2020 Honda Civic Si First Drive - Still a Bargain and a Blast

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

The biggest news concerning the mildly updated 2020 Honda Civic Si is either the changed final drive ratio, the addition of a volume knob, or the inclusion of Honda Sensing — the company’s safety suite of driving aids — as standard equipment.

Obviously, this means the car hasn’t changed a whole hell of a lot.

That’s a very good thing.

(Full disclosure: Honda flew me to Las Vegas, housed me, fed me, and gave me a day pass to the SEMA show. They also offered a hat, which I did not take.)

Power remains the same at 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque, drawn from the 1.5-liter turbocharged four-banger. The sole transmission on offer remains a six-speed manual. The styling remains mostly the same, with some tweaks to the bumpers and front grille and the addition of LED headlights and fog lamps. The wheel design is different, and the wheels are now black.

The experience is a bit different, but only a bit, and for the better. The change to the final drive – now 4.35 to 1, after being 4.105 to 1 – isn’t noticeable (perhaps if you drove a 2019 back-to-back with a 2020, it might be), but the production cars we drove felt more buttoned-down than the last Si I tested. To be fair, that last car was a press-fleet loaner that was possibly beat upon by careless journos.

In or out of Sport mode (I forgot to set it for the most challenging stretch of road), the steering was dead-on accurate and well-weighted. It’s almost too easy to carve through corners.

The clutch initially felt too light, but it became more user-friendly as the day went on. Shifting remains a delight, thanks to an easy-to-row shifter that never finds the wrong gate.

Corner-to-corner acceleration is quick, especially if you can keep the engine in the sweet spot, and the brakes are stout enough for a car of this ilk.

While the rev-happy engine runs a bit high-strung when puttering around town, highway ride isn’t sacrificed. Tire and road noise is on the louder side, even with the tunes turned up.

Civic Si is offered in coupe or sedan variants, and the slightly lighter coupe is a tad better dance partner on the backroads. Still, the sedan will be satisfactory for most.

Interior space is adequate up front for taller drivers, and I was able to enter and sit in the rear of a sedan with little drama, though egress was tricky. I didn’t dare try to stuff myself into the coupe’s rear seat.

Inside, changes are cosmetic and minor. You still get the boy-racer gauges, though at least the HVAC controls are easy to use. The overall look is still a bit tacky, but it’s one you can live with, given what the car can do on-road. Cheesy interior decor is a small price to pay to play.

Civic Si isn’t as chill in traffic as the competing Volkswagen Jetta GLI, but it’s cheaper and more obvious in its intent. If you want a sleeper car, the GLI may be worth the extra dough. Otherwise, the Si and its subtle-ish wing will stand out in traffic, instantly recognizable to Honda fanboys.

That said, it’s hard to argue against this Civic. Yes, it can be a bit tiring around town, thanks to its rev-happy engine and omnipresent tire/road noise, but turn it loose and it’s such an engaging vehicle, for such a low price, that it almost feels impossible for a car like this to exist.

Even the features it lacks – such as factory nav – are features one can live without or replace via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

Despite the bargain price, the car still offers features that most shoppers would want. Heated front seats, power moonroof, LaneWatch camera, Bluetooth, keyless entry, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, USB, premium audio, and the HondaSensing system (adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane-keeping assist, road-departure mitigation, lane-departure warning, and automatic high beams) are all part of the package. Summer tires are a $200 option.

Coupe or sedan, your price is $25K even, plus the $930 destination fee, unless you add another $200 for the summer rubber. The new final drive has a fuel economy penalty – numbers fall to 26 mpg city/36 mpg highway/30 mpg combined from 28/38/32 before.

A few journos expressed concern that the Si doesn’t offer enough of a gap between itself and the cheaper manual-transmission Civic Sport, and I can see why – the two trims line up well, feature-wise, and the Sport is a fair bit cheaper. Still, I suspect the dedicated sports-car buyer will be persuaded to spend the extra cash after a quick dash up and down a favorite road in the Si.

We’ve called the Si the best possible Civic, and a bargain that’s a blast. The car has changed little, so therefore our opinion remains the same. Well, not exactly – I’m even more enamored, fuel economy penalty be damned.

I still have strong feelings for the Jetta GLI, too, and that car is probably a better commuter. That said, the enhanced Civic Si remains a bargain, a blast, and arguably the best Civic possible.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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2 of 31 comments
  • MorrisGray MorrisGray on Jan 28, 2020

    Why does it have a slot opening in the passenger side grill cover next to the fog light but not on the driver side?

  • MorrisGray MorrisGray on Apr 17, 2020

    Should I try to buy one now at a good price or wait a little while longer?

  • Ronin Let's see the actuals first, then we can decide using science.What has been the effect of auto pollution levels since the 70s when pollution control devices were first introduced? Since the 80s when they were increased?How much has auto pollution specifically been reduced since the introduction of hybrid vehicles? Of e-vehicles?We should well be able to measure the benefits by now, by category of engine. We shouldn't have to continue to just guess the benefits. And if we can't specifically and in detail measure the benefits by now, it should make a rational person wonder if there really are any real world benefits.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Simply put, I like it.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Ah GM, never stop being you. GM is working hard to make FIAT look good.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Top Gear of the 2000's was a fresh concept and very well done. Sadly to say there isn't a TV show concept that doesn't eventually exhaust fresh ideas and, as a result, begins to rehash and wear out once were fresh ideas. The show eventually becomes a pale imitation of itself, then begins to embarrass itself, it will get to a point where it jumps the shark. Top Gear began to get stale, the Clarkson, Hammond and May left and the formula failed - surprise! the presenters were part of the magic. Fast forward many years and Grand Tower is trying hard to be Top Gear but it's all very obviously scripted (it always was by felt spontaneous in its original form), Clarkson, Hammond and May are much older, tired and have become caricatures of themselves. Guys, just stop. You should have stopped 10 years ago. Now you're just screwing with your reputations and legacies.
  • FreedMike Kudos to Toyota for making a legitimately slick looking piece (particularly in metallic cherry red). But PHEVs seem like a very narrow niche to me. Yes, the concept is cool - if you play your cards right you never have to fill up with gas, and the gas engine means you don't have to worry about charging facilities - but the operative words are "if you play your cards right." And PHEVs have all the drawbacks of EVs - spotty charging availability, decreased range in cold conditions, and higher price. Personally, I'd opt for a non plug-in Prius and use the plug-in money to upgrade the trim level. It's slower, but even the base Prius performs roughly on par with a Corolla or Civic, so it's not a dog anymore. But who buys a Prius to go fast in the first place? If I wanted to "go gas free," I'd just buy a BEV. YMMV, of course.