High-revving engine, quick reflexes, slick shifter, spacious interior, excellent seats.
High-revving engine missing low-end grunt, lacks the premium feel of some competitors.
Ever wonder why IndyCars are so screamingly loud? Free-flowing exhausts are one reason; 650 horsepower is another. But one culprit is Honda's frenetic IndyCar V8 spinning to a redline north of 10,000 rpm. While the pleasure of being behind the wheel of a true IndyCar is restricted to those with names like Danica and Helio, a small sample of this excitement can be enjoyed via the high-revving engine in the 2009 Honda Civic Si. This car brings a taste of racecar frenzy to the masses for less than $25,000.
As the Civic Si's high-strung four-cylinder sings up to its 8,000-rpm redline, it indeed provides a stunning soundtrack for corner-carving festivities made possible by quick, responsive steering and a balanced chassis. Yet, it's the Si's engine that should make or break its appeal in a segment filled with a diverse band of compelling alternatives.
For some, that racecar nature has an undeniable appeal, demanding your unwavering attention to keep the engine high on the tach in its sweet spot. That can prove to be tiresome, though, as the engine's distinct lack of torque makes competitors like the Mazdaspeed 3 and Volkswagen GLI more vigorous and easier to drive. Unless you intend to consistently cater to the 2009 Honda Civic Si's free-revving nature, it can ultimately feel rather sluggish.
If driven to its full potential, though, you'll discover an inexpensive performance car available in a spacious, practical sedan body style (or a less spacious, less practical coupe). As a Honda, it gives you unflappable reliability, and as a Civic, it provides a user-friendly interior with a quirky sense of style. It's an appealing package, but whether it's the right car for you ultimately depends on whether you fancy driving to work like Helio Castroneves.
Thanks to variable valve timing, the Honda Civic Si's 2.0-liter four-cylinder packs 197 horsepower, which is reasonable for its class, as is its 0-60-mph time of 7 seconds flat. But those numbers can be deceptive in the real world. The engine's 139 pound-feet of torque is a whopping 68 lb-ft less than the VW GLI's, causing a dearth of low-end pull when scooting around town or passing on the highway.
You must keep the engine at a higher rev count than usual to keep it from bogging down when you need to achieve even the slightest amount of acceleration. This creates more cabin noise (the racecar thing gets old on the way to work), but it also means you'll be shifting more. That certainly has some appeal thanks to the Civic's buttery-smooth six-speed shifter and perfectly modulated clutch, but it's more work nevertheless.
Despite this high-end power delivery, though, the 2009 Honda Civic Si is easier to drive than previous peaky Honda engines. When driven conservatively, there's a refined nature to its gearing and throttle tip-in that allows for smooth acceleration. Indeed, unlike some other souped-up versions of humble compact cars, the Si is just as easy to drive as the regular Civic. It's also reasonably fuel-efficient at an EPA-estimated 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined, though the more powerful GLI does a bit better.
While the Si's engine could be seen as a possible demerit, the rest of its dynamic repertoire is bound to leave you consistently happy when perched behind its small, perfectly contoured wheel. Its steering is quick and remarkably responsive, almost feeling as if it were spring-loaded. Though it doesn't provide enough road feel, the Civic Si nevertheless responds to inputs better than many other front-drive cars. It exhibits very little body roll and despite being rather nose-heavy, the Si is quite well-balanced.
On our slalom course, the 2009 Honda Civic Si went through the cones at 68.8 mph, which is quicker than all comers in its class except the Chevy Cobalt SS (69.2 mph). The skid pad yields the same comparative results, as the Si's 0.89g is tied for class best with the Cobalt. The Si's stopping distance of 123 feet from 60 mph is only midpack at best, but after multiple stops, the brakes remain fade-free.
It's hard to find better seats in a $25,000 automobile. Upholstered in a grippy blend of soft-tech fabric and faux suede, the Civic Si's front chairs are both comfortable enough for long journeys and supportive enough for short trips through back-country roads. The driver seat comes with only one height adjustment, but in its favor, the Si provides more leg support and room than the "civilian" Civic.
The far-out telescoping steering wheel and well-placed shifter assure a proper driving position. Unfortunately, taller drivers will find their right leg uncomfortably pressed against the funky parking brake. The rear seat offers abundant leg- and headroom given the Civic's size.
Noise is certainly omnipresent in the 2009 Honda Civic Si — there's just no escaping it with an engine that spins to 8,000 rpm. Yet wind noise was kept reasonably well in check for this class and road noise wasn't as loud as we expected in an inexpensive Honda product with summer tires. Ride quality was similarly surprising; this Civic sops up road imperfections, which is noteworthy given that vehicles in this class are notorious for their jarring rides. Still, if you're searching for a serene cruiser, a GLI would be a better choice.
The Civic's futuristic dash bends toward the driver cockpit-style. The climate controls fall easily at hand and are a model of simplicity. The same goes for the standard audio controls, though our test car had the more complicated touchscreen navigation system that also integrates functions for the myriad stereo choices as well as full iPod control.
With a logical menu structure and user-friendly voice commands, the navigation system is one of the better available at any price. Its iPod interface is another story, as scanning through playlists is a tedious touchscreen-button-pressing exercise. To the car's credit, though, an iPod interface is a rarity in this class, and this one provides better sound quality than the regular aux jack included with every Civic Si.
In our real-world usability tests, the Civic's trunk easily swallowed two golf bags through its wide opening, with room to spare for a large suitcase. The backseats also split-fold via pulls located in the trunk. Child-seat installation was aided by the car's large doors and easily accessed upper tether anchors. A rear-facing seat will fit with the passenger seat scooted forward.
The 2009 Honda Civic Si is more expensive than the regular Civic, but don't expect a nicer cabin. Beyond the grippy sport seats, the same OK plastics and so-so panel fitment are found in the Si. Details like an unfinished inner trunk lid remind you that this is still an economy car — and that for roughly the same price, the VW GTI and GLI provide an almost luxury-car ambience by comparison.
The exterior is differentiated from a normal Civic by a reasonably subtle wing spoiler, a satin black grille insert, 17-inch wheels and VTEC stickers on the back doors. There was some debate as to whether the sedan was better-looking than the cab-forward coupe, but its wedgy profile certainly avoids being dowdy.
Quite simply, you'll need to like the Civic Si's engine and its revvy, low-torque nature. If you value low-end power and a higher-quality interior, the VW GLI, Mazdaspeed 3 or Mini Cooper S are better choices. But if a highly involved driving experience of racecar revving, constant shifting and responsive handling is your bag, the 2009 Honda Civic Si sedan should be a thrill.
Others To Consider
Chevrolet Cobalt SS, Mazdaspeed 3, Mini Cooper S, Volkswagen GLI.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.