2015 Honda Civic Si review notes: Little charmer

Photo: 2015 Honda Civic Si Photo 7

Despite tough competition from hot hatches, high-strung Civic has unique charms

ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: A few days before I got the keys to this Si, I stumbled across a piece at Speedhunters about a guy who restored/resto-modded a sixth-gen Civic(!). Tuning was never my scene, but the story and photos really opened my eyes to what makes these older Hondas so cherished. Not only were they well engineered — with double-wishbone suspensions and great motors — they were also honest, affordable and just boring enough aesthetically (maybe “clean” or “no-frills” or “not-trying-too-hard” is what I’m getting at) to serve as a blank slate for the wildest of tuner fantasies.

Since then, the Civic has traded its fancy front suspension for McPherson struts, gained size and weight and lost some of the magic that somehow made it a hit with both everyday transportation pod-purchasers and rabid, Honda-worshipping fanboys. Even after the current, ninth-gen Civic was bludgeoned carefully refined into a vehicle that met the average driver’s needs in as inoffensive a manner as possible, it still sort of feels like a decent car built to a price point rather than a really good car that happens to be affordable.

The Civic Si doesn’t remedy all of these ills (which, I’ll note, aren’t really reflected in sales figures, anyway) but the manual-only model does seem to indicate that someone at Honda gives a damn. It’s a fun enough car. It’s the Civic I’d buy, if I had to buy a Civic. Heck, it’s probably the Honda I’d buy if I had to buy a (four-wheeled) Honda tomorrow.

We’ve already sung the praises of this particular naturally aspirated 2.4-liter/six-speed manual combo before; suffice to say, you shouldn’t need silly dash-mounted lights to know when the VTEC kicks in.

Likewise, we’ve already spent enough time complaining about the frustrating touchscreen-based infotainment system/head unit, which is as confounding here as it is in the long-term Fit. Sadly, based on what we’re seeing in the HRV, it doesn’t look like knobs are coming back any time soon. At least there are steering wheel-mounted volume controls …

But if the interior is the weak point, the suspension is the most disappointing near-miss. Despite slightly tighter steering and a mildly massaged suspension system, the Si remains an unfortunately un-taut car. I’m not a rougher-is-better guy; after sampling the super-stiff Euro-spec Civic Type R, I can tell you that’s not what is needed here. A nice middle point would have been perfect — maybe something for Honda to keep in mind as it finalizes the 2016 Civic.

Subaru seems to have the “hot-cold-just right” thing worked out with its Impreza lineup, so I’ll use it to illustrate: If the Type R is the WRX STi, then the Honda equivalent of the WRX would be my “just right” scenario for the Si ride-wise. As it stands, it’s still a little too close to comfort-sprung Impreza territory for my taste. If you care enough to opt for a manual-only car with a limited-slip diff, you’ll be fine with a firmer suspension.

It’s hard for me to imagine any Civic of this generation becoming an object of worship — then again, who would have thought someone would go through the trouble of restoring a sixth-gen? — but this Civic Si is the best of the current crop. It’s not some sort of Japanese two-door answer to the Focus ST or VW GTI, which is both good (three cheers for natural aspiration!) and bad (it’s not as spirited, or as refined, a handler). But if you know that going in, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here for the price. 

Photo: 2015 Honda Civic Si Photo 3

ROAD TEST EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: This Civic Si may be our last before the flame-throwing Civic Type R hits our shores in a year or so. It does everything very well.

First, the power. I know it’s only 205 hp, but it’s naturally aspirated, so you get good pull all through the range. Of course, when the VTEC kicks in, you get a little extra boost, but it really doesn’t feel that different from the lower revs. The sound changes a bit, and there are little lights on the dash letting you know when to shift.

The shifter is one of my favorites, up there with Mazda and Ford. Throws are short and the clicks are satisfying. All of the pedals are light; they don’t take a lot of effort to push. In this car, that’s fine. Small car, small power, small effort in pushing the clutch and gas. As power ramps up, I want more resistance. But this one’s easy to push, easy to modulate. The brakes are fine. I didn’t have any trouble stopping in normal distances. I didn’t drive it too hard, so I can’t comment on fade or heat sinking ability.

I like the new smoothed-out body. The nose and intakes are cool-looking, too. The whole shape is really slick and low. I don’t know if I’d take the GTI/ST hatchback style or this. This car has a surprisingly good amount of room in back, but the hatches probably have more. Now that I think about it, I’d probably still stick with one of those.

The interior is cool with black-and-red seat inserts. Everything looks put together well, though there are some hard plastics here and there. The blind spot camera is a great addition, as it is with every Honda, and views are pretty good with the height-adjustable seats. The radio sucks, though. The volume is a slider/hard button that barely works, and trying to changes sources while driving is a chore. You have to jab blindly at the screen to make any changes. The spoiler does cut across your field of vision, but it’s nothing like the WRX.

The Si comes in right next to those hi-po hatchbacks and, for me, it would be a tough sale over one of those. But it’s an all-around good car, gets great mileage and I wouldn’t disparage anyone who bought one. It just probably won’t be me.

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