The VTEC may be gone, but the Civic Si has returned to form.
The affordable and comfortable formula is not that difficult for automakers to master. They've been doing this extraordinarily well for decades. But what has proven to be more difficult is adding fun to that equation. It's not easy to successfully combine all three factors into a single package, and those who succeeded did so wonderfully. For those who haven't it takes little to no time to spot the bullshit. To start this week's series off right, we went straight to an automaker that's literally written the book on affordable and comfortable fun, Honda.
Its best example of this today is the 2018 Honda Civic Si. In short, it's damn near perfect, considering its price point, packaging and fun to drive factor. Before we go any further, we'll just come out and say it to please Honda fans: Yes, we too miss the VTEC engine. It's a shame it's gone, but that's that. Moving on. The wildly popular Civic, now in its tenth generation, debuted in 2016 and is a marked improvement from its immediate and underwhelming predecessor in every category. For 2017, the eighth generation Civic Si coupe and sedan debuted, and we were immediately smitten. While the previous two Civic Si generations were also rather dull, the new model makes it easy to forgive Honda for that dullness.
Power comes from a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline four making 205 hp and 292 lb-ft of torque. The sole gearbox? A good old six-speed manual, and Honda knows a thing or two about building outstanding manuals. Why did Honda choose not to offer an alternative gearbox, such as the CVT from the base Civic? Because the final result would, in a word, suck. Compared to the previous Si's VTEC, the new turbo engine actually matches the peak output of its predecessor, a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four, arriving at 5,700 rpm compared to 7,000 rpm. The torque band is also better, from 2,100 rpm to 5,000 rpm as opposed to the old engine's 174 lb-ft kicking in at 4,400 rpm.
The new Civic Si, according to Honda, goes from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and tops off at 137 mph. A drag racer it is not, but that has never been the purpose for any Civic Si ever. Instead, this car is all about being fun to drive, even on track. Will it win any races? Definitely not in stock form. Fortunately Honda engineers also happen to be brilliant at what they do, and this couldn't be more evident with the chassis. Despite having electrically assisted steering, as opposed to hydraulic, there's still wonderful feedback. Opt for Sport mode and that feedback is upped a notch. Awesome. How was this made possible? Standard adaptive dampers and a stiffer suspension, thanks in part to the anti-roll bars, springs and bushings.
There's also a standard helical limited-slip differential and upgraded brakes. Overall grip is also very good, especially up front. Remember, the Civic Si is front-wheel, not all-wheel drive. This fact may not appeal to serious enthusiasts, but the Civic Si is not aimed for that type of enthusiast. It's an extremely competent coupe or sedan for down to earth enthusiasts who simply love driving. Speaking of body style, the Civic Si is offered as a coupe or sedan only. If you're looking for a Civic hot hatch, there's the new Type R, which is not only quite a bit more powerful, but also has a $10,000 higher base price. So how much will the Civic Si set you back? For a starting price of $24,100 you can opt for either the Civic Si coupe or sedan.
Yeah, that's right. Both have exactly the same base price. There are few extra features, which include summer slicks ($200), machine cut alloy wheels ($1,700), and a Honda Factory Performance Package (sportier suspension, 19- instead of standard 18-inch wheels, and additional badging) for $3,999. Tell you the truth, you don't really need any of those extras to have a good time in the Civic Si. It's just fine out of the box. The interior, with its cloth upholstery, is a fine place to park yourself. Standard bits here include heated front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a 450-watt sound system, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, and a sunroof. Want leather upholstery?
A navigation system and additional interior colors? Too bad. Honda purposely kept its new Civic Si coupe and sedan as minimal as possible and still packaged it just right. Like the regular Civic, there's a spacious rear seat (especially the sedan) and generous cargo space. Aside from its fancier 18-inch wheels, rear spoiler and Si badges, the Civic Si doesn't look particularly different from other Civic sedans and coupes, and that's kind of the whole point. The Civic Si does not dramatically stand out, a task given to the Civic Type R, but rather exemplifies what can be done with an economy car when there's a will and engineering know-how to make it fun to drive yet understated in appearance. It's a fantastic display of Honda's brilliance.
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