The bad boy is back! The car so closely associated – unjustly in our view - with the backwards cap-wearing, thrill-seeking crowd has just recently returned to Honda’s showrooms. Not content with serving up a mere evolution of the previous version, the Japanese automaker has drastically changed the Si-badged model for its seventh generation.
Not only has the sports car to deal with the indignity of no longer being top dog in the Civic lineup (that title now belongs to the new Honda Civic Type R), but it also harbours under its hood a turbo-charged engine – a fairly recent solution for the brand, which has long favoured naturally aspirated engines able to work at high RPMs.
One significant difference between it and the Type R, which is available only as a five-door, is that the 2017 Honda Civic Si is offered as either a sedan or a coupe. Each of them is assembled in Canada, more precisely at Honda’s plant in Alliston, Ontario. A brief spin in the new Si coupe allowed us to get a glimpse of the details and capabilities of this long-anticipated model – which by the way has grown in size once again, as has been previously reported.
In with the turbo
Honda is a company renowned for its expertise in the motoring experience, even if its association with the McLaren F1 team has born little fruit. Previous versions of the Si were always powered by a 4-cylinder engine that delivered all of its power at high RPMs. The celebrated VTEC system obliged drivers to work hard with the trusty lever of the manual box, but the satisfaction of hearing the engine climb through its levels made the effort well worth it.
Now the Honda Civic Si adds turbo-compression to the mix. Its 1.5L-cylinder direct-injection bloc, already used in the CR-V, the Civic and soon the next Accord, has been reworked to deliver more horses and more torque. The result is that the 205 hp is deployed 1,300 RPMs sooner than previously, while the maximum 192 lb-ft of torque also kicks in far earlier than in the older 2.4L engine. Good news for those who like to play with a gear shifter: the excellent 6-speed manual box is back. No automatic is even available with the new Civic Si, in fact.
The tenth generation of the Civic is larger than its predecessor, and the Si coupe actually gets mighty close in terms of size to the Honda Accord sold just a decade ago. I wouldn’t say that the new Si has been gentrified, far from it, but the refinements brought to it over the years has allowed Honda to develop for it a super-firm frame, which offers occupants cocoon-like protection from the outside world. This includes from noise: sound insulation is clearly a much-improved facet of the interior.
The 2017 Honda Civic Si also includes a Sport mode button, located not far from the gear stick. It renders the steering heavier, boosts the responsiveness of the mechanics and firms up the suspension for improved road grip. More proof of just how much electronics can change the character of a car! Honda engineers also installed larger disc brakes, firmer stabilizer bars, a limited-slip differential and enlarged tires (18 inches).
The Si vibe
While the bumpers of the coupe are very similar to those on its less sporty siblings, they do feature Si badging. In back, the small spoiler on the trunk provides an indication of the car’s capabilities, as does the centrally placed muffler.
Inside, the two front sport seats feature embroidered Si badging, while the red stitching covers the entire interior, from the seats to the doors to the leather-covered steering wheel. The stylish carbon-fibre finishing further enhances the spectacle, as do the aluminum sport brakes. There’s no doubt the 2017 Honda Civic Si stands out, but it doesn’t scream for attention – a detail that its more risk-taking owners may appreciate on our roads this summer.
In any case, what really matters is how the car behaves itself day in day out. In this respect the new Si version picks up where the old model left off. While the engine sound is different when starting it up, at normal speed and at high RPM, in spirit the car remains unchanged. There’s a definite delay before the turbo kicks in to speed things up, but it doesn’t overly impact the driving experience. As expected the manual gear lever is a joy to handle, as the clutch is calibrated for use by novice drivers. The steering wheel, meanwhile, gets heavier when the Sport mode is engaged – an interesting proposition for those who’ll want to try their luck on a track.
This first drive was carried out exclusively on public roads – because the Civic Si needs to show its competence there above all – and it revealed the overall greater maturity of the car. The larger tires and firmer chassis make themselves felt, allowing for higher speeds when cornering. The coupe also gives the impression it has improved acceleration – an impression due in large part to the turbo-compressor. As before, you have to climb into high RPMs to get the most out of this sports car, but the difference now is that the magic kicks in earlier.
I have to admit to feeling some nostalgia for the particular sound emitted by the VTEC mechanics when that system kicked in. The new engine is no slouch, but it doesn’t have that slightly raw edge when the pedal hits the metal.
Closing in on the GTI
Since the 1990s, the Honda Civic Si has often been compared with the Volkswagen Golf GTI (and its 4-door equivalent, the Jetta GLI). The two automakers have favoured different approaches over the years, the GTI having always been given the nod for its superior comfort level over the more visceral Civic Si. But our first drive in the Honda revealed to us that the new Si is closing in on its German rival in providing a solid level of daily-driving comfort.
As I expected, the 2017 Civic Si betters its predecessor in every measurable category. With a reworked chassis, modern and well-adapted mechanics, a quieter cabin and road behaviour that is both smooth and sporty (depending on the driving mode chosen), the Civic Si coupe was destined to be an improved car. At the same time, I might give it the same advice I gave to my kids: “Stop growing!”