Honda Civic Si — High-revving entertainment

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Most vehicles reaching the fifth year of their life cycle are in need of replacement. Even with continual upgrades they are outpaced by newer and more up-to-date competing models and appear a bit long in the tooth. That’s why most vehicles these days are mostly on a five-year cycle, replaced by an all-new model in the sixth year.

The current Honda Civic is an exception to that rule.

Now in its fifth year with only minor changes and updates, the current Civic — introduced for the 2006 model year —  still leads the crowded and competitive compact segment with a solid, cutting-edge sedan, sedan hybrid, and coupe. Styling still looks fresh, gas mileage is still near best in class, and the daily driving experience may have been equaled by others, but not surpassed. And the Civic maintains one of the best resale values in the business.

This was vividly brought back home during a week-long test drive of the performance-oriented 2010 Civic Si coupe. The Civic is the personification of how to build a competent and stylish but inexpensive compact car that gets better gas mileage than some hybrid models without the additional expense.

The Civic has grown and matured through more than three decades and eight iterations since its rather modest beginnings. To make it even more attractive to domestic buyers, most Civics have been built in the United States or Canada since 1984. That means thousands of American workers are making their house payment and putting food on the table thanks to Honda.

There are now several sedan and coupe choices that will satisfy those of all ages and income levels. In addition to the basic gas engine model, the Civic can be purchased in a natural gas format, as a hybrid and in the Si high-performance guise.

The Si was sold only as a coupe in 2006; Honda added a Si sedan for 2007 giving the Civic family hauler a big shot of driving fun with 197 horsepower mated to a six-speed manual transmission.

Forget basic transportation. The Civic has evolved far beyond basic transportation, far from the days when it could be purchased as a stripper. Even the base DX model today comes with a full array of desirable equipment such as air conditioning, power windows and locks, stereo with CD player, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, six airbags including side curtain, active front-seat head restraints and antilock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution.

The coupe has a swoopy design that looks totally modern yet not too far out to turn off potential buyers. A steeply raked windshield gives the coupe an aerodynamic look while keeping Honda’s best-in-class visibility intact. It continues to wear well even as a parade of new competing models feature more advanced and exotic designs.

The coupe is agile with predictable handling. It’s easy to drive and park. And it offers a very comfortable, compliant ride over all road conditions.

While the standard Civic is powered by a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder making 140 horsepower mated to either a 5-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic transmission, the Si as noted gets a 2.0-liter four making 197 high-rpm horsepower.

Like all Honda performance engines, low-end torque is on the short side. These engines are designed to be operated at high rpm and have to be run through the slick-shifting gears to get the most of the performance, peaking at 8,000 rpm. If shifted correctly, the Si will complete a 0-to-60 run in around 7 seconds.

The engine provides a stunning race-car soundtrack that is intoxicating for the driver who loves the sound of precision in an engine. Quick, responsive steering and a well-tuned suspension will provide scads of entertainment on the back road twists and turns.
The entertainment is accompanied by smile-inducing gas mileage of 21 in the city and 29 mpg highway. By comparison, the Mazda Speed3 is rated at 18/25.
The standard Si coupe goes out the door for $22,765 including destination charge, a very enticing price. That’s how our test car was equipped. But, we were dismayed to learn that satellite radio — seemingly a must these days — has to be purchased bundled with navigation in the Si bumping the price to $24,765.

For those who desire more conservative transportation, the standard engine is no slouch providing decent acceleration while returning outstanding numbers of 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway with the automatic transmission. For comparison, the Toyota Corolla is rated at 26/35, the Mazda3 at 25/33 and the Ford Focus at 24/34.

In addition to the Si, the Civic comes in several trims including DX, LX, EX and EX-L starting at $16,165. The EX-L sedan with navigation tops the regular lineup with a base of $24,515. There are also hybrid sedan and natural gas models.

The Civic interior is impeccably designed with excellent fit and finish and features high-grade materials throughout. The highlight of the dashboard layout is a two-tiered instrument cluster with a large digital speedometer and gas and temperature gauges in an arc atop the dash much like a head-up display. It is a wonderful convenience for the driver who never has to take his/her eyes off the road to read the speed-o. Other gauges such as the tachometer are located in the normal position in front of the steering wheel.

The only downside we can think of is that some might prefer a traditional speedometer. It’s not offered on any model.

The stereo and climate controls are knobs that rotate with an upscale feel. A tuning knob is included on the radio. Tuning knobs have become rare, but not extinct, on radios in favor of switches and buttons, and we rave when a new model still includes a tuning knob. Nothing has been designed that is better for quickly finding stations.

As you might expect from a coupe measuring only 175 inches long, the rear accommodations are a bit tight. But two adults can ride in back in relative comfort providing the front passengers can keep their seats at least halfway up on the track. The only complaint voiced by our rear-seat passenger after a 120-mile trip was the firmness of the seat.
We very much like the current Civic when it first arrived as a 2006 model and we like it just as much today. And we especially like the high-revving, entertaining Si model.

Base price: $22,765; as driven, $22,765
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 197 @ 7,800 rpm
Torque: 139 foot-pounds @ 6,100 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 104.3
Length: 175.
Curb weight: 2,895 pounds
Turning circle: 35.6 feet
Luggage capacity: 11.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons  (premium)
EPA rating: 29 mpg highway, 21mpg city
0-60: 6.9 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Mazda Speed3, Subaru Impreza 2.5 GT, Hyundai Genesis V-6 Coupe

The Good:
• Entertaining driving experience
• Excellent gas mileage
• Well-styled, spacious interior

The Bad:
• Satellite radio unavailable except bundled with navigation

The Ugly:
• Interior noise level high