2012 Honda Civic Si Sedan Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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When Honda designed the ninth generation of its phenomenally successful Civic lineup for the 2012 model year, it took a careful, incremental approach to change, with the result that to the untrained eye the new Civic is hard to distinguish from the outgoing model.

The good news in this is that if you liked the previous generation Civic (and judging from the impressive sales numbers, a lot of people did), you'll probably like the new Civic as well. The bad news is that with such subtle changes, the new car doesn't leave a whole lot to get excited about. Indeed, critics have been drubbing it for being too timid an update, for having less upscale materials inside, and for carrying Honda further along the road to middle-aged mildness.

If, however, this leads you to the conclusion that all Honda makes anymore are somewhat bland bread-and-butter cars with the emphasis on safety and reliability over driver engagement, Honda has a high-revving, nimble retort at the ready: The Civic Si.

While the rest of the Civic lineup shares a common 1.8-litre single-overhead cam 16-valve four cylinder that generates 140-horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 128 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm, the Si gets a high-compression 2.4-litre, DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine that runs on premium fuel and churns out 201-horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 170 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm.

While the rest of the Civic lineup gets a choice of either a 5-speed manual or optional 5-speed automatic transmission, the Si gets a slick-shifting short-throw 6-speed manual as its only transmission choice.

And while the rest of the Civic lineup gets 15- or 16-inch wheels with a comfort-oriented suspension and a standard-issue differential, the Si gets 17-inch alloys with P215/45R17 tires, a sport-tuned suspension and a limited slip differential. Completing the Si package are supportive sport seats, an aluminum shift knob, aluminum pedals, red instrument backlighting, a nice-sounding premium audio system with subwoofer, XM satellite radio, a rear spoiler, a chrome exhaust tip, fog lights, automatic headlamps and a navigation system.

In the flesh, the new Civic Si sedan is perhaps a touch more mature-looking than the previous generation car, with a softer, more upright front end and a nice character line along the upper rear flanks. This character line ties into angular taillights which wrap around the corners of the car, and which are set into a rear end that's more upswept than the previous generation's. Personally I quite like the overall effect, but it has lost a little of its edginess - especially at the front - which some buyers might lament.

To visually differentiate it from the run-of-the-mill Civic, the Si gets a collection of fairly subtle go-fast cues: There are Si badges front and rear, i-VTEC decals on the lower rear door edges, plus the previously mentioned trunk-lid spoiler, big wheels and exhaust tip.

Slip into the driver's seat and the new Honda feels as familiar inside as it did on the outside, although if you look past the now-traditional split level dashboard it's clear that Honda engineers have been working at cost control: The interior is built entirely from hard-touch materials including some surfaces (such as the door uppers) that were soft-touch in the previous generation car.

On the upside the new car's interior is a little roomier than the previous generation, the park brake lever has been moved aft so that it no longer digs into the knees of us longer-legged drivers and, as expected from Honda, the materials are all nicely textured and the build quality is excellent. The Si adds a little pizzazz to the interior with cloth door panel inserts and contrasting red stitching. My only serious complaint is a woeful Bluetooth system that kept disconnecting my phone, starting up my media player randomly, and generally being a nuisance more than a convenience - Honda really does need to sort out its Bluetooth interface.

At this point, true Si aficionados will quite rightfully be asking "Yes, but how does it drive?" After all, the Si was originally conceived as an enthusiast driver's car, and that remains its raison d'être. Happily, the new Si doesn't disappoint - it remains a markedly different car than the rest of the range, and good fun to drive.

The 2.4-litre engine burbles along and pulls strongly even at low revs, and then really comes to high-revving life past about 5,000 rpm when the VTEC kicks all the way in (you'll know when this happens because race car-style VTEC lights illuminate on the dashboard). From that point onward to the 7,000 rpm redline all kinds of smile-inducing hell breaks loose. Shift quickly enough (a joyful task thanks to the very precise-shifting gearbox) and you'll get to 100 km/h in just over seven seconds. Restrain yourself and you can expect fairly decent fuel economy figures of about 10.0 L/100km in the city and 6.4 L/100km on the highway.

In the corners the new Si is sharp-handling and lively feeling, without being the least bit punishing. At 1,323 kg (2,916 lbs) it's actually the heavyweight of the Civic lineup, but it still counts as comparatively svelte, and it feels lighter than it is.

With its combination of a sensible Honda Civic foundation and a mildly-wild engine and suspension, the Civic Si sedan is the kind of enthusiast's car that makes sense. You can chase lap times at your local autocross course on Saturday morning, carry four friends to the movies on Saturday night and, thanks to the split-folding rear seat, load up the snowboards and go shred the slopes on Sunday. All this and a starting price of $25,990 for a nicely-equipped car should help ensure that the new Civic Si remains as popular as the old Civic Si. After all, it's certainly got the looks for the job.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Honda, 2012, Civic Si Sedan, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

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