An 8,000 rpm redline and a manual transmission.
The number of fun, affordable cars with manual transmissions has been dwindling in recent years but Honda still sees a market for low-price enthusiast vehicles. A 2020 Honda Civic Si starts at just $25,200 and offers buyers 205 horsepower from a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, a slick six-speed manual transmission, and sporty styling.
This new Si is excellent value for a fun car with a new car warranty but if you're shopping on a lower budget, we suggest starting off with an older model. Our favorite Civic Si was the eighth-generation model, which was sold in the United States from 2006 to 2011 as a sedan or coupe. Prices are now to the point where this generation of the Si could be an excellent first car.
The Si variant of the Civic has always had a strong reputation for being one of the best-driving affordable cars on the market. It offers a high-revving VTEC engine mated to an excellent six-speed manual transmission, making it the perfect car for a teenager to hone their driving skills and learn how to drive a stick shift. The car is still new enough to offer multiple airbags, ABS, and other safety features to make parents feel comfortable and the prices are low enough that the occasional bump or scrape don't need to be taken too seriously. Teenagers will love the sporty styling of the Si coupe while a sedan version was also offered with greater practicality.
Prices for an eighth-generation Civic Si largely depend on the model year, mileage and condition. Most were treated as daily driver performance economy cars so some rough examples can have anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 miles on the odometer. These examples can be found starting around $5,000 or less. Even nice examples with under 100,000 miles can be purchased for less than $10,000. These cars are known to be very reliable, so we would be more mindful of the condition and service record versus the odometer reading.
This generation of the Civic Si was powered by a 2.0-liter K20Z3 i-VTEC engine producing 197 hp and 139 lb-ft of torque. The low torque figure meant the Si loved to be strung out to an ear-shredding 8,000 rpm redline. This car may be more than a decade old but it only produces 8 fewer hp than the current Si and still hits 60 mph in a respectable 6.7 seconds. Other upgrades to the Si model include a helical limited-slip differential, stiffer springs and sway bars, Brembo brakes, and a sport-tuned exhaust. Subsequent Si models after this one became heavier without adding much more power, meaning the eighth-generation is seen by many as the pinnacle.
Aside from some Si-specific sports seats and a nicer shift knob, the interior wasn't much different than a standard Civic. Features are pretty standard for a compact economy car of this era with cool touches including a two-tier instrument panel with a digital speedometer up top and an analog tachometer on the bottom. Most cars shipped with a basic radio head unit but a factory navigation system was also available. It wouldn't be too difficult to install an Android Auto/Apple CarPlay head unit, making the Civic's cabin feel more modern.
If you're shopping for a reliable first car under $10,000 but want something that can still be fun and exciting to drive, the eighth-generation Honda Civic Si needs to be high on your list. This generation of the Civic looked great, drove even better, and offered one of the best engine/transmission combinations of any affordable car. We highly recommend buying one before they become too old and beaten-up or low-mileage examples start selling for crazy money on auction sites.