The Honda Civic has gotten a bit of a bad rap over the years, being the stereotype platform for “ricers”. In fact I actually just saw The Fast and The Furious, the film that single handedly started the ricer craze, shortly before writing this article. In popular culture Honda Civics are always modified in ridiculous ways, looking like something you’d find in a kid’s cereal box. However, those who really know about Honda’s history know that Honda has made some really fantastic cars over the years. There were of course the NSX and S2000, which were both rear wheel drive. But there have also been cars like the Integra Type R, which is one of the best handling cars of all time despite it being front wheel drive. The fact is that Honda really does have the proven knowhow to make a fantastic car. They have had a lot of racing experience over the years, and history has proven that when they make something good, it is usually really good. So with this in mind, I decided to try out the current Honda Civic Si to see how it fits in with Honda’s past lineage of affordable performance cars.
The Civic Si can sort of trace itself back to the Integra Type R here in America. I say “sort of” because other than a handful of Integra Type Rs, America has not gotten any of the other Type R models that Honda has made over the years. We have instead gotten slightly watered down models wearing GSR, Type-S, and Si badges. In essence, if the aforementioned models are similar to a Subaru WRX, then the Type Rs are like the full-blown Subaru WRX STi. This means that while Si models are certainly performance oriented cars, they are not hardcore, uncompromising sports cars like the Type Rs are.
As for the Civic Si, Honda used it to replace the Acura Integra Type-S as their sporty economy car in 2007. This 2013 Si is part of the second wave of modern Civic Sis, and it has seen a few changes from the car it replaced. The Si competes in the hotly contested realm of affordable performance cars. In recent years this segment has grown considerably, so let’s see how the Si fits in.
For the most part the Si looks like any other Honda Civic. It doesn’t come with a big obnoxious spoiler, and while it does look a little more aggressive than a standard Civic, the differences are pretty subtle. This car does not come “pre-riced”, so owners, please keep any exterior modifications tasteful, if only for your own sake.
While the Civic is a decent looking car, it is far from what I’d call “pretty”. Its styling is too bland to really get you noticed in town, and Honda continues to go with what I call the “aggressive mouse” look. It suits the nature of the car, but I honestly prefer the look of the late ’90s Civics more. I also find the proportions of the Si Coupe I drove to be a tad awkward from some angles. The Si Sedan looks better in my opinion.
The interior of the Si remains pretty much standard Honda Civic. Remember that this is a hotted up economy car, and set your expectations accordingly.
One thing that is different in the Si are the seats. They are comfortable and nicely supportive, but the upholstering is this fibery-cloth stuff that almost looks like it was made of recycled materials. If it is, then I give it a green thumbs up, but honestly, this car should really have a leatherette interior.
Practicality is a strong suit of the Si. Again, it remains a Honda Civic at heart. The back seat is a bit of a squeeze in the coupe, but four people can reasonably fit in the car. Civics have always been very “meat and potatoes” sort of cars, and their simplicity is one of their best qualities, Si included.
On the road
While the Si is certainly not up to the spec of a Type R, it is still a good bit of fun to drive. I really enjoyed the tight, precise gearbox with its nice, short throws. I also loved the immediacy of the steering response. It gives the Si a lively, sharp driving feel that makes it a blast to chuck through corners.
While I enjoyed most of the Si’s controls, There are some areas for improvement. The clutch was a little to flat feeling for my taste. I like an abrupt, grabby clutch in an aggressive car like this, and the one it had felt too generic, like it was made for a standard Civic. My other grievance lies in the steering feel. While the car responds quickly to steering inputs, you don’t get any information at all through the wheel to let you know about the road surface and the level of grip available at the front tires. These are both relative issues, but they do hold the Si back in terms of being a great “driver’s car”.
As far as actual handling is concerned the Si feels sporty, but in a sane way. It is fun to throw through corners, and it keeps composure well enough when pushed, but it doesn’t really increase your confidence as you push it harder. This is a great car to have fun with on a curvy road at like a 7/10ths pace. It is quite sporty compared to a standard Civic, and it will surely impress most drivers, but truly focused performance cars are in an entirely different league in terms of handling.
As far as speed goes the Si feels exactly like its 201hp and 2900lb curb weight would suggest. It is respectably quick, but you really need to wind out the revs to get the performance from this car because that 201hp is made at its 7000rpm redline. VTEC “Kicks in” around 6000rpm. When it does the engine’s hum turns into a furious growl, and the power gets a little more intense. The performance mixed with the sound is satisfying in a very racy sort of way. It makes you feel like you are blasting down the main strait at Suzuka, even when you’re just hitting a moderate 70mph on a highway onramp.
Despite the need to rev the hell out of the Si to access its full performance, it actually has a decent amount of torque available in the mid-range, which makes driving in traffic livable. With this current generation Civic Si, Honda switched to a 2.4L motor from the previous 2.0L for that exact reason. Keep in mind that your gas mileage drops a lot when you are in VTEC, so having a useable amount of grunt in the 3000-4000rpm range makes things better on your wallet.
For those buyers looking to modify their Si, and I know a good percentage of them are, my suggestions are as follows. If it were me with an Si, I would try to maximize the naturally aspirated potential from the engine while retaining its reliability, and make it handle like it were a Type R. Doing a turbo kit to this car is basically pointless because it is front wheel drive, so it won’t be able to put a lot of power down. Also, by the time you have installed the turbo kit and had it tuned, you will have likely spent more than it would cost you to get a Mitsubishi Evo….. a car that will make more power and will be able to use it because it is all wheel drive. So for me, Intake, exhaust, and a Hondata tune would be a great setup to go with. The Hondata tune helps mostly in the way of drivability because it changes the VTEC engagement point to as low as 3200rpm (depending on throttle position), so you get a much wider powerband. For me the Si’s nature is that of a momentum car, so the handling would be my main focus, with raw power as a supplement.
In the market
The Si’s real fundamental strength is that it is a Honda Civic at heart. It serves up a very well balanced package for people who want the practicality, affordability, and reliability that Honda is famous for, but also want to enjoy driving and to add little fun to the mix. The Si is rated at 22city/31hwy MPG, and requires premium fuel. While that may be a bit of a cost concession to make for the added performance, the Si still remains near the top of its segment in fuel economy.
For $23,000 the Civic Si does manage to undercut many of the other bargain performance cars by a few grand. That said, it isn’t nearly the drivers car a Scion FRS is, not the same kind of thrill ride a Focus ST is, and not as polished on the fit and finish as a GTI is. However, I think the most direct competition for the Civic Si at this point has to be the Hyundai Veloster Turbo. It matches the Civic’s price, has identical horsepower, has the same sort of practical value, better fit and finish, and gets far better fuel economy (38mpg vs 31mpg on the highway). The Veloster Turbo also has better power delivery in my opinion, with a fat powerband thanks to its turbocharger. Honestly, if it were my 23 grand, I’d go with the Hyundai.
That said, what the Civic Si still has is a proven reliability record, where Honda is one of the best in the business. It is a very simple package, and simple means there is less to go wrong. In truth, buying the Civic Si gives you a sure bet on a “good” car, where some of its competitors ask you to roll the dice on a “great” car. So while there may be some better options out there, give or take, a Civic Si will always a solid purchase.
As an overall package the Honda Civic Si is pretty darn good. What it may lack in raw performance focus, it makes up for in everyday livability and practicality. It is a fantastic consideration for a fun daily driver.
So while I do admit that I probably wouldn’t get one myself, I certainly couldn’t fault anyone who did. In truth my own tastes are a little more hardcore when it comes to cars like these. What I really want is something along the lines of a naturally aspirated, front-drive Evo. In other words, what I really want is the Civic Type R. Hopefully someday soon, Honda will quit playing around and bring us Americans the cars we really desire. But for now, the Si is what we have, and it seems to do the trick for most people. That said, one must wonder if “most people” even know what they’re missing.
WoM Score: 2013 Honda Civic Si
Primary Function: Performance: 1
Secondary Functions: Practicality(2) MPG(2): 2
Visual Appeal: 1
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 1
Final Score: 7/10
A special thanks to Jeff Nagley at Hamilton Honda for giving me access to the Civic Si.