by Jared Rosenholtz
Manual transmissions are a dying breed but Honda is keeping them alive with its Civic Si, a sporty compact sedan that does not offer an automatic of any kind. Some of the shine has been taken off the mid-level Civic now that the Type R is finally available in the United States but this doesn't mean the Si has lost any of its luster. Honda has continued to improve the tenth-generation Civic Si with new standard features, making this 2020 model even better value than before.
Few vehicles offer as much bang for your buck as the Civic Si. There are quicker compact alternatives like the Kia Forte GT and Volkswagen Jetta GLI, but at a starting price of just $25,000, few can come close to offering the value and thrills that this car does. Powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-pot, the Civic Si sedan sends 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels, and with a short-ratio six-speed manual as the only offering, Honda's commitment to the #SaveTheManual movement is a laudable choice by the Japanese giant.
Despite a nominal price increase of just $735, the Si has received a number of updates for the 2020 model year. A redesigned front bumper with a new grille is complemented by LED headlights and fogs, while the rear bumper has also been tweaked. Blacked-out 18-inch wheels are also new, and inside, a number of red accents have been added across the cluster and other focal points. The seats have also got more red to tie them in closer to the Type R and reaffirm the Si's sporty side. Also new is a bevy of driver aids that fall under the Honda Sensing umbrella. Finally, the final drive ratio has been shortened to improve acceleration. This has worsened fuel economy slightly, dropping figures by two mpg across the board.
1.5-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The Civic Si sedan gets new bumpers for 2020, the rear of which is updated very subtly. In addition, matte black 18-inch wheels are now standard, with more aggressive pinstriped 18s optional and larger 19-inch wheels available at an extra cost. LED headlights, fogs, and taillights add more modernity, while a body-colored fixed trunk spoiler is a nod to the car's performance aspirations. A standard sunroof is also included. Those who find the outgoing 2019 Type R too comical will appreciate the Si's restrained aggression.
The Si is a relatively lightweight car, particularly when compared to the all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX which weighs 3,294 lbs compared to the Civic Si's curb weight of 2,906 lbs. That said, the Si is a little heavier than a regular base Civic, which only weighs 2,762lbs. Despite its trunk, the Si is still compact in size, measuring 182.8 inches from bumper to bumper with a wheelbase of just 106.3 inches. Height is 55.5 inches, 0.2 inches lower than a regular Civic, while the width is a slim 70.8.
The Honda Civic Si sedan is offered in six exterior colors, all of which are available at no cost. Rallye Red looks the most aggressive and matches the red interior motif but Aegean Blue Metallic is very attractive as well. If you want your Si to be more stealthy, Honda also offers subdued shades like Crystal Black Pearl, Modern Steel Metallic, Lunar Silver Metallic, and Platinum White Pearl.
The Civic Si comes with just one powertrain configuration and it's a great one. A turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder sends 205 hp and 192 lb-ft to the front wheels via a six-speed manual. If you see an Si on the road, the owner is likely a keen driver, as no CVT is available with this model. The 2019 model managed the sprint from 0-60 mph in a spritely 6.6 seconds, but thanks to a shorter final drive, Honda says that the 2020 model should accelerate a little better overall on its way to a top speed of around 137 mph. This won't topple competitors with dual-clutch transmissions in a straight-line sprint but it feels quick enough. Although it lacks the blistering shove-you-into-your-seat power and acceleration of the Type R, this is a car intended to be fun to drive, and you won't find yourself wishing for more power when trying to overtake on the freeway so long as you are in the appropriate gear.
Honda's manual transmission is one of the most enjoyable on the marker thanks to a slick engagement, notchy shift points, and a featherlight clutch pedal. Rowing through the gears is a pleasure in the Si and heel-and-toe rev-matching can be done with ease. If we had one complaint with the drivetrain, it would be the well-documented rev hang issue. This occurs when you push in the clutch and it takes a moment for the revs to drop off. It doesn't kill the fun but it can make it more difficult to time shifts at low speeds. When flogging the Si near its 6,500 rpm redline, the rev hang was much less noticeable. Honda has even added a new shift timer that beeps just as you approach the redline, helping you nail the perfect upshift without having to look down at the tachometer. Luckily, this feature can be turned off if you find it annoying.
Honda didn't design the Civic Si as a track monster but around a curvy back road, it is one of the most fun vehicles available today. A limited-slip differential helps put the power down to the front wheels, though typical front-wheel-drive limitations such as torque steer and wheel chirp can be felt when you push the car hard. The suspension is tuned on the firm side but the Si still feels compliant as a daily driver. Adaptive dampers come standard but we didn't notice a massive difference in their firmness between Normal and Sport mode.
The Civic has grown to be a rather large car in the compact segment but the Si seems to shrink the harder you push it. A FWD car will never have the same handling capability as a RWD one but the Si's understeer is easy to manage and you can even induce some lift-off oversteer at the limit. The steering is light but accurate, helping the driver perfectly place the front end through the corners. Those adaptive dampers help manage body roll so the Si can get on with the business of putting a smile on your face.
Thanks to the re-tuned transmission that improves acceleration through a shorter final drive, the 2020 Civic Si is slightly less economical in all environments by two mpg compared to the 2019 model. Even so, that means a respectable 26/36/30 mpg on the EPA's city/highway/combined cycles and an average mixed-driving range of around 371.7 miles between 12.39-gallon fill-ups of gasoline. By comparison, the manual Volkswagen Jetta GLI, another relatively low-cost performance-enhanced sedan, manages 25/33/28 mpg, with the auto faring 1 mpg worse on the freeway. We flogged our Civic Si tester during a week of testing but we still managed a respectable 27.7 mpg in mostly city driving.
With five seats, the Civic Si sedan is a practical option for families, but if taller individuals are housed in the rear, it's best to keep that number down to four occupants in total. The sloping roofline compromises entry and exit for said lofty individuals and slightly impacts legroom, but not so much as to make drives unbearable or claustrophobic. Legroom measures 37.4 inches, putting the Civic near the midsize Toyota Camry with regards to rear-seat space.
The Civic Si sedan's trunk is a respectable 14.7 cubic feet in volume, enough for four to five full-size suitcases; but for those who decided against an SUV in lieu of this sedan, the seats do fold in a 60/40 split for more capacity when required.
In the cabin, small-item storage is well catered for, with numerous bins and large door pockets allowing for easy placement of pocket contents. The large center console houses two adjustable areas for cups and other items, keeping the area clutter-free so it doesn't disrupt your manual shifting. A pair of medium cupholders is fitted to both the fore and aft of the cabin too, so no complaints from the kids after a drive-through at the local Wendy's.
If you want to spend extra on options, your baller status is going to take a knock here. Honda knows what kind of practical person buys their cars and has looked after these individuals with an extensive list of standard features, including heated front seats, push-button start, heated mirrors, a sunroof, dual-zone climate control, hill-start assist, and a multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines. If you do want to spend a little extra, wireless charging is a $314 dealer-installed accessory. In terms of driver aids, Honda Sensing is standard, offering adaptive cruise control with a low-speed following function, automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and automatic high beams. Not everything works perfectly, though, as the automatic braking can be a little over-zealous and thus negatively impact your ability to make smooth stops. However, this can be turned off with the press of a button.
Honda is one of the few companies that listens to its customers and quickly finds a solution when a design or manufacturing issue is discovered. One of the past gripes with their infotainment system was the absence of a physical volume knob - but that has since been rectified, making it much easier to adjust volume without deviating one's gaze from the road ahead. Alternatively, you can let the speed-sensitive volume adjustment do its thing automatically. Sadly though, there still isn't a physical tuning knob. The factory-fitted seven-inch touchscreen display also manages an improved smartphone connectivity experience with updated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though the system still feels laggy compared to rivals. SiriusXM and HD Radio are standard along with Bluetooth, all of which broadcast music through an impressive ten-speaker sound system.
No recalls have yet been issued for the 2020 Honda Civic Si sedan, and the 2019 model was also trouble-free in this regard. 2018 models, however, did suffer three recalls, but with no recent issues, the Civic Si has matured beyond its early teething issues. J.D. Power has also scored the car with 82/100 points for quality and reliability. When the chickens come home to roost, Honda covers the Civic Si with a three-year/36,000-mile limited warranty and a five-year/50,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The Civic Si sedan scored an impressive five stars out of five in each of the NHTSA's side and rollover tests, and four for frontal evaluations. The car scored the best possible score of Good from the IIHS in their overall evaluation too. The forward-collision mitigation system on this car also got the best possible score of Superior from the IIHS. Standard safety equipment includes a multi-angle rearview camera, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, auto high beams, hill-start assist, and dual front- and side-impact airbags as well as curtain airbags. Instead of a blind-spot monitoring system, the Civic Si features a blind-spot camera, but this is less intuitive to use than a conventional system as images are projected onto the central infotainment screen.
The Civic Type R may be the Honda halo model garnering all of the headlines but the humble Civic Si should not be forgotten. At around two-thirds of the price of a Type R, the Civic Si offers a tremendous value for anyone shopping for a fun car that will also serve as a comfortable and practical daily driver. It may not draw the same attention as the Type R nor will it be as quick around a track, but the Si can still put a massive smile on your face. Coupled with its impressive fuel economy and a wide array of standard features, it's a near-perfect choice. We can't think of much that we'd change about the Civic Si. It's just brilliant.
The Civic Si sedan is affordably priced, starting at just $25,000 before its $930 destination charge and other fees. You can spec wireless charging and bigger wheels too, but the Civic Si is almost fully loaded from the factory. Add in the aforementioned options, summer tires, and some HFP badges and spoilers with the Honda Factory Performance package and it's still difficult to make the Civic Si exceed $30,000. Compare that to the base Subaru WRX's starting price before options of $27,495, and the plucky Honda makes an outstanding case for itself as a forerunner for a fun and practical family sedan.
Whichever of the six available colors you choose, none costs extra, but we're quite fond of Rallye Red, which matches the interior accents. With a nearly fully-loaded spec list as standard, the only issue one might have is with the fabric interior. If leather is a must for you and you don't care too much for performance, we'd suggest looking at the EX-L or Touring versions of the regular Civic. We'd take the Civic Si as-is and think about adding the high-performance tires for $200 if you live in a warm-weather area. Be warned though, they do add a bit of road noise. For a fun and easy-to-live-with sedan, the Civic Si is hard to beat.
While Honda fanboys wait with bated breath for the fastest lawnmower yet in the 2020 Civic Type R, the 2019 version has set the brand's performance bar high. Fitted with a 306 hp 2.0-liter turbo and numerous enhancements under the skin to make it handle like it's on rails, the current Type R has already cemented its name in history as one of the greats in hot hatch culture. Much like the Si, it too is fitted with a six-speed manual only and sends power to the front wheels alone. However, with a base price of $36,595, it's not the cheapest. Factor in the ridiculously over-the-top styling and wings sprouting from all corners and one can't help but think that if it were an alien spaceship, the occupants would not be coming in peace. While this makes it appeal to a select few, almost no one can argue that it's a phenomenal performance car. However, all of this comes with a glaring caveat - it's not the kind of car that flies under the radar, and for that reason, we'd rather have the Si. It's more approachable, more economical, and less expensive. For the average individual, the Civic Si does everything you need it to with just enough flamboyance to be special, and not a nuisance.
If you want a fun sedan, the Civic Si and WRX are both a blast to drive in their own way, but with undeniable rally heritage and an unmistakable exhaust note - plus permanent symmetrical all-wheel-drive - the Subaru has a distinct reputation for speed and accessible performance. With 268 hp and 258 lb-ft, the WRX is undoubtedly a much faster alternative. However, the trade-off is considerably worse fuel economy. It's also heavier which makes it a little less chuckable at low speeds. Its interior isn't going to win any awards for design or ever be mistaken for that of a Mercedes either, and with a 12 cubic-foot trunk, it's a bit less practical than the Honda. On the plus side, every drive in the Subaru feels like an occasion, and its outstanding all-wheel-drive system inspires confidence no matter the conditions. Yes, it costs more than the Civic and has its foibles, but as a practical and engaging drive that has real power and most importantly, character while still offering usable practicality, its capabilities edge many of those in the Civic Si.
Check out some informative Honda Civic Si Sedan video reviews below.