2017 Honda Civic Si First Drive Review - VTEC, No; All 'Bout That Turbo, Yo
2017 Honda Civic Si
After a four-hour journey that included a ferry ride across the Northumberland Strait from Prince Edward Island, we arrived at one of the largest import car meets in Atlantic Canada in Bedford, Nova Scotia. There, owners showed off rows upon rows of cars in varying states of modification and personalization, from tasteful to tasteless.
My car club friends and I walked though to say hello to other folks we’d only previously chatted with on our local import forum, all the while gawking at some of the wildest vehicles east of Quebec. Body kits, massive turbo setups, and convoluted engine swaps ruled the day. But I only remember one vehicle vividly, parked at the end of a row and free from the usual slack-jawed, drooling masses: a pristine, unmodified, 1999 or 2000 Honda Civic Si Coupe (actually an SiR in Canada) still wearing its factory Electron Blue Pearl paint.
To me, back in 2007, this was automotive perfection.
Fast forward some 10 years later. I had the chance to meet the 2017 Honda Civic Si, a quicker, more mature, and more usable younger sibling wearing a similar shade of blue — then proceeded to act like a 22-year-old again and drive the ever-living snot out of it.
Let’s get a few things out of the way first.
If you’re interested in the intricacies of the Civic’s interior dimensions, cargo capability, or infotainment system — beyond the Si not being available with navigation — feel free to read our many reviews of the more sedate Civic sedan. And since the Si isn’t available as a hatchback, you can read our Civic Hatchback first drive, our comparison with the Mazda 3, or wait until our Type R first drive review on Wednesday, June 14th. Everything from here on out will relate to the Si specifically.
As we do for all first drives, it’s time to disclose some things: Honda flew me to California in a commercial aircraft, put us up in a nice hotel in Los Angeles, plied us with a selection of meats, and flew us by private charter from LA to the Mojave Desert to fling its newest addition to the Civic lineup around the Honda Proving Center (which Honda would’ve sold during the recession if it weren’t for nobody being interested in it). There was a racing simulator at the hotel that’s worth about the same as a lightly optioned S-Class. It was good fun. My keepsake of the trip is a hat I’ll never wear again.
It’s easy to ignore the new Civic Si when looking at a spec sheet.
Peddling the coupe and sedan through the corners is the same non-VTEC 1.5-liter turbocharged engine seen elsewhere in the Civic lineup, as well as in the new CR-V and forthcoming Accord. But while the turbo mills in the “normal” Civics and CR-V only produce between 174 and 190 horsepower, the Si gets a turbo-boost bump to 20.3 psi to crank up output to 205 hp, which it transmits to the front wheels through a six-speed manual — the sole transmission. Need an automatic? Honda ain’t your bro, son.
Still, compared to the outgoing, naturally aspirated Si, the new model offers a net change on the horsepower ledger of naught, which makes you wonder if Honda’s taken the same road Subaru’s traveled with the WRX over the last 10 years. Why not just get a normal sedan or coupe and buy a tune from Hondata?
Thankfully, the new Si receives a generous heaping of torque thanks to its newfound ability to gobble copious cubes of atmosphere — up 18 lb-ft of torque to 192 over its previous generation. Now pair that bump in torque with a 120-pound lighter chassis, a wider track, longer wheelbase, and the Si’s first-ever adaptive damper system. It all starts to make a bit more sense — and maybe just enough to stop you from opting for a tuned turbo Civic.
Will it track? Sí
After a short chalk talk, we headed out to a cordoned-off corner of Honda Proving Center to put the Civic Si through its paces. Being we were in the heart of the Mojave Desert, temps were high and the air was dry. If the Civic were to choke out, it would be here.
The streamer-aping pavement put the Civic through a few different on-track scenarios: A long-sweeping left was followed by a tight-ends right, then a climb over a bridge was immediately proceeded by a heavy, downhill braking zone and a 90-degree left-hander. The rest of the track offered up variations on that theme, pitching the sport compact to-and-fro like a Bozo The Clown Bop Bag.
In 95 degree heat, the Si’s brakes were the same at the end of the day as they were at the beginning (though these cars wore optional Honda Performance Development stopping kit), its $200 option Goodyear Eagle F1 tires gave up just enough grip to let you know when you were pushing that little bit too hard, and its suspension was sharp enough to communicate the location of the pebbles on the road without compressing your vertebrae over the larger yumps and woops. And those active dampers? Not bad, but the system is simple compared those found on much more expensive competitors.
Yet the new Si feels a bit sedate in this setting. Gone is the raucous nature of the previous car’s screaming VTEC at redline. Removed is the Si’s hunger for candy-caned apexes. Even though Honda equips the Si with unique seats to keep driver and front passenger from being married to the center armrest or door panel, it was as happy rounding the track at 40 mph as it was at 70. Even when asked to push its limits with the drive mode set to Sport instead of Comfort, the Si simply responded OK instead of offering an enthusiastic YES!
For those who need to drive their toy home after that last time has been clocked at an autocross weekend, the Civic Si is perfectly fine, totally acceptable, and infinitely admirable in the same way a clean pair of jeans is acceptable in nearly every modern social situation. But sometimes you want to dive into the deep end of the swimming pool, and thankfully Honda has the Type R for that.
With this track-going demeanor in mind, the Si is not unlike the Volkswagen GTI — spirited, but easy to handle — and I haven’t heard anyone hold that against Wolfsburg’s famous hatch.
Will it road? Sí.
After our morning at the track, we took on Caltrans’ finest works of art around Mojave, where the Si again showed its similarities to Germany’s finest.
After wrestling with the Si in the heat, we sunk into its comfortable but supportive thrones for our highway and canyon drive. The road ahead ventured out into the mountains and back to Honda Proving Center, which meant this drive needed to be a pleasurable jaunt to justify its road to nowhere.
For the first leg, my compatriot and I set the cruise and enjoyed casual conversation as the Si plodded along in sixth. As we approached slower traffic, dropping the cog swapper to fourth and rolling into the throttle were all that were necessary to squirt past on California’s two-lane. Even bumpier bits didn’t unsettle our road-trip repartee.
In the canyons where we nipped and tucked our way around corners and tourist traffic, the Si was a bullet shot from a silenced gun, delivering on our kill commands without theater. I’m sure our fleet of testers drew no aural ire from locals, even though we were concentrating more on maximizing our velocity between the painted lines than we were cognizant of any posted limits.
But the absence of typical sport compact pomp and circumstance makes me wonder: what’s the point? Even with all the go-faster kit over and above the normal sedan and coupe, does the Si’s lack of auditory amplification make it less fun? Does it make it forgettable?
Then I remember: that sixth-gen Si back in 2007 made no noise and caused no ruckus as it sat in a parking lot amid the crowd of onlookers, yet it remains seared into my memory to this day. Maybe this is the perfect Si all over again, for that 22-year-old me of the future. But not today, Honda. Not today.
[Images: © 2017 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars]
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I'll take mine in black please.
I think you're underselling this car. I just drove a standard civic and it was a sweet blend of visceral and nuanced - a really engaging machine. Honda builds great chassis, and tunes suspensions beautifully; if they give you 2 choices here, I'm guessing they're both differently great. What more sophistication do you want?