We've avoided glossy-eyed retrospectives of 2007, but if you were in the market for a practical, affordable and entertaining ride in the last year, there were a handful of vehicles to be had for under $25 large. The Mazdaspeed3, R56 MINI Cooper S and VW GTI have set the fun-to-drive quotient relatively high, but one vehicle that's been left out of the Autoblog Garage is the Honda Civic Si. While the coupe has garnered its fair share of praise, we understand that your average Joe and Jane have people and stuff to schlep; thankfully, so does Honda. So with little fanfare last year, it released the Civic Si Sedan to the masses and in the process created yet another entertaining steer for those of us unable or unwilling to break the $30,000 ceiling.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
As you're probably already aware, the sedan version gets the same 2.0-liter, iVTEC-equipped inline-four found in the Si coupe, mated to Honda's snickety-snicktastic six-speed manual. All 197 horses are sent to the front wheels through a limited slip differential, but are only available in the 7,800 rpm stratosphere. Torque is characteristically Honda, meaning it's minimal and sometimes laughable, with only 139 lb.-ft. of the stuff coming in at an unreasonably high 6,100 rpm. While winding the Si out to its 8,200 rpm fuel cutoff is tons of fun, we can understand that it isn't for everyone.
The exterior is understated boy-racer chic, like some of its competitors. A couple of Si badges adorn the grille and trunk lid, along with a pair of iVTEC stickers affixed to the rear doors. The 17x7-inch wheels wrapped in optional fair weather-friendly Michelin Pilot Exalto PE2 rubber are carried over from the coupe, while a low-key spoiler is perched out back. It's all very restrained for a vehicle that takes the cheese-wedge aesthetic to an unheard of level. And say what you will about the comically raked windshield, it apes the Countach in all the right ways, except for the acres of dash left in its wake.
And what a dash it is. Your opinion about the Civic's interior is strictly a matter of taste; you either like Battlestar Galactica or you don't. The idea behind the two-tiered instrument cluster is sound from a driving standpoint, but its function may as well be to break up the table tennis size expanse of soft touch plastic. On the high side of things, the second bezel houses a digital speedo flanked by two gauges to keep tabs on the fuel level and engine temp. If you aren't able to hear the engine's crescendo on its approach to redline (hint: keep the window down), a small red light will begin to blink on the second tier letting you know when the high-revving party is about to end. It's a bit hard to see in your peripheral vision, but a quick dip down to the central mounted tach can give you all the necessary information in standard, circular fashion.
If you can make your way past the massive amount of material between your hands and the windscreen (seriously, try), you'll find that Honda's interior engineers know how to keep things simple. HVAC controls are clearly read and a pleasure to push. The optional sat-nav ("Navi" in Honda parlance) is easy to use and even easier on the eyes. Set the display to "Auto" and all but the most inexplicable ambient lighting will cause the screen to change to suit the surroundings. The 350-watt, seven-speaker setup provides all the aural pleasures one could want when not concentrating on the four-pot's wail through the sports exhaust. Plus, the auxiliary input jack comes in handy when making a trek through an FM-barren wasteland.
However, it's all simply icing on top of a tasty driver's treat. The stuff that matters -- the seats, steering wheel and shifter – are as perfect as it gets in an economy-car-turned-corner-carver. The thrones in particular are things of beauty. Serious bolstering and grippy cloth ( black with contrasting red stitching) assures that you won't need Mr. T's forearms to keep you stuck in the seat while tackling the bends. The steering wheel is a perfect diameter, the pedals are placed for easy heel-and-toe and the suspension is Goldilocks-approved – not too hard, not too soft.
Let out on the clutch and although pedal travel is longer than expected, the friction point is easy to assess. First gear slots into its gate with ease and it's obvious why lazy reviewers resort to the tired cliché of unnecessarily swapping cogs. Honda's shifters are simply unmatched in this segment, so we too found ourselves rev-matching and downshifting just to enjoy the smooth action and the perfectly weighted shift knob.
After performing our required jaunt on the freeway to assess the Si's econo-whip credentials (it passed), we pulled off onto one of our favorite back roads to get a feel for what really mattered. The asphalt ribbon began with a long, high-speed right-hander that opened up onto a half-mile straight begging to hear the four-banger's siren song. With the long pedal floored in third gear, the revs climbed high enough to piss off the angels before we grabbed fourth and fell right back into the variable valve timing-enhanced powerband. At high speeds the Si is completely composed and rarely flummoxed by breaks in the asphalt or the occasional cattle guard. By the time we reached the first tight left hand bend, we had slowed down enough to slot the stalk into second and ride the VTEC wave into the next straight expanse. The LSD does it's best to shuffle power to the wheel that needs it, but trace amounts of understeer reared its ugly head when coming out of the corner too hot. Otherwise, the front-end tracks predictably around bends, with the rears following suit with little drama. While the Si's competence through the twisties matched our expectations, we did experience an unhealthy amount of brake fade after only a few miles of fitful flogging. While it's doubtful that many Si sedans are going to make it to the track for regular lapping sessions, anyone that plans to do so would be advised to swap out the stock pads and upgrade the brake fluid before performing an all-out assault.
Just like the rest of the Si variants we've sampled over the last two decades, this newest iteration splits the difference between daily driver and high-strung handful, and for the money, you could do a lot worse. The only thing that could stop you from ponying up the $24 large (as our tester was equipped) for the Si would be the similarly priced Mazdaspeed3. But for those who prefer high revving thrills over turbocharged torque, the Si sedan fits the bill, plus a couple of passengers and a full load of groceries.