The sporty economy car segment is back, but is Honda up to the challenge?
It has been two models years since we've been able to buy a new Honda Civic Si. The old model was discontinued after 2015 with the introduction of the 10th generation Civic, and the move was long overdue. The 9th generation Si was a nice driving car, but it was woefully underpowered compared to rivals. In fact, the 2015 Si only had 205 hp from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Amazingly, this was only five more horses than the Acura RSX Type S had from its 2.0-liter engine back in 2002. So does the new Si finally solve Honda's power problem?
In short, absolutely not. The 10th generation Si drops the 2.4-liter engine for a 1.5-liter turbocharged unit with 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque. This new engine has no more power than the outgoing engine, although torque has grown by 18 lb-ft. All of the rumors for this car speculated that it would have around 220 to 230 hp, which would have been a much needed boost. So what the heck happened? The Type R's 2.0-liter engine is rated at 306 horsepower, so why did Honda leave such a massive power gap between the two models? The 10th generation Si is the first turbocharged model ever, and this would have been the perfect opportunity for the car to catch up with the VW GTI and Ford Focus ST.
The performance economy car segment slowed down after the early 2000s, but it is now back in full force. Just this year, we have seen Nissan jump back into this segment with the Sentra Nismo and Hyundai join it with the Elantra Sport. It seems like Honda has targeted these two cars as a comparison, leaving the GTI and Focus ST in a class above. The Sentra Nismo is powered by the Juke's 1.6-liter turbo, which makes 188 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. The Elantra Sport also has a 1.6-liter turbo, but it has more power at 200 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. When we compare the Civic Si to the Sentra Nismo and the Elantra Sport, it seemingly comes out on top.
So if you're in the market for a sporty compact sedan, the Si is the obvious choice, right? Not necessarily. While we would never recommend it, the Sentra Nismo has an available CTV transmission and the Elantra Sport has a seven-speed dual-clutch on offer. The enthusiast's choice will always be the manual, but at least Nissan and Hyundai were clever enough to offer an option. The Civic Si has always been a tough sell because of a lack of an automatic option. We have spoken to plenty of people who want more power than a basic Civic, but just can't live with the manual. In terms of general appeal, the Hyundai and Nissan may have Honda beat.
In terms of enthusiasts, we think that Honda is by far the best. Just looking at the interior of all three cars, the Si does the most to differentiate it from the base model. The Elantra Sport has a bit of red stitching on the seats, but it would be very difficult to know that it was anything more than a standard Elantra. The Sentra Nismo is a bit better, borrowing cues from the Juke Nismo such as bolstered seats and a sporty steering wheel. While it's way more sporty than the Elantra Sport's interior, it is a bit gaudy and may deter more mature buyers who don't want the "boy-racer" feel. The Si hits a perfect middle ground on the interior that will appeal to most buyers.
The standard Civic interior is already a really nice place to be, and the Si does enough to differentiate itself. The seats in the Si look fantastic and remind you that you aren't in a normal Civic, without being as gaudy as the red cloth seats in the old Si. Compared to its competition, the Si really does seem like a great option. However, we think that Honda should do two things to make it perfect. The first is to offer an automatic option, and the second is to introduce a sort-of "Si-plus," that bridges the performance gap between the Si and Type R. That way, Honda can also match the VW GTI and Ford Focus ST. In the meantime, these are your options if you want something more than a stock Civic.