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There is no denying the overall excellence of the 2017 Honda Civic Si. There just isn’t. Adopting as it has the boldly styled forms of Honda’s 10th-generation Civic sedan and coupe, the new Si starts out with a darn good foundation. And none of the Si additions—a 205-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter engine, a short-throw shifter for the six-speed manual gearbox, a helical-gear limited-slip differential, 18-inch wheels, and a healthy list of interior and exterior upgrades that are fully detailed here—are going to muck things up.
Thing is, this is the eighth Civic offered in Si form, and those sold between the mid-1980s and the mid-2000s were remarkably charismatic. The previous two Si models, though, were relative duds, as there is only so much allure Honda could engineer into the lackluster Civics on which they were based. Now that the base Civic is back in our good graces, how much of the Si’s former sparkle has been restored? And how will the new Si coupes and sedans fit into an expanded Civic range that will soon include the rip-snortin’ Civic Type R in all of its 306-hp hatchback glory? These are some of the questions we couldn’t answer until we’d driven the Civic Si, preferably on a track, which we’ve now done.
Shift Less, Go Faster
Our first taste of the 2017 Civic Si came on the winding road course at the Honda Proving Center in the Mojave Desert, freshly repaved as part of a $25 million renovation of the 3840-acre facility. The course has it all: various types of corners—steeply banked to off-camber, increasing and decreasing radius, high and low speed—plus a few flat straights, some steep grades, and blind crests. The straighter sections aren’t long enough to attain much speed—the facility has a 7.5-mile high-speed oval for that, which remained off-limits to us—but the road course would give us a chance to experience the Si’s transitional fluidity and engine elasticity. So we hopped into a red Civic Si coupe along with one of Honda’s friendly professional driving coaches, who said, as we donned our balaclavas and helmets, that we would be able to drive the whole course in third or fourth gear.
Remembering how previous Si models required frequent shifting to stay in the powerband—especially once the VTEC valvetrain arrived in the ’92 Civic Si—the ability to thread corners together without two or three shifts is one significant way the new model differs.
While the turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-four makes 205 horsepower, exactly matching the peak output of its predecessor’s naturally aspirated 2.4-liter unit, maximum power now arrives at 5700 rpm, down from the previous 7000 rpm. The new engine is far torquier, too, with 192 lb-ft delivered from 2100 rpm to 5000 rpm, compared with the 2.4 liter’s 174 lb-ft at 4400 rpm. Honda claims a 7.0-second zero-to-60-mph time—certainly a conservative figure, especially with the new Si sedan tipping Honda’s scales at 96 pounds less than the last model. We got to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds in the Sport hatchback model with only 180 horsepower in our most recent track test of the 2017 Civic.
Regardless, the ’17 Si clearly is no dragster off the line, but the engine’s midrange response proved particularly delightful on the track. Catch the turbo snoozing, and the 1.5-liter engine feels every bit the weakling it would be if not for the miracle of turbocharging. One can increase throttle sensitivity by pressing the console button labeled Sport (which also reduces power-steering assistance and stiffens the standard adaptive dampers), but even in Sport mode, there are moments when you realize that, turbocharged though it may be, that’s a tiny little engine. Honda also endeavored to give it a sexy soundtrack with its so-called “sport sound dual silencer.” The engine sounds good but perhaps leans too much toward silencing and not enough toward sport.
As promised, we didn’t have to shift much. Not that we would have minded; with its short-throw shift lever and trio of perfectly placed aluminum pedals, the Si’s six-speed gearbox is an absolute joy to operate. Between the light and progressive clutch and the finesse with which the ball-capped lever snaps into each gate, Honda’s excellence in the field of performance-oriented manual transmissions is on clear display.
Also front and center is Honda’s competence in chassis development, particularly in the all-important aspect of steering. At 2.1 turns from lock to lock, the ’17 Si’s variable-ratio rack is far quicker than the last model’s 2.8-turn rack. More important, it feels wonderfully linear, with a natural buildup of effort off-center. Best of all, the dual-pinion, electrically assisted system serves up actual feedback—yes, feedback!—that gets even chattier in Sport mode. Bravo.
Some of that feedback can be attributed to the aforementioned adaptive dampers and the stiffening of other primary suspension components, from the mounting points to the anti-roll bars to the springs and bushings. It all adds up to excellent body control that in turn keeps the 235/40R-18 tires firmly on the ground. Enter a corner too hot and the Si’s eagerness to rotate eventually defers to understeer, but more than one of us found the Si’s grip—particularly front-end grip—to be absolutely spectacular for a front-drive car. Factor in its beefier brakes, its standard helical limited-slip differential, and its overall resistance to pitch, dive, and lean, and the Civic Si can really be driven hard yet remains eminently obedient. During the dozen or so laps we took in the cars, we felt the stability control engage only once.
How About Road Manners?
Even better, the high limits and satisfying feedback we experienced on the track were fully realizable out on public roads. Even on lumpy two-lane roads, the communicative steering and the high level of grip helped us hustle through corners. Highway miles allowed us to appreciate the generally comfortable ride quality in Normal mode, although even in the Sport setting, it’s far from harsh. Speaking of comfort, the Si’s sport seats, with their modified frames and more aggressive bolstering, proved surprisingly road-trip friendly; nary an ache or a numb spot emerged after six hours in the saddle.
So there’s plenty of excellence to appreciate in the new Si. But we’d be lying if we said it was love at first drive. However much Honda sought to make the car more visceral, the new Si remains slightly aloof. We will need more time with it to understand why this Civic Si didn’t light our fire right away; perhaps we’re just overeager for the Type R.