New performance package adds tightness
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ontario - It's a far cry from the original pocket rocket that has since spawned 9 generations, and over 1.6 million cars sold here in Canada alone.
Far bigger in both breadth and heft than its original predecessor, the 2012 Honda Civic has become almost Accord-ish in size and style. Although the latest generation of Civic was routinely dismissed by the automotive press for its conservative styling (whose simple lines remind of a cordless mouse), it still sold 6,000 units more than its closest competitor. With sales like that, who can blame them for not wanting to shake it up too much?
Of course, a large part of Civic's legacy is performance, and it's had a long-held place as one of the icons of the tuner crowd.
For those who want just a little bit more than what the Civic Si has to offer, Honda offers the Honda Factory Performance, or HFP edition. Only 400 units of the Civic Si HFP will be available in Canada, and of those, 260 have already been sold since it arrived in mid-May.
Honda probably foresaw that many of them will end up iridescent orange or acid lime green anyway, because the Civic Si HFP is available in only two colours, white or black.
Adding some visual interest and a touch of attitude are sculpted side skirts, and more aggressive chin and rear spoilers.
The car is lower by 15 mm than the regular Civic Si thanks to the HFP suspension package. Bespoke 18" wheels clad in low-profile Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber hint at the promise of performance.
Inside, other than the addition of some bordello-red floor mats, it's Civic as usual. The thinly-upholstered, racing-style seats are highly bolstered and quite firm – yet really comfortable and supportive. Contrasting red stitching on the leather-wrapped wheel and shifter boot match the floor mats.
Much as been said about the swath of cheap plastics in the Civic's interior, that's a dead horse I won't bother to flog.
Suffice it to say, if your primary concern is performance, you'll sacrifice a little in aesthetic comfort.
The cockpit is truly driver-centric, which becomes really obvious from the passenger seat. Centre console, gauge pod and helm are all curved to embrace the driver. The Star-Trek-ish two-tiered information display returns. My only real beef with is that it's virtually impossible to read the odometer in bright sunlight, regardless of the angle one's head is tilted – we eventually resorted to holding our route book above it to provide some contrasting shade. A minor point that became irritating on a drive route guided by odo readings.
Setting off, it doesn't take long to appreciate that the HFP is one tight car. Stiffer springs and high-performance dampers provide an ultra stiff ride that is at times noisy, but isn't at all punishing. Add to the tuned suspension a little negative wheel camber and the result is a car that turns sharply yet corners flat.
This we discovered while deep in the hilly wine country, not seeing our turns in the lush foliage until we were almost upon them and resulting in a quickly executed about-face.
There's a fair bit of droning from the low-profile Michelins, but their level of grip on-track makes them easy to forgive.
Underhood is the same 2.4L inline-4 found in the regular Civic Si, developing 201 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the previous 2.0L, it's a much smoother engine and without the same screaming buzziness when approaching the redline. It's still a high-revving, entertaining mill and the fatter mid-range and torque means there's a lot more power available for daily driving – without having to do as much shifting.
My partner complained of the light clutch feel, describing it as almost "slipping." I found it easy on take-up, sparing my leg a workout - the "slipping" probably the result of the drive-by-wire programming which smoothes out the throttle for better fuel consumption and reduced emissions.
The stubby little shifter is easy to use, with short throws. And of course, the HFP is available only with a six-speed manual. Steering feels a little light for a performance coupe, especially once we moved off the winding drive route and onto the slalom course. On the plus side, it's one hell of a lot of fun racing around cones in a car that's as nimble as a top-class barrel horse. The handling is rather neutral, and with its sharp turn-in, the HFP shines on a tight course.
According to Honda, the HFP features some $5,400 worth of upgrades. But at $28,690, it retails at only $2,700 more than the regular Civic Si's $26,990 MSRP. While some may consider the abundance of plastic offensive in a $30,000 car, those 400 buyers who take home the HFP won't be buying it for its interior anyway.
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