By on September 12, 2017

2017 Honda Civic SI, Image: Jack Baruth

Long before he launched a reasonably successful solo career, and long before he took time out of his busy day to personally criticize my musicianship, Victor Wooten was already recognized for his unique and astoundingly proficient technique on the electric bass guitar. Some time around 1990, an interviewer asked him how much time he devoted to learning new instruments. Just for perspective, it should be noted that this was very much the era of Prince and a few other musicians who, like Stephen Stills and Walter Becker before them, would often record anything from a demo track to an entire album by playing all the instruments themselves, using hired hands to fill in the gaps on the road.

Wooten gave the interviewer his characteristic cocked-head pause before replying. “Instead of putting time into learning other instruments,” he noted, speaking slowly as if to a child, “I take that time… and I put it into learning my instrument.” There’s a lesson here, if anybody cares to learn it. Don’t waste your time doing things badly.

In the paragraphs that follow, I will attempt to convince you that the Civic Si is eminently superior to its more celebrated Type R sibling because it adheres strictly to Victor Wooten’s advice. The Type R attempts to supersize its platform’s basic capabilities to the point where it can do battle with everything from rally-reps to ponycars, but the Si pursues the much cheaper, much less ambitious path of being simply the best Civic possible.

Its success in doing so is beyond any contradiction.


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I found myself behind the wheel of an 862-mile black Si sedan courtesy of an old friend who had spent a long decade with a MkIV GTI before finally saving up the money to try something new.

“I thought about a new VW,” he confessed, “but I didn’t want to reward the company for some really crappy behavior on their part.” The color was a conscious choice, driven by the fact that he’d noticed significant paint chipping on the nose of his older brother’s white 2016 Accord Sport virtually from day one. All I could say in response is that the next car to be painted correctly in any Honda plant outside Japan will be the first one.

Also conscious: his choice of the sedan. At just a shade under six feet tall, he found the coupe to be short on headroom. Not that the four-door is much better; when seated comfortably I had about half an inch between my head and the trim surrounding the moonroof. At least there was plenty of shoulder space on both sides and a distinct sense of separation from one’s passenger. It’s odd to think of this car as a Civic, insofar as it feels bigger than any Accord built before the turn of the century.

This not-so-little car’s black-with-red-stitching interior scheme, however, is a direct tribute to the 141-inch, truly modest 1983 Civic 1500S that came in any color you wanted so long as it was either one of those two. The seats by themselves are worth the $3,000 price bump from the EX sedan, offering an admirable combination of support and space. The Type R likes to beat you over the head with how JDM (yes, I know it’s built in Swindon, calm down and kindly return to snuggling your waifu pillow) and race-inspired and hardcore it is, but this Si feels merely special and is all the better for it.

The three-spoke steering wheel is rather outrageously contoured and seems to want to enforce nine-and-three hand position, but if you keep your fingers loose and don’t wrap your thumbs it’s just fine with ten and two. Cruise control is operated from the right spoke and stereo controls are on the left. The gearshift is mounted as far forward on the center console as possible and can be flicked through its short throws with an afterthought’s worth of effort. The electronic parking brake is down and to the left, across from a “Sport” button and two slightly crooked button blanks.

20170907_135610

On startup, the LCD center screen flickers through a brief animation before welcoming you to the car. Selecting Sport and turning off stability control will each provide a brief display in the center of the speedometer that occupies most of the screen. The engine is barely audible, even in Sport mode. Indeed, this is a suspiciously quiet car on the move, offering a level of insulation about halfway between my Accord EX-L V6 and the newest Acura TLX.

Is it fast? Not really. No way you’ll hang in a drag race against an Ecoboost Mustang or a V6 Accord. Yet in comparison to those cars it feels remarkably light on its feet and inertia-free. The sensation is of a car without much weight or much power, just enough shove for the task at hand. As you’d expect from a modern light-pressure turbocharged four, there isn’t any real sense of a powerband, just that characterless twist from one side of the relatively short tach to the other.

Shame, really, because the gearbox is on par with the very best and it deserves better. There’s an additional problem in the form of “rev hang”. On light throttle, or none at all, the engine is reluctant to let go of its spinning inertia, which spoils fast shifts both up and down. This is a hoary and unpleasant characteristic of manual-transmission cars which have been optimized for emissions testing, and it’s the sort of thing that could probably be sorted by COBB or Hondata in a jiffy at minimal additional risk to the planet’s polar bears.

My 20-mile test loop offered me just a couple of chances to try the limits of the front tires, but I can report that the Si is a fault-free and remarkably communicative example of the traditional front-drive hot hatch/sedan/whatever. There’s a limited-slip differential but there’s no real trickery evident in the way it operates. Just toss the car into the turn and stomp the throttle when the front tires calm down a bit. You’d have to be an authentic idiot to spin the Civic Si but neither is it a dead-nosed pusher the way the fourth-generation Golf was. It would be a faithful and easily mastered companion for a recreational trackday, though I suspect the brakes are going to be a little soft in traditional Honda fashion.

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A couple of quick lane changes on the freeway confirmed my impressions of this not-so-little sedan as nimble but fundamentally benign. If you are a long-time Honda driver and enthusiast, you will recognize the dynamics from the Civic side of the family and not the Integra side. For an additional nine thousand dollars the company will be delighted to sell you the Type R, which has all the complexity and temperamental nature of the darkest Swiss chocolate compared to the Si’s Hershey bar.

The rest of the car is typical new-gen Civic. Most of the infotainment controls are capacitance-operated touchpads to the left of the screen, which is ridiculous. The driver temperature knob is right where you’d expect the volume knob to be, while the volume control is a slider that requires effort to find. It’s utterly ridiculous. The rear seat is flat, low, and long-bolstered, offering plenty of space that is clearly stolen from the trunk.

Only the wheels, a low-flying rear spoiler, and a few instances of fascia exuberance visually separate the Si from the EX sedan. The argument for buying the former over the latter is easily made: it’s faster, it looks nicer, it is more fun to drive, and if history is any guide it will retain most or all of its sticker price difference in the resale market well into its second decade of existence. The only reason to buy an EX, or a Sport hatch, over this Si would be if your dealer is facing a shortage of stock, a situation which will almost certainly occur as the word gets out on this car’s considerable merit.

The question then becomes: Why buy this over a Type R, which has received enthusiastic reviews both on and off the SCCA circuit? Simple, really. The Civic Type R is a brilliant and capable car but its real-world pricing puts it smack-dab against the V8 ponycars.

In the long run, you’d rather have a V8, and that goes double if you’re going to mod the car at all. Next to something like a Camaro SS 1LE the Type R might as well be a toy. This competitive positioning is an artifact of short supply and will change two or three years from now when Hendrick et al put them in the papers for $29,999. Right now, however, I don’t think it makes much sense to spend that much money on a front-wheel-drive hatchback that is stressed to the gills in track use where, by the way, it consumes fuel at twice the rate displayed by a 450-horsepower Corvette.

The Civic Si, by contrast, has virtually no effective competition at the price of $23,900 plus destination. It contains no hyper-valuable consumables and the engine will probably outlast Taylor Swift’s career. Fuel economy is, frankly, staggering — my test car averaged 38.7 mpg over its short lifetime of urban commuting and my test loop mileage was better than 36 mpg despite long periods of full-throttle operation. Expect it to wear like iron and retain value like a Krugerrand. The day you list it for sale, the resulting email flood will temporarily break the Internet.

The Type R is a Civic that is remarkably good at doing multiple things: autocross, open lapping, commuting. It’s kind of like Stephen Stills, who could do pretty much everything required for a pop album. The Civic Si, on the other hand, is almost perfect at being a Civic. It is the Victor Wooten of Civics, a stellar performer that doesn’t worry about Mustangs or Bimmers. It is recommended without hesitation.

[Images: © Jack Baruth]

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68 Comments on “2017 Honda Civic Si Review – Civic Maximus...”


  • avatar
    derekson

    The image of this cars styling juxtaposed to the clean interpretation of the 70s Civic in the following concept car post is quite jarring. Honda needs to fire whoever did the new Civic and promote the guy in charge of that concept.

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      That being said, it seems like a great car in spite of its questionable styling. Personally I don’t think a 1.5T I4 from Honda with a manual transmission would give me any reliability concerns to speak of; I’d be more worried about an Accord or Odyssey with the V6 and automatic.

      Manual transmissions and 4 cylinder engines have always been Honda’s core competency.

    • 0 avatar
      mrwiizrd

      Agreed. I’m dumbfounded by how awful these look. It looks almost like a small crossover that was given a haircut with those goofy bumpers.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      If you think about it, though, Civics have always had outre’ styling.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        I thought about it, and they really didn’t have it except for a brief period in the eighties through the early ’90’s before getting very conservative until 2006. 2012 brought Civics back to looking as conventional as Corollas. The new car doesn’t look that radical except in hatchback and Si forms, and then primarily because of bad detailing decisions.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I’d say the only truly “conventional” period for Civic was in the late ’90s – 2006. Even then, you had the oddball mid-2000s Si coupe, with the weird styling and the dash-mounted shifter.

          And the 2012 model carried over the ’06’s radically steep A-pillar area, which must hold the square-footage record for windshields. And it also had that “starship” two-level dashboard.

          Too bad the ’12 and its’ descendants sucked to drive, except for the Si model. Worst CVT application I’ve experienced aside from a Dodge Caliber.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            I suppose it depends on perspective. I was in Italy in the mid’70s, and the 1st Civic didn’t seem that fashion forward compared to the Renault 5 introduced in 1972, or the aging FIAT 128(1969) and 127(1971). It really just looked like a Japanese interpretation of what Europeans were already doing, which meant ‘surface excitement’ then much as it does on hatchback Civics today. Lots of Japanese cars had hood vents and extra trim, supposedly because Japanese traffic was too dense to ever see a car in its entirety. The 2nd Generation Civic was just a toned-down and bigger 1st generation from a design perspective.

            The 3rd generation was radical, and it was unprecedentedly so for Honda in the US. I think their JDM city cars may have predicted the one-box Civic, but we didn’t have access to them here.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I really like the looks of the 2016+ Civic.

      But, then again, I own one (EX + Honda Sensing) — so there’s that.

      The looks are just like the rest of the car. We bought a Civic because we sat down and rationally considered our needs, and we needed a a fiscally efficient Civic. The car is “just a Civic”, and priced accordingly. But every day, the car looks and drives just a little bit nicer than you expect. Honda somehow managed to riff on bland in just the right way that the car continues to be a pleasant surprise every time I drive it — or look at it.

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    You do The Dew? Last time I had a bottle of that stuff, I couldn’t sleep for two days!

  • avatar
    volvo

    Seems like quite the capable car. The switch from the 2.4L NA I4 to the 1.5L Turbo I4 gives same HP, slightly more torque and astounding increase in MPG.

    Personally I would wait a couple of years to see how these 1.5L turbos hold up and in my climate would not get a car with a black interior (the only Si option).

    Sadly I suspect this model might not be carried forward but dropped due to “low sales numbers”. That is what happened in 2016 with the last gen Si.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “It’s odd to think of this car as a Civic, insofar as it feels bigger than any Accord built before the turn of the century.”

    I know its my age showing but this latest Civic has me thinking about the 80s and 90s Accords that I would stumble across on the college campus I attended in the late 90s.

    Visually I keep seeing the 1986 to 1989 cars in the front end of the design.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    No volume knob, no sale.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    @Jack: do you know what your friend paid for this Si, by chance?

    My guess is that he paid sticker, or close to it. Around here, Honda stores are Not Dealing on this car.

    However, deals on GTIs – which will outperform the Si decisively – are definitely available. In my area, you can pick up a manual GTI S for $25,000, give or take. For that money, the GTI is the better buy (or, more accurately, the better lease).

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      GTIs are far cheaper than that around me. Local dealer has an automatic S listed at 21k on the website (though it may include some loyalty discounts or something, that’s probably balanced out by ability to negotiate).

      Of course this just underscores your point, and I agree.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      He paid under sticker — however there are no incentives on the car right now and precious little dealer margin in any event.

      No harm in getting the GTI for any situation where you’ll be under warranty the whole time.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Unless you place some sort of value on your time.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Time will tell, I am more than happy to report how things go with my GTI. So far, in 9 months and 5500 miles, the only time it has been back to the dealer is because the idiots managed to put the wrong license plate on it.

          I expect to keep this car for a very long time, not really anything out there I would want to have in it’s place at any price. This past weekend’s madness really solidified that.

          • 0 avatar
            tedward

            My wife’s has been good so far. 50000 miles on a 2016 commuting to southern Manhattan from northern Westchester and my hard driving in the mountains. They did have to adjust the sunroof set screws to defeat a cold weather squeek, but that was ten minutes and no cost.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      As I have said, I paid less than $24K for a GTI Sport in January, and could have had an S for $2K less than that.

      I have no doubt it will give me just as good service as the other five VWs I have had over the years. Not perfect, but entirely acceptable. And having just driven the thing 17hrs escaping Irma and 12hrs back yesterday, it was an EXCEEDINGLY amiable traveling companion. Comfortable, quiet, great seats, and 37mpg, which is very helpful when gas is hard to come by. Plus I can stand to look at it, unlike the current Civics.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        $24000 for a Sport…hmmm…did you get the owner loyalty bonus, per chance?

        In my neighborhood, VW dealers have a real bad habit of advertising a bottom line price and then not detailing all the discounts (like thousands of dollars in owner loyalty money) that everyone may or may not qualify for. They did it to me when I bought my Jetta last year.

        In fact, the only thing that gives me pause about doing business with VW again was the purchase process. I trashed the hell out of them on the survey…I believe the verbiage I used was “old school four square / high pressure / bait and switch BS.”

        Otherwise, the Jetta has been pretty much flawless (knocks on wood).

        • 0 avatar
          gearhead77

          I wanted a GTI, but it wasn’t the right car for now (someone mentioned fiscally responsible somewhere). However, I am taking delivery of a Night Blue Golf Wolfsburg with a manual. The DSG was fine, but I wanted some driver involvement. Plus, the various catalogs can make it a pseudo-GTI if I desire it.

          The local dealer would sell me the car for a great price, but not with 0% financing. Or they’d sell me the car at invoice but with 0% financing. I understand not getting the low price and the 0% financing, but it was a substantial change in price. But the ad states 0% and 1000 from VW.

          I was trying to work a deal with a dealer in DC who had a similar car for less and it was the same story. His prices were lower, but it was white with a black interior. I like the dark blue/beige VTex combination I’m getting, so it was worth the “premium”.

          I drove a bunch of stuff and I came back to VW. Time will tell.

  • avatar
    bking12762

    Victor Wooten of “Bela Fleck and the Flecktones”-if you have not listened, you are missing out…..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9XDUBDMNuk

  • avatar
    phila_DLJ

    Nice review. Just made the 66th and final payment on my ’09 EX. Don’t think I’m not tempted…but I’m trying to be good.

  • avatar
    Eggshen2013

    Good read Jack, and yes I would rather have a V-8.

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    With so much on the internet dissing the Civic Si — no VTEC, half measures, too subdued — it was refreshing to read good arguments supporting the Si. Indeed, Hershey chocolate is quite good, and I recall an old Consumer Reports article ranking Hershey ahead of the fancier brand Godiva. As a dark chocolate aficionado, the Civic Si isn’t for me. Nevertheless, a compelling review.

  • avatar
    brenschluss

    Hot take: Wooten < Foley

  • avatar
    Fred

    This review made me put on Stephen Stills “A Child Grew Up on Strings” for that I thank you.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    The biggest downside to this thing for me is the engine. No character, and short on displacement for a tunerboi. Out of the box this thing is making 18-20psi peak boost (!!!!)… what the hell is gonna be left for the flat brim vape demographic?

    As brilliant as I know this thing’s chassis is I’d probably take the fuel economy/reliability hit and get a GTI or Focus ST. With obnoxious enough wheels/tires, aggressive pads and stiff enough coilovers I’d have something fun. I think Honda missed an opportunity here by not putting in a less stressed 2.0L. Going to be interesting to see how these 1.5Ts do in the long term as they seem to have replaced the low stress 2.4

  • avatar
    WetcoastDrives

    As new Honda sedans go, how does the Civic Si compare to an Accord Sport with its 6spd NA 4-cylinder? The Civic has the new platform and the more efficient engine but the Accord has the grown up styling and a similar 0-60.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The Accord in four-cylinder form is a decidedly more staid experience regardless of the numbers.

      • 0 avatar
        WetcoastDrives

        So at around the same price you’d take the Civic handily over the Accord? Asking because I’m looking at a family daily driver right now.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          The current gen Civic is huge inside. It’d make a very decent small family car.

          If you can stomach the styling, check out the Sport model. It’s cheaper than the Si, and I guarantee you that they’re dealing on it.

          • 0 avatar
            Giltibo

            Ordered THE Civic for me: A Sport Touring Hatch with 6-speed manual transmission. Won’t miss the extra few HP… Much more luxurious. (And before you tell me there’s no such thing as a manual ST, I live in Canada, where it is available)

          • 0 avatar
            IHateCars

            Funny enough, I spotted a new Civic Sport this morning in an unusual but attractive metallic Khaki kinda colour….it was a good looking car! I think the new Civics look better in the flesh than in pics.

          • 0 avatar
            tankinbeans

            Also, delete the chrome mustache in favour of the black Groucho-stache. It does a lot to make the front clip palletable. My friend has a standard Civic hatch with the black grille and it doesn’t look too bad. I’ve never driven it, but seems to suit him. He tries to pretend it’s a performance car though; I laugh.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick 2012

        As a former 2014 Accord Sport 6MT owner for 40k miles, I wouldn’t call the Sport-only dual-exhaust version sedate. C&D found the car puts down 185 hp to the wheels, meaning its real HP is probably north of 200 (I spoke with Don Sherman at a Lemons race at length about their Long Term Accord Sport 6MT and they had no off-the-record complaints, either).

        It loves to rev, and the 6MT is excellent. The K24 is plenty torquey around town and will easily start in 2nd gear if needed. Expect to ruin brake rotors – at least on the pre-refresh versions – in normal driving.

        The problem is the 2013-2017 is end of life. I’ve seen a truck with un-camouflaged 2018 Accords rolling up highway 30 from Marysville. I bet it will be better in many ways and you can get the MT with both the 1.5T and the 2.oT. I may trade in my current Charger if the 2.0T 6MT Accord is all that and a bag of chips.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          Oh, I just said “staid”, not “sedate”. It’s a bigger, heavier car with an even higher proportion of weight on the front wheels. I think the Accord Sports are brilliant vehicles but I’d probably rather have a Civic Si for daily use.

          • 0 avatar
            Nedmundo

            Same here. I live in the city, and want something smaller than my 2G TSX, which rules out the Accord. I think I’d prefer the new Si too, and I had a lengthy test drive a few weeks ago.

            It does indeed have spectacular chassis dynamics for FWD. I also loved the seats, and the surprisingly quiet ride on the highway. I’m not completely sold on the engine, but on the highway and in third gear on back roads it felt great. It felt weak in lower gears at low speeds, but that’s nothing new for Honda. After eight trouble-free years in my Acura, I’m definitely inclined to stick with Honda next time around, and it could very well be a Civic Si.

            By the way, though I’ve been playing music for years, I’m not much of a jammer either, for largely the same reasons you stated, so to some extent I can understand your experience at the Victor Wooten event. Great story. Rock on!

  • avatar
    stuki

    Sounds like the perfect underpinnings for a convertibelized Coupe…

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    “the engine will probably outlast Taylor Swift’s career”

    Dream on. That woman is one sharp operator, and unless she gets tired of the business she’ll be recording and performing for decades, right up to when she starts recording Gershwin, Porter and the rest of the American Songbook like every other worn-out pop star.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    “but if you keep your fingers loose and don’t wrap your thumbs it’s just fine with ten and two.”

    My dad was from the generation where vehicles were “armstrong” steering. He always taught me not to “wrap” my thumbs especially “off-highway”. I still do that to this day.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    This seems to me like the single car on the market right now that captures most what the Japanese used to do best. It’s honestly practical, inexpensive to buy and own, and likely to be reliable, but that excellent 6-speed and the firmed-up suspension mean it won’t be boring to drive. It’s like a modern take on a 4DSC Maxima or a 5-speed 626 ES. If I were in a different phase of my life I might well buy one.

    The comparison with the GTI is interesting too. I agree with Jack; the GTI is for the short-term owner and this is for someone who’ll keep it past the end of a 6-year loan term.

  • avatar
    taigashen

    I have been driving my 2017 SI for a few weeks now, and coming from a 2014 SI it’s such a huge improvement. It handles much better, is way better on gas, and there’s more room for stuff now. I also haven’t seen anyone mention that you can hear the turbo spool when you put your foot down and also a little bit of wastegate when you lift off. The car has much better road manners also, on the highway there’s much less road noise and the sound deadening is improved.

  • avatar
    garuda

    Confirmation bias FTW! I’m waiting for a hatch Si. I’ve already parted with my simple wish of a non-black interior but a hatch is not negotiable. Also, if they could use less fake diffusers.

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      Well I’m waiting for a new SH-AWD ILX but I’m not holding my breath. Cash today if it’s manual and a hatch. Yea I’m a dreamer.

      • 0 avatar
        IHateCars

        As…um.. “ungainly” as the 4G generation TL was (this coming from a 3G TL Type S owner, which I loved), the SH-AWD 6MT drivetrain was magic. Put that in an ILX type package and Acura would have a winner, I think.

      • 0 avatar

        They need to do an AWD ILX. Differentiate the product from the Civic platform mate, and give people a real reason to spend the premium on it.

        Pitch it right up against the A3, but better value.

        • 0 avatar
          Nedmundo

          I totally agree, and I actually think it might happen. We could and IMO should get a FWD ILX with the Si’s 1.5T and an 8DCT, and an AWD version, hopefully with the Accord’s 2.0T.

          Unfortunately, it seems Acura has abandoned manual transmissions, but maybe they’ll give us one for the ILX. I spoke to an Acura rep at an auto show, who said manual transmissions are one of the most common customer requests, so who knows? Honda offering Sensing with manuals in the Fit and Accord is a VERY encouraging sign.

  • avatar
    tallguy130

    I would really like to see a comparison of this to the Elantra Sport. Think I can gues the winner but it would still be interesting.

    Jack – any way we can make that happen? I got one in the Columbus area I’m willing to volunteer.

  • avatar
    Meat

    This has been talked about here before and is an interesting comparison. I’d love to read if the $4300 street price difference in favor of the Hyundai (at least here in the Cincy market) makes it a better buy for someone who only does 1 or 2 SCCA autocrosses each year versus a regional championship hopeful.

  • avatar
    vanpressburg

    It seems like a great car, but it costs as much as Subaru WRX.
    WRX is much faster car.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I love most things about the Civic except the styling. I did consider it briefly, but I can’t get past the styling with all that black plastic everywhere. It looks better in darker colors, especially black, since that black plastic blends in more. But I’ve owned one black car and I won’t do it again for a DD. Not in winter here.

  • avatar
    scott25

    Drove an Si (a 2015) for the first time ever today and fell in love. One of my favourite cars I’ve ever driven I think. If the steering and transmission are as good in the new one as the old, I’ll be strongly considering an Si Coupe as my next car. It’s just the styling and the Civic-owner stereotype (aka 18 year old dude bro or Asian woman) that are the sticking points. And the fact my girlfriend absolutely hates Civics irrationally and for no particular reason.


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