Honda’s pocket rocket grows up.
When we previewed the latest-gen Honda Civic Si around the time of the 2011 North American International Auto Show, we liked the styling, comparing it to the Accord Coupe and saying that we felt like the Civic looked to be growing up a little; no more massive rear spoiler of the outgoing model, no more severely canted forward stance—just taut lines and a purposeful shape.
Our original thoughts were confirmed when we first saw it in person; Honda has managed to turn the Civic Coupe into an almost junior-Accord—especially from the B-pillar rearward. The nose is still a little more canted forward than that which is seen on the Accord, but the rear treatment is very similar. Which is a good thing, because that Accord is a handsome design exercise. Details like the subtle rear spoiler (which has been reduced for this gen. A good thing, too, as the item on old models made for some challenging parking manoeuvres), brash 17-inch alloys and oval-shaped exhaust, meanwhile, help the Civic stand out from its more conservative big brother.
Having driven it, we can safely say that new, grown-up appearance of the car has been matched by the goings-on under the hood as well. Don’t get me wrong; the most manic of Honda’s bread-and-butter Civic lineup is still willing to dance the dance when it comes to high revs and VTEC showmanship, but the manner in which it gets there is different from last gen’s model.
Gone is the banshee-esque 2.0-litre motor; instead, what we have in the 2012 model is a 2.4 litre shared with the upmarket Acura TSX. The result is a motor that still makes a healthy 201 horsepower (four up on the outgoing model), still at a fairly heady 7,000 r.p.m. but with an overall smoother delivery. Used to be in the old Si that you’d have to rev it to the nines (well, just below the eights, actually; power peak for the two-litre was 7,800 r.p.m.) to really get the push, but the larger engine delivers power from the get-go. The offshoot here is that revving it to its 7,000 r.p.m. redline and engaging the VTEC valve-manipulation doesn’t quite have the same turbocharger-like effect that it once did, but I suspect that most owners will forego that rush in favour of better fuel mileage. Indeed, we saw a nice 10.5 litres per 100 kilometers fuel consumption rate during our time with the car. Even after some more spirited driving, we didn’t see our average fuel consumption increase as drastically as we have on other models, which was refreshing and just slightly above Honda’s claimed figures.
That four hp increase may not seem like much (and it isn’t), but thanks to the bigger engine what you do get in the latest Si is a drastic 22 per-cent torque increase over the outgoing model–to 170 pound-feet–which comes in at 4,400 as opposed to 6,200 r.p.m. on the two-litre. While still down on competition from the likes of the Mazdaspeed3 and VW Golf GTi, the added torque is a noticeable addition that helps make for an easier, quieter and more comfortable ride since, again, you don’t have to gun it to get the most out of it.
But if you’re up for some spirited driving, then the motor and six-speed transmission are more than willing. That manual six is all that’s available (and, really, how many Si buyers would have it any other way?) and it has some very closely spaced ratios—fifth gear will be the gear of choice when cruising on the highway, as by the time you’ve hit 70 or so the first four are a distant memory. The throws are nice and short, as is the reach for the metal and leather shift knob and the lever action smooth and positive. The clutch, meanwhile, is weighted just enough to determine the bite point, but not so much that your leave your car with a slight limp due to a tired left leg.
It’s not all roses, however; the transmission tends to hold on to (or sometimes, seemingly even increase) revs between shifts—at first, I thought I wasn’t lifting properly as throttle travel is so short and clutch bite-point so high. After numerous extra-careful shifts, however, I found that this was not the case. As it turns out, it is an on-purpose piece of engineering by Honda concerning the Si’s electronic drive-by-wire throttle system. What you’re hearing between shifts is a slower but smoother opening and closing of the throttle (since the throttle isn’t immediately closed when you release the pedal, you can hear the engine revving for a time), which Honda says makes for a better air-fuel mixture resulting in decreased emissions. The manufacturer also says that efforts were made to reduce the effect in the new car, but like many reviewers out there, my colleagues and I started off being unnerved by it, and ended just being annoyed with it.
At $25,990, the Si we tested undercuts both the Mazda and VW in price by $4,000-plus. And it’s not that the car is ill-equipped; all the good stuff is here, like voice-activated Bluetooth, seven-speaker plus subwoofer audio, GPS and some nice, supportive cloth sport seats (that cannot be heated) embroidered with the Si logo. We found the new seats to be more comfortable affairs than the items found on the outgoing models; the higher-than-usual side bolsters still remain, but the effect has been toned down a little making for a softer setup than before.
The comfort found in the seats does well to compliment the overall ride quality of the 2012 Si. You’d expect a light car with sport-tuned suspension like what’s found here to shake, rattle and roll over the simplest of road imperfections but the Honda doesn’t, adding to the more grown-up feel of the package as a whole. This is complimented by a fairly direct and electrically-boosted steering rack all controlled by the small, chunky wheel finished in red stitching. However, it seems that the DNA infused into the less-aggressive handling has found its way into steering feel as well, as I found myself wanting a little more feel through the wheel on more than one occasion.
What has made an almost direct transition from the previous gen is the cockpit alignment and instrumentation. In fact, if the only picture of the car that one was to see was of the dash, then they couldn’t be blamed for thinking they were looking at a photo of the previous generation of the car.
The black and red two-tiered setup remains, and its light show-like treatment continues to divide opinions as much as it divides the instruments and gauges contained within. Oh, there’s no question that the instruments are clear (crystalline, actually) and very modern looking, but do they have to be so bright and so…numerous? Additions like LED shift indicator mounted to the right of the VTEC meter on the upper tier are smart touches, but with the eight-inch screen included with the standard navigation system, there’s a total of three separate LCD displays staring back at you. And since the centrally-mounted tach uses the same colours as the rest, it may be mistaken for an LCD itself, bringing the total to four screens altogether—you can guess what this can do to your night vision. The fact that the LCD screen doesn’t automatically dim once it senses that it’s dark out or that you’ve turned on the headlights doesn’t help the situation; you have to hit the tiny button marked with a little graphic of the moon and sun, then another one on the screen, in order for it to change. And the little screen to the left of the speedo on the upper tier? It’s where all your trip info appears, as well as acting as a secondary display for the GPS, radio and clock—me? I was happy that there was an option to leave the screen almost completely blank, because that’s where it was for most of my time with the car.
Then again, navigating through the menus is easily done with big wheel-mounted buttons, and there’s plenty of info on hand–the setup must work for a good number of buyers because if it didn’t, you’d think Honda would have gone another way with this generation.
Perhaps the techy cockpit is a good example of the mantra behind the car as a whole. On the outside, it’s a civilized affair that is easy on the eyes, if not all that exciting for some. However, once you sit inside and take in the tech-laden interior, you may just get that “fizz”, the feeling that the car may have more to give than it shows on the outside. Then, once you fire it up, grab that nice shifter and chunky wheel, tickle the throttle and spear off down the road, you’ll discover what Honda’s top-spec Civic is all about.
And that’s how it should be.
2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe Specifications
Price as tested: $25,990
Body Type: 2-door, 5-passenger sports coupe
Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
Engine: 2.4-litre inline-4, DOHC, 16 valves w/i-VTEC
Horsepower: 201 @ 7,000 r.p.m.
Torque (lb-ft): 170 @ 4,400 r.p.m.
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Curb weight: 1,317 kg (2,903 lbs)
Fuel consumption, city (claimed): 10.0L/100 km (23.5 MPG)
Fuel consumption, Highway (claimed): 6.4L/100 km (36.8 MPG)
Observed combined: 10.5L/100 km (22.4 MPG)