There is increasingly little reason for the Honda Civic Si to exist. The world has largely moved on from compact sedans; people aren’t buying them like they used to. Hot compact performance sedans are even more of a shrinking niche. And hot compact performance sedans that are available only with a manual transmission are perhaps the most endangered automotive species on the planet — but here I am behind the wheel of the all-new 2022 Honda Civic Si, which ticks every one of those boxes. If Honda had decided not to renew the sporty Si for this 11th-generation Civic, I don’t think anyone would have been surprised. The fans would be disappointed, but how many of them could possibly be left?
Well, apparently enough to ensure that Honda would return to the market with an Si version. But is it as good as the previous one?
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A quick refresher on what the Si is: This variant is meant to slot in between the Civic hatchback Sport trim and the Civic Type R, an update of which hasn’t been shown yet. It features exclusive matte-black 18-inch wheels with optional summer tires, a modest spoiler out back and a sport suspension that gives it a bit lower stance. There’s also gloss-black trim on the window surround and mirrors to help you tell the Si apart from lesser Civics. Given the attractive but newly conservative look of the basic Civic, I’m not sure Honda went far enough in distinguishing the Si from lesser trims; you have to look hard to realize what you’re looking at, and if not for the new Blazing Orange Pearl paint, there aren’t many obvious cues that this is the legendary Si. Here’s hoping Honda is able to do something a bit more dramatic with the highly anticipated Type R.
Quick, Zippy, Newly Bouncy
You see, the sport suspension is bouncy. Not Toyota Corolla Apex Edition bruise-your-kidneys, tuned-in-some-teenager’s-garage bouncy, but decidedly stiffer and less comfortable than it was before. And this is on Southern California roads, which are relatively smooth and well kept — not like the roads through much of the American Midwest, for instance. That newfound stiffness is balanced somewhat by the Civic Si’s amazing steering feel and feedback however, with the car communicating what it’s doing to the driver in ways that so many other cars no longer do. It’s light, it’s direct, and it invites you to point and shoot the Si into tight corners, rewarding you with exceptional accuracy.
The engine requires you to keep the thing on boil mid-rev range for maximum oomph, for despite the turbocharger, there’s a fair bit of lag at lower rpm. That’s OK, though, as keeping the engine in its sweet spot is half the fun of driving this Si. The thing is crazy-rev-happy thanks to its new lighter flywheel, and the shorter-throw shifter addresses one of the issues I had with the last Si. No more long throws of the skinny bulb; this feels notchy, direct and slick to operate, though I could still use a slightly larger shift knob — this one kind of disappears in my big paw. The clutch remains as light as ever, with a pickup point that feels like it’s just off the floor. Just like the past Si, this remains an exceptionally easy manual to drive and would be a perfect car to learn on, as well. It now features the Type R’s rev-matching, too, so no real need anymore to learn the elusive heel-and-toe method of driving a stick. It’s very forgiving and genuinely, brilliantly entertaining.
Get everything right, and the car feels quick, zippy and rewarding to drive, just like an Si should. Is it as muscular as a Volkswagen Golf GTI or the new Hyundai Elantra N? No; it’s outgunned by both of them in the power department. But the Civic’s chassis balance and excellent precision in everything from its steering to its shifter operation and firm, dependable brakes makes up for any power deficiency. It might be less powerful than its competition, but it’s not less fun to drive.
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