We spent some time in sunny SoCal experiencing all Los Angeles car culture has to offer.
It's hard to think of a better place to be a car person than Los Angeles, California. The climate means you'll rarely if ever need snow tires. The car culture in LA is simply unmatched, and everywhere you look, there's some flavor of car attraction to indulge yourself in. The hub of American entertainment culture really is just about the best place in the world to go if you're into all things car.
So, when we went out to sunny SoCal to explore LA's vibrant car scene, we were more than thrilled when Honda offered up its latest lukewarm Civic for us to test. Going into it, we were a little worried heat and traffic would be the Honda Civic Si's downfall, especially with a pesky manual transmission to suffer through traffic with - that's sarcasm, we love manuals. We couldn't have been more wrong.
Our first stop was a trip for a little Cars and Coffee gathering held in the Angeles Crest National Forest. Our escort for the morning, a McLaren GT driven by a fellow journalist, arrived shortly after we did. As the day grew hotter (and the sunlight strived to ruin our photos), it became immediately clear that Angelenos take Cars and Coffee pretty seriously.
Strings of Porsche GT cars, BMW M3s, and high-end exotics poured into and out of the small parking lot. If car-spotting is your thing, there isn't a better place to be than Angeles Crest. We also spent some time talking cars with a handful of LA's car enthusiasts, who were more than kind, and even a little curious.
The people we spoke to didn't just want to talk about cars or Ferrari's latest 1-2 finish in Bahrain. They also wanted to discuss the little orange Civic Si we rocked up in. It even managed to turn some heads as we pulled up. We've got to admit, Honda's little orange car packs some serious curb appeal, even among LA's finest Lambos and Ferraris.
As we already know, the Civic Si is more than capable of carving up canyon roads. Our trip down what can only be described as God's favorite road reminded us just how good the Civic Si really is.
The Si experience is dominated by one thing above all else: its gearbox. It's simply one of the best shifters around. The clutch is incredibly light, a serious boon in traffic, while the action is sharp and snickety. But traffic there was not, allowing us to explore the limits of Honda's 200-horsepower, 1.5-liter turbo-four. It's not a sonorous engine but it's more than happy to rev up to its 6,500-rpm redline, and then bounce off it until you work the gearbox up a gear.
When the time came for us to go back down the gears, rev-matching was easily managed and the brakes felt confident the whole way down the hill. We were glad for the Si's optional summer rubber, and the little Honda's FWD chassis could easily tame any understeer with subtle inputs. Furthermore, the ride was Goldilocks-good at all speeds. As we've said before, we can't think of many better cars for under $30,000.
Next up on our SoCal car culture checklist was the Petersen Automotive Museum, a must-see if you ever find yourself in Los Angeles. It also gave the Civic Si a chance to prove itself in traffic, which it did with aplomb. The Civic rides comfy and quiet at most speeds - a true blessing in LA's urban sprawl. Honda's adaptive cruise control could use some improvement in its response times but drew no real complaints from us. That light clutch we mentioned was a godsend in traffic, and the Si's rev-match software was a true blessing, taking some literal legwork out of fighting traffic.
At the Petersen, we found ourselves surrounded by some of the most expensive and rare metal we've ever seen. At the time, the museum was running an exhibit full of James Bond's best rides, including the crashed and screen-used Aston Martin DBS from Casino Royale.
If you can, the $25 Petersen Vault tour is a must. Where else will you see the original Adam West Batmobile casually chilling in its parking spot? It's a shame no photos are allowed down there. You'll have to see the Vault for yourself if you don't believe us.
With our arms full of merch from the Petersen's gift shop, we began the drive out of LA's concrete heart to the coast. Speaking of, the Civic's trunk is large enough to accommodate any amount of crap you might be carrying around, short of tall furniture. We even managed to squeeze a surfboard into the car with the seats down and the passenger seat fully reclined.
We really couldn't have asked for a better companion for our time in LA. The Honda Civic Si is a true Jekyll and Hyde car. Its engine may not sound the greatest, but the gearbox and associated handling dynamics more than make up for it. LA's car culture is a fascinating thing, and a week was most definitely not enough time to see and do it all. The people within that culture are some of the nicest out there, and we couldn't be more excited to see more of it as soon as we can.