2015 Honda Civic Si Sedan Review - The FWD FR-S [Video]
2015 Honda Civic Si Sedan
BMW has M, Audi has a whole alphabet and Honda has Si. In truth, just the Civic has Si. Honda’s “Sport injection” trim started back in the 1980s but never expanded beyond its compact offerings in the U.S. Honda’s performance trim also never expanded beyond sharpened responses, a modest dollop of power and some looks-fast trim additions. The first Honda Si model came to our shores in 1985, but the first wasn’t a Civic — it was a Prelude. The Civic Si joined us a year later in 1986. But I digress.
Cars like the Civic Si are popular with journalists like me. The reason is simple, quite like the Civic itself. Unlike some performance packages, the Si treatment still favors sharpened responses and improved feel over simply jamming an over-boosted turbo engine under the hood. While the later is obviously a hoot and a half, the former is ultimately more pleasing to my peculiar tastes.
Even though this generation was designed to be the Civic for grownups, the Si is still a “boy racer” at heart. Our red tester wore some large and bright Si badges, bumper tweaks and an enlarged exhaust tip. The factory spoiler on the trunk lets more plebeian shoppers know that the VTEC gods smiled upon your sled. And if that wasn’t obvious enough Honda slaps some i-VTEC DOHC stickers on the rear doors (which you’ll no doubt want to replace with larger graphics, because VTEC yo!).
Although the recently announced 2016 model looks more mature and better put together, there is something friendly and familiar about the awkward smile the 2015 model wears on its front bumper. Also worthy of note is what you don’t find in the 2016 press release: there’s no mention of an Si model. No, this isn’t the end of Si, but you can expect there to be a lag between the launch of the ordinary models and the reimagining of the Sport injection model and the possible U.S. availability of an insane 310 horsepower R model. [At the launch for 2016 Civic, we were told sedan, coupe, five door, Type-R and Si would roll out over a span of 18 months. –Mark]
Much hay was made about the Civic’s interior when it launched in 2012. Pundits cried foul over the vast expanses of hard plastic. I on the other hand wasn’t bothered by the plastic. Sure, it wasn’t great to caress, but it was easy to clean and textured attractively. What I did have a problem with was a lack of color-matched bits and ill-fitting panels. The 2012 model we tested was a jumble. The four main dash components sported four different variations of the same target color. Thankfully, Honda cranked the thumbscrews on the parts suppliers and by 2013 things were greatly improved. In addition to the color change, Honda had an eye on touch points, swapping out the hard doors and dash “faces” for squishy injection-molded units with fake stitching.
Honda continues to put fairly exaggerated lumbar support in the front seat backs, something you don’t find in many of the competition. The extra support was perfect for my back, but since it isn’t adjustable, you should get plenty of seat time before you buy to be sure you can live with the shape. For my average six-foot frame, the seating and driving position proved ideal.
As with most cars that have families in mind, the Civic’s rear seats are close to the floor and the door openings are wide and tall making ingress/egress easy with or without a child seat in tow. Honda has a reputation for function over form, and that pays dividends in the rear with a high roofline that allows a more upright seating position that is more similar to the average hatch than the average sedan. The trunk’s 12.5 cubic feet is in line with the Focus and Jetta but the hatches are more practical.
All Si models get a standard 7-inch touchscreen LCD bundled with a 7-speaker, 360-watt audio system. The “HondaLink Next Generation” system is actually a step behind what we see in the 2016 Pilot or, of course, the 2016 Civic. This generation HondaLink lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but it does offer Honda’s first generation iPhone-based navigation if you don’t get the factory option. Unlike CarPlay, the navigation is based around a downloadable app, not Apple maps, requires an HDMI cable connection, and you can’t use any other app while you’re navigating. All models get Honda’s LaneWatch camera which saves you from looking over your right shoulder, a feature with dubious value in a car with visibility as good as the Civic. Honda bundles the factory navigation software with SiriusXM Satellite radio, HD Radio and the Honda voice command system.
While turbos are all the rage in the competition, Honda suck with a naturally aspirated four banger for the Si. While the new Civic’s turbo mill likely signals the end of the road for classic Honda power delivery, we’re here to talk about the Si you can buy now. Compared to the GLI or Focus ST, the Civic goes about performance differently. The 2.4-liter engine screams like a banshee on its way to its 7,000 rpm power peak of 205 ponies and 7,200 rpm redline. Torque is low at 174 lbs-ft compared to the turbo alternatives and it doesn’t come to a boil until 4,400 rpm. Also, Si is only available with a 6-speed manual transmission.
Although the manual-only policy is an obvious impediment to sales success, the manual and the lack of a turbo define the Civic. With the ST or GLI, you romp on the go-pedal (in any gear), wait for the turbos to start hissing like a den of vipers, and off you go. The Civic is different. The naturally aspirated engine needs to rev to the stratosphere to accomplish the same task and you’ll end up shifting twice as often in spirited driving to keep the engine in its power band. Fortunately, the 2.4-liter mill is ready, willing and perhaps even eager to spend your entire winding mountain drive above 4,500 rpm.
The Si’s engine also separates the Civic from its Acura cousin. For 2016 the ILX received a version of Honda’s newer direct-injected 2.4-liter engine which delivers similar numbers at lower revs. In addition, the Acura receives Honda’s slick 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. The difference is instantly noticeable on the road where the ILX is a surprising 1/2 second faster than my best run in the Si. While I have no doubt a professional driver could shave a sliver off my time, the ILX will always be faster.
Of course, all the real competition is faster as well. Our tester required 6.6 seconds to go from zero to 60, which is faster than the average compact but slower than most sporty entries. The Focus ST torque steers its way to 60 in a comparatively blistering 5.9 seconds while the less powerful GLI will book it to highway speeds in 6.5 seconds, despite both being nearly 200 pounds heavier than the Honda. Expanding the comparison pool to the Mazda3, Hyundai Veloster Turbo and Forte Koup Turbo finds options that are slower to 60, but they aren’t dedicated performance models like the Si.
Fear not VTEC fans: Judging the Si by acceleration numbers would be missing the point. Also missing the point in a way would be judging the Si by skidpad numbers. Much like Scion’s FR-S and Subaru’s BRZ, the the Si is about feel and precision, not absolute grip or face-warping acceleration. The 6-speed manual is buttery smooth with just the right amount of notchiness. The clutch engagement is linear and predictable and the car and its transmission seem in perfect harmony. Manual transmission feel is something that’s hard to get right, even in our modern era where the manual is supposed to be the “enthusiast’s choice.” A good example is the Jaguar F-Type we recently tested. I never felt comfortable with that manual, the clutch engagement was awkward, the shifter’s throws were short but the “feel” just wasn’t there. The Civic’s 6-speed on the other hand gets top marks.
While the FR-S and BRZ twins are the perfect car to learn about rear-wheel drive dynamics at reasonable speeds, the Si strikes me as the front-wheel drive version of the same thing. The precise steering and well-tuned suspension communicate what the front tires are doing, even though power steering has stolen most of the feedback. The light 3,002 pound curb weight meant that Honda didn’t have to put rock-hard springs on the Si in order to get the kind of handling performance it was looking to find. This means the Si’s ride is far from punishing and completely suitable for daily driver duty in my book. While you can get optional summer tires on the Si, I actually think that misses the point. Like the FR-S and BRZ, which don’t exactly need sticky rubber. The most entertaining thing about the Si in my mind is the fact that you can break the front tires loose and explore the finer points of FWD dynamics at lower speeds. Something like a Mercedes CLA 250 handles better than the Si but the Mercedes is much less communicative, and I dare to say less engaging.
The main thing the Civic has going for it is the price tag. Starting at $23,090 (plus destination) and ending at $24,590, this Honda has the shortest price walk in recent memory. There are two mutually exclusive factory options: summer tires and navigation. Take my advice, however, get the navigation and add the summer tires later if you want them.
This places the Civic a few thousand less than the GLI, but only a few hundred behind the more powerful Focus ST when you adjust for standard feature content. While I know a few people that dismiss the ST purely because they dislike hatches, the ST is just a better performance vehicle. It’s also a special kind of hooligan. The transmission and clutch feel isn’t as perfect as the Si, the seats aren’t as comfortable (I found the Recaro seats downright torture) and, long term, the Si is likely going to be less expensive to own and operate. However, the Ford is more fun and since Ford believes in an extensive options list, you can get more goodies in your ST as well.
Of course, the biggest problem for this generation Si in my mind isn’t the hatchback Ford or the GLI — it’s actually the closely related ILX. The reason isn’t just that I prefer the luxury gadgets and gizmos that the ILX offers, but that the ILX demonstrates how modern technology trumps “VTEC yo” and a manual transmission. While that makes me die a little inside, I can’t argue with the numbers. The ILX adds leather, power seats, a pre-collision warning system (which is handy when you’re driving like an asshat) a significantly upgraded interior and adjustable lumbar support — but only adds 90 pounds to the curb weight. The modern direct injection engine and 8-speed dual clutch transmission belts out lightning fast shifts and enables the Acura to be both faster to 60 and 10-percent more fuel efficient. The modern 2-mode damper system allows the Acura, even in A-Sped trim, to yield essentially identical handling numbers, yet a more supple ride. While the ILX will cost you more than the Civic, it’s not appreciably more than a comparable GLI or ST. If you’re looking for the more civilized option, the ILX is it. Otherwise get the ST.
In the end the Si suffers from the same “problem” as the FR-S and BRZ. The driving experience is precision itself (for a front driver), but the reality is that most of us seem to prefer the “brute force” method of MOARR POWARR. Although I hang my head while I say this, that even includes me.
Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.
Specifications as tested
1/4 Mile: 15.1 @ 93 MPH
More by Alex L. Dykes
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