, but this one actually makes changes you can feel.

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Compared to a standard Civic, the Si’s suspension has 7 percent stiffer front springs; at the rear, they’re 32 percent starchier. The stabilizer bars are also meatier, ditto for the upper control arms. This provides a frim but livable ride. Even over large bumps the tuning isn’t too harsh. A helical limited-slip differential keeps you from roasting one front tire when exiting corners.

High-Strung Horses

Even though the 2017 Civic Si’s horsepower rating matches the previous generation’s, it’s far less peaky. Unlike that naturally aspirated car, you needn’t wring its neck to get moving in a hurry.

Along with a 100-pound weight advantage, today’s turbocharged model responds readily from the tach’s midrange onward, pulling enthusiastically all the way to redline. But hey, it’s a Honda, that’s kind of their thing…

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As is an acute lack of low-end torque. In, say, second gear at 1,500 rpm, you can nail the accelerator and nothing happens for three or four seconds. The engine doesn’t catch its breath until about 3,500 rpm, at which point it finally wakes up.

Admittedly, this is a relatively minor gripe; just downshift and rev it up. My biggest dynamic complaint, what annoys me most about this new Si, is the clutch.

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I like a left pedal with some meat on her bones. This Honda’s is scrawnier than a chicken foot. Feather-light with a vague engagement point, it’s like stepping on cupcake, though without the risk of smearing frosting all over your shoe. Throw in an engine that’s slow to drop revs when you lift your foot off the accelerator and this Civic can be frustrating to drive smoothly. Even after several hundred miles behind the wheel I never fully mastered it.

Still, this new Civic Si is far better to drive quickly than the old one. The old one returned such bad track times against its competition that we thought it was broken. Although it felt decent to drive on the street, it was far too sloppy to be rewarding when pushed really hard on a track. The suspension was way too soft and the dynamics just weren’t there. This new Civic Si doesn’t really have these problems.

Small Can be Premium

Like mainline Civics, the Si is blessed with an upscale interior. Richly textured soft plastics, tasteful styling, and high-quality controls are all part of this package deal.

Locking you in place are sporty front bucket seats that are unique to this performance model. Striking a nice balance, they keep you upright in tight corners but aren’t so aggressive that they’d be a literal pain in the backside to live with every day.

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A seven-inch Display Audio system gives you access to vehicle settings and other important functions; it also enables Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are included at no extra cost.

The same is true of the Si’s 10-speaker, 450-Watt sound system. Heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and an electric parking brake are all standard as well.

The Verdict: 2017 Honda Civic Si Review

The 2017 Honda Civic Si brings a lot to the table. It’s incredibly fuel efficient, provides exemplary road manners and is dressed up with tastefully aggressive styling, but it’s also got more standard equipment than rival models and a lower price tag.

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Not only is this a great driver’s car, it’s also a strong value, starting at $24,775 including $875 for delivery, which gets you either a sedan or coupe. The sole option on this car is a $200 upcharge for summer tires. That’s it.

Despite its numerous talents, I’d probably rather have the more grownup-looking and oh-so-sophisticated GTI, but I’d take this Civic Si over a Ford Focus ST or Subaru WRX any day. If you like what you see with the reborn Si – and you totally should – it’s landing on dealer lots right now.

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