The new 2017 Honda Civic Si signals the end of a great shift among sport compact cars. For driving enthusiasts in the U.S., the Si badge was the mark of an affordable Civic that offered sporty handling and a high-revving engine. The Si continued this way for years, even while each one of its sport compact competitors adopted turbocharging to meet ever-increasing power demands and emissions requirements.
2017 Honda Civic Si First Drive
The Same, Only Different
Now, for the first time, the Honda Civic Si is turbocharged, too. The result is a better-driving car, but take note, Si faithful: Things have changed.
Offered as a coupe or sedan, the 2017 Si uses the same 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine found in the standard Civic, but in the Si it gets a larger turbocharger with more boost. Alas, the resulting 205 horsepower merely equals that of the previous Si with its larger, non-turbocharged engine. More importantly, Honda's focused on strengthening the engine's midrange. The new Si's peak torque of 192 pound-feet occurs at just 2,100 rpm, a change designed to make this Civic Si feel more powerful during more common driving situations.
Putting the Power Where You Feel It
While the differences in peak power and torque straddle between zero and minor, the way that horsepower and torque are delivered is a wholesale change to the Si driving experience. The engine feels much stronger at lower rpm when it's on boost, resulting in a gutsier car around town. The newfound low-rpm power means you don't have to downshift as frequently to access the fun part of the engine's powerband — you're always in it.
Right up until you're not. Where previous Sis packed a distinct aggression at the top end of their admittedly narrow powerbands, the new Si starts to falter the closer you get to its 6,500-rpm redline. Honda added shift lights to the gauge cluster that illuminate as you wring out the engine, but there's little reason to see them when the horsepower peaks at 5,700 rpm. And while a freer-flowing exhaust system emphasizes engine sound in the midrange, it becomes indistinct at high speeds. You have to reference the tach to match revs on downshifts as wind and road noise overcome the engine sound.
The engine also retains an annoying quirk from the last Si where the engine speed bumps up when you release the gas pedal to shift. It also takes longer than we'd want for the engine speed to fall. Honda has shortened the throw of the shifter and strengthened its base to withstand aggressive gear changes, but this engine behavior negates the need to shift quickly when you want to be smooth.
Grip It and Rip It
While adjusting to the engine's new character might take some time, there's no learning curve when it comes to the car's handling. The Si doesn't feel light like its predecessors, which makes sense considering it's heavier and larger in every dimension. Yet it still drives with a poise and confidence that encourage ever higher corner-entry speeds.
Credit goes to the usual performance tweaks that include a stiffer suspension and larger wheels, tires and brakes. One key addition is a set of dampers that continually adjust as you drive. They help maintain control but also add smoothness, ensuring the Si isn't as rigid or brittle as some more aggressive sport compacts out there.
A Sport setting, accessed by a button to right of the shifter, stiffens the dampers, sharpens the throttle response and increases the steering effort. You have to pay close attention to notice the differences, but they are appreciable under the microscope. The steering provides little feedback in either mode, but it's still precise and pleasing. We also welcome the new seats with stronger side bolsters, though they might be tight for wider drivers. A warning to taller folk, too: Headroom in the coupe is tight.
At $24,775, the Si is a relative bargain compared to its closest competitors. There's only one option: a set of summer tires (Goodyear Eagle F1) for a mere $200. Standard equipment is impressive, including a moonroof and dual-zone climate control. And while navigation isn't available, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard — and superior in the eyes of many. The Si is also the only car in the segment to come with a standard mechanical locking differential.
Alas, Honda continues its tradition of being among the least powerful vehicles in its segment. The Civic Si may be lighter than the Ford Focus ST, Subaru WRX and Volkswagen GTI, but its power-to-weight ratio only betters that of GTIs without the optional sport pack. The GTI also offers a dual-clutch automatic, which may be preferable to some drivers. The Si is manual-only yet still boasts class-leading fuel economy with an EPA rating of 32 mpg combined (28 city/38 highway). That's an impressive feat, but perhaps not what you want to brag about to your car enthusiast buddies.
Something else you won't want to brag about? Undefeatable stability control. The Si tells you stability control is deactivated when you press the button, but it remains working in what Honda calls a light mode. Most drivers may not notice since Honda's clearly worked to make the system as nonintrusive as possible. But more sensitive or experienced drivers will find the intrusion a frustrating block to the freedom that should come with exploring the abilities of an enthusiast car.
Is a Turbocharged Si a Better Si?
Turbocharging makes the Si more usable day to day, but it alters the character that made the trim appealing in the first place.
Nevertheless, the Si remains supremely enjoyable and quick on a back road, but also compliant enough to take you to work and back without complaints.
Some of the fringe Si fanatics might be disappointed in the change, and for them Honda will soon offer a more hard-core front-wheel-drive performance car with the Civic Type R. If that's too much of a stretch for you, consider this: The Si is a mere $2,400 more than a similarly equipped Civic EX-T and yet the Si has 205 hp, adaptive dampers, a mechanical locking differential, and an excellent manual transmission — a no-duh upgrade.