CARS.COM — The current, 10th-generation Honda Civic is one of our favorite cars. It recently won our 2017 Compact Sedan Challenge among other accolades, such as North American Car of the Year in 2016 when this generation debuted. For 2017, two performance variants of the Civic are due to land: the Si and the Type R. I tested a 2017 Civic Si sedan on a road course at Honda's Proving Center of California in the Mojave Desert as well as on a long street-driving route as well.
Does Honda's long list of tweaks and improvements make the newest Si a worthy carrier for the name? Let's find out.
There are a few visual cues to set the Si apart from the regular Civic. It will be offered in sedan or coupe body styles, but it adopts a lot of the styling from Sport versions of the hatchback, including the more aggressive front bumper with wider air inlets. The two Si body styles have very different rear ends. Both have a large, center-mounted trapezoidal exhaust outlet, but the coupe keeps the full-length light bar taillight from the standard coupe and gets a larger rear wing spoiler. The sedan gets a slightly smaller spoiler, which tucks the rear brakelight underneath it neatly.
Inside, the Si also comes with unique seats that have more aggressive bolstering but still remain comfortable. An Si logo is embroidered into the seatback, and there is red accent stitching all around the cabin. The shift knob is brushed aluminum and feels great in the hand, but beyond that, the Si feels like the EX trim of a standard Civic.
What will really make the difference for the Si are the enhancements on the performance part of the equation, and there are many of those.
The Si uses the same turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine found in the standard base Civic, but it straps on a larger turbocharger that's good for 20.3 pounds per square inch of boost and outputs 205 horsepower and 192 pounds-feet of torque. Compared with the past-generation Si, this engine has the same horsepower but an additional 18 pounds-feet of torque.
There is only one transmission: a six-speed manual, which has shorter throws and crisper action than the manual in the standard Civic. A limited-slip differential is standard as well. At each corner, there are wider tires for added grip and larger brakes, front and rear.
The suspension has also been heavily revised, with stiffer springs, more rigid stabilizer bars and solid front and rear bushings. But the biggest addition is a two-mode adaptive shock absorber system, which changes how the car feels whether you're in Sport or Normal mode. It gives the Si some added flexibility; the ride is comfortable when in Normal, pretty much like driving a non-Si version of the car. But flip it into Sport, and everything sharpens: The steering gets tighter, the throttle more responsive and the suspension firmer to keep the car flatter.
The changes give the Si a noticeable performance edge over the standard model. The bump in power is a welcome addition, especially with the perked-up throttle response of Sport mode. The extra torque from the larger turbocharger adds a welcome bit of kick that's more rewarding. However, if I had to distill what sets the Si apart, I think the other enhancements actually contribute more.
Wider tires, larger brakes and tighter shifter action all pay big dividends to the driving experience. But I reserve most of the praise for the adaptive shocks, which really unlock the performance potential that this chassis is capable of. They keep the Si noticeably flatter in corners, which makes it easier to put power down upon exit, and they work along with a quicker steering ratio, enabled by a larger power steering motor, to offer sharper turn-in.
I spent most of my time driving in Sport mode, and while it was still comfortable enough for everyday driving, it was also nice to have the option to dial all of the systems back by switching to Normal mode, especially on longer highway stretches.
The Civic Si starts at $24,775 (including destination fees) for either body style, and it's basically a monospec car. The only option is to upgrade to the summer tires with which our test cars were equipped, for $200.
That's a lower starting price than competitors like the Volkswagen Golf GTI ($1,640 more) and Subaru WRX ($3,080 more), by a large margin, which puts it more in the range of cars like the Hyundai Elantra Sport and the Nissan Sentra Turbo.
However, I would argue that this Civic seems to compete most with itself. The Si's starting price is only $100 more than you'd pay for a Civic EX-L sedan, and $2,700 less than a Touring model. These two versions come with standard continuously variable automatic transmissions, but if you're up for shifting your own gears, then the Si is the clear choice. It offers greater performance and more style, while keeping all of the things that make the Civic so good - ample passenger and cargo room, solid value and a high-quality interior.
The 2017 Civic Si would be my choice out of the Civic lineup — in a landslide. It's great fun to drive and it planted a smile firmly on my face for the whole afternoon.