The Honda Civic Si has long been the object of adolescent dreams. As a relatively affordable small car with a dollop of performance, it also held appeal for a wider audience. The redesigned 2012 Honda Civic Si could have capitalized on its past success, but instead we are left disappointed.
Take away the Si badge and we probably would have been much more complimentary, as this car would make for a logical progression for the regular Civic. But the Si (which stands for sport injection) should be more: more powerful, more evocative and more fun. As a result, we're left feeling as if Honda took the path of least resistance. Yes, it is improved from the previous-generation Civic Si, but just barely.
In the face of competing coupes that have made great strides to dethrone the Civic, this latest Honda has fallen from the top spot to also-ran status. Rivals like the Hyundai Genesis Coupe and Mazdaspeed 3 either meet or beat the Si at its own game. Even the slower Volkswagen GTI has what it takes to deliver more excitement behind the wheel, and though the Ford Mustang is a different animal altogether, it clearly outclasses the Honda in the bang-for-the-buck metric.
This fall from grace hasn't gone unnoticed from Honda either, as the current Civic has been slated for a refresh just one year after its introduction. The smart money says you should either consider the competition or wait to see what improvements will be made to the next Honda Civic Si.
Power for the 2012 Honda Civic Si comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 201 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual is the only transmission offered, and sends power to the front wheels. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 25 mpg in combined driving, which corresponds to our average of 25 mpg.
The engine itself is smooth and linear in its delivery of power. In past Civics, Honda's VTEC variable valve timing produced a distinct boost in power as the engine revs climbed, but that moment of excitement seems to have been refined out of the power curve. Fortunately, the short-throw shift action is just as slick and accurate as before.
In testing, the Civic Si accelerated from a standstill to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, which is about average for cars in this class. Braking distance from this speed is also up to par, with the Si requiring 120 feet to come to a complete stop. Outside of straight-line driving, the Civic Si feels confident in the curves, but is better described as competent rather than exciting. The steering doesn't help either, as its elastic feel lacks the response and direct feedback that we expect from sporty cars. With all this in mind we can't help but note that this is how the "regular" Civic should feel and react. The "S" in Si, after all, stands for sport.
In the absence of thrills, the 2012 Honda Civic Si at least delivers a fair amount of comfort. Ruts and bumps in the road are smoothed over and the cabin remains relatively quiet on the highway. The front seats are comfortable enough for long-distance trips and supportive enough to hold you in while cornering. The tilt-and-telescoping steering column allows enough adjustment to please the average-sized adult, but taller folk might find the cabin cramped.
Rear seat accommodations are about what you'd expect from a small coupe. Squeezing between the door frame and front seats is best left to smaller and agile passengers, and once situated, the lack of rear headroom further reinforces this point. Legroom, at least, is acceptable.
By and large, the 2012 Honda Civic Si is easy to live with on a day-to-day basis. Outward visibility is hampered by fairly thick roof pillars and a high door sill, but this is a common problem for most modern vehicles. The split-level gauges tend also to split opinions, but having the digital speed readout above the steering wheel rim does make for a quick and easy read. The Si also receives an additional VTEC power meter that indicates when the engine is using more performance-focused valve timing, but it really becomes more of a novelty than a useful instrument.
By contrast, we found the new color display to the right of the speedometer to be much more useful and easy to read. It shows a variety of information that includes audio, trip, fuel economy and navigation (if equipped). Audio function controls were intuitive as a result, and it's worth noting that the stereo's sound quality also proved quite good.
In terms of storage the Civic Si is competitive with other cars in its class. The trunk can hold up to 11.7 cubic feet of cargo, and the rear seats fold flat to accommodate longer objects. In the cabin, we found the cupholders and bins could easily contain all of our personal effects.
Design/Fit and Finish
Exterior styling for the new Civic Si lends it a more mature impression than Civics past. Gone is the "boy-racer" image, replaced with an overall shape and language that seems more inspired by the larger Accord. The interior is more of the same, with rather dull shapes and colors. There are some racy accents, like red stitching on the seats and metal pedals and a shifter knob, but they do little to spice up the otherwise gray cabin.
There's also little that can be done for the Civic's interior materials quality. Almost every surface is hard plastic, and the few fabric-covered elements lack any substantial padding. If we were to find any bright spot, it would be that these elements were at least tightly fitted, with no hint of squeaks or creaks.
Who should consider this vehicle
Taking into account that the 2012 Honda Civic Si's improvements are few and mostly inconsequential, we now find it overshadowed by fresher and more exciting rivals. In terms of price, performance and feature content, there are several alternatives that should prove more enticing. For the Civic loyalists and those drawn to Honda's reputation for unflappable reliability, we would even recommend waiting a year or two, since a refresh has been confirmed for the 2013 model year.
† Edmunds.com received the highest numerical score in the proprietary J.D. Power 2014 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study℠. Results based on responses from 3,381 responses, measuring 14 companies and measures third-party automotive website usefulness among new and used vehicle shoppers. Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of owners surveyed from January 2014. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com.