Sunday, June 2, 2013

Honda Civic Si Coupe - Making Ordinary Special

The Honda Civic has been a desirable economy car choice for four decades. There's nothing new about buying one for economy, quality, and affordable price. However, since 1986, you have been able to get your Civic with a little something extra--horsepower. Today's Si models, in coupe or sedan styles, continue the plan.

Putting a more powerful engine in a car to make it perform better is nothing new. Just think of the genius of the Pontiac GTO, which transformed the midsize Tempest into a rocket. It's an inexpensive way to create a sports car.

In the case of the Civic Si, the engine grows from a 1.8-liter inline four with 140 horsepower and 128 lb.-ft. of torque to a 2.4-liter four with 201 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque. And, although garden-variety Civics come with  a five speed manual or an automatic, the Si is shift-it-yourself only--a six-speed manual with a leather and metal shift knob that falls nicely into your hand.

The Civic may have humble origins, but Honda has attempted to distinguish its performance by equipping it with four-wheel disc brakes, for example, and adding stabilizer bars to the suspension--21 millimeters up front and 18 in back.

Of course, there are many other ways to upgrade the car, particularly in the seats, with their "Si" embroidered in the spot behind your shoulders, and Si badges prominently displayed. And, sitting in the top of the lineup, all the goodies you'd want are present. You can pay more for the navigation system and summer tires, bringing the price up to $24,995. The entry-level LX Civic Coupe with a five-speed manual starts at $18,755.

Part of the advantage of having a sporty car based on an economy one is pretty decent fuel economy. Although the Si requires premium fuel, it is rated at 22 City, 31 Highway and 25 overall. Dyno Blue Pearl Civic Si Coupe tester achieved 26.6 miles per gallon during its stay. That's respectable. EPA numbers are 6 for both Smog and Greenhouse Gas. Honda's reputation is as a clean vehicle company, so this is just so-so. The regular Civic LX and EX score 8 on Greenhouse Gas, moving them into the coveted SmartWay category.

The downside of having your sporty car built on an economy car is that besides the engine and special features, the car is still a pretty modest vehicle. The interior of the Civic is useful and comfortable but doesn't feel especially upscale or exciting. The two-level stacked instrument panel feels oversized and seems cheap, although it's hard to point to any one factor that makes it so. Honda's interiors have been criticized by other automotive writers, and the company is working to change that with revisions to the 2013 Civic.

1986 Civic Si
Although the Civic itself is somewhat modest, it is a bit larger than the original one, which debuted in 1986. I owned one, and it was fun to toss around. With its 90 horsepower and manual five-speed, it also was econo-car based, but it was a hatchback, giving it more practicality but a less stylish image.

Today, I took the test Si on a favorite back road, as it had spent most of its time with me on freeways and city streets. It acquitted itself nicely, but despite fairly communicative steering and an even keel on turns, and plenty of acceleration available in the straits, it left me wanting a little more. The Civic Si now weighs about 3,000 pounds. Has it  lost some of its playfulness as it'sgrown up?

The Civic has been a favorite of the tuner crowd, and perhaps today's car could benefit from a few little upgrades to make it reallly haul. But for making your day a little sweeter and more engaging, the Si remains a worthy competitor with the crop of hot compacts out there today.


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