Here at The Garage, we’re fortunate to have a steady stream of new automobiles to review and share with you, our readers. I was particularly interested when I got word I would be loaned the new 2012 Honda Civic Si. Sure, The Garage had already reviewed the redesigned Civic EX sedan, but while that car is a commuter appliance, the Civic Si is not. On a personal level, I owned a 2007 Honda Civic Si four door for three years, with many enjoyable miles and memories. I wanted to see what Honda did with the new Si.
As we’ve seen, the ‘all-new’ Civic is a very conservative evolution of the last generation. In other words, the Civic underwent a very mild refresh, so if the Civic Si seems, well, familiar, it is. Foglights, front and rear spoilers, a chrome exhaust tip and beautiful 17″ alloys help distinguish the Si from plain vanilla Civics. Our test car, finished in Rallye Red certainly helped putting a sporty emphasis on the car, and I thought the honeycomb grill was a nice touch. While I appreciated the new, more rounded rear fascia on the four-door Civic, on the coupe with its steeply raked rear windshield, the same treatment gives the Civic coupe the appearance of having a pretty big rear end.
As with the exterior, the interior of the Civic Si was instantly familiar. The two-tier digital speedo/analog tach may not be for everyone, but it is easy to read at a glance, and certainly different from any other competitor. Controls are of course, simple and easy as pie to use. Red stitched sport seats, aluminum pedals and shifter and a meaty leather steering wheel confirm this isn’t your mom’s Civic. The sport seats were very comfortable, and offered exceptional support. While lesser Civics have all the charm of a corporate office cubicle, the Civic Si’s cabin is sporty and inviting.
The last generation Civic Si had a 200hp i-VTEC four putting out 200hp. Quick? Yes, but critics of the old Si called it a torque-less wonder. To address that criticism, Honda dropped in a new 2.4L four, making 201hp but producing more torque. The performance characteristics of the new engine do not seem all that different from the old one. The Si produces a nice burble at idle, is quite docile around town, but always seems happiest when brought straight to redline. This, as before, is an engine that is at its best at the absolute limit, will gladly do so all day, and sounds intense and glorious doing so. For the price of admission there are few cars that sound as intoxicating and exotic as a Honda Civic Si at the limit.
In that vein, the Civic Si retains its Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde persona. Happy to put put around town doing errands, and ready to scream through your favorite roads. Keep in mind, you are not getting all 201 horses until that tach hits 7,000 rpm. The Civic Si is utterly refined around town yet offers fantastic handling, steering and braking abilities without any compromise in ride comfort. Also as before, the Civic Si is only available with a six-speed manual, a decision that gives me enormous respect for Honda, and that will keep the posers away. But the auto journo cynic in me tells me Honda just is not interested in spending the money to develop a twin-clutch automated manual. And the five-speed automatic employed in other Civics would make no sense in the Si.
In typical Honda fashion, how you want your Civic Si is kept very simple. In addition to the standard equipment already mentioned, the Civic Si is equipped with a seven speaker premium audio system and Bluetooth. The only options, apart from dealer installed accessories are summer performance tires and a Navigation package, which is sadly the only way to get satellite radio. Our test car was a base Civic Si, with a sticker price of $22,975USD, including delivery. In all, the Civic Si does represent a decent value for the performance it provides.
Yet having lived with a 2007 Civic Si for three years, and spending a week with a 2012 Civic Si, I felt let down. From the seat of my pants, it was as if I was driving the same car. For a car company who earned a reputation for automotive engineering excellence beyond reproach, I look at the Civic Si and cannot believe this is the best Honda has to offer. With the S2000 long gone, the Civic Si also bears the mantle of being the hottest Honda available in North America, and that’s a lot to ask from a 201hp car. Honda had a chance to match or beat its chief competition, the VW GTI. Honda did neither. Sure, it costs a tad more, but for my money I’d switch to a Ramen noodle diet because the GTI is that much better.