Honda Civic is the practical compact car of choice for millions of U.S. drivers, with economy and reliability that make true believers out of regular readers of Consumer Reports.
But there is another side of Civic, well known among young sport compact tuners. This generation’s hot-rodders have been hard at work turning Civics into road racers, complete with slammed suspensions, towering wings and high-revving Honda VTEC engines.
That attention hit a lull with recent Civics. A conservative redesign blunted its appeal, and competition from the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Evolution stole its thunder.
For 2006, the Civic comes revamped and back in the race, both in terms of performance and economy. Wrapped in edgy new styling, the Honda Civic reigns as the most diverse car on the market, including an ultra-efficient hybrid model, high-mileage gas versions, models with luxury trim, and even a clean-burning natural-gas option.
For those who favor compact performance, there’s the Si. Packing 197 horsepower from its rpm-happy 2-liter engine, six-speed stick shift, limited-slip differential, body-grabbing sport seats and the cornering prowess of a fighter jet, the Si delivers all The Fast and the Furious goodies.
Youthful drivers might consider me old-school for my short list of complaints. Yes, it’s quick and corners great, but it’s also pretty harsh. It’s hard to upshift smoothly, torque is sparse, and I felt crammed into the sport seat, obviously designed for small, skinny, race-car-driver types.
And the gauges are truly ugly.
But Si is rockin’ fun to drive, and that’s what this compact is all about. PERFORMANCE: The race-bred four-banger is enhanced by Honda’s famed VTEC variable-valve timing, which evens out power and torque across the rpm band and allows the 2-liter to rev happily to 8,000 rpm. A rumbling exhaust note provides the musical accompaniment. But peak torque is pretty light at just 139 pound-feet, and the engine doesn’t feel strong until you get it up past about 5,500 rpm. Fun for sporty driving. Lame for normal driving. The close-ratio six-speed shifts precisely, but it was hard for me to upshift in city driving without jarring the heck out of my passenger.
DRIVABILITY: The steering is light but highly responsive, and Si loves to roar through turns. A nicely balanced car with superb maneuverability. The stiff suspension and low-profile tires create some harshness, although performance drivers shouldn’t mind. The standard limited-stiff differential helps keep Si on track under acceleration, with minimal torque steer. In corners, the technology helps both front tires transmit power to the pavement.
STYLING: This may be an acquired taste for some, with Civic pushing the envelope with its steeply raked windshield and wedgy stance. It works for me. The VTEC emblem on the rear haunches, as well as the significant rear wing, advertise Si’s performance potential.
INTERIOR: Well, the best I can say about the dashboard is that it’s functional. Otherwise, it’s just plain ugly, with a crummy digital speedometer and red-and-white trim. Awful. Or as my usual driving partner says, “Ugly with a capital ‘Ug.’ “
As noted, the sport seat is pretty extreme. Hard side bolsters provide cornering support but are way too narrow for those of us who wear extra-large T-shirts.
The navigation system works well and is a fairly inexpensive option.
BOTTOM LINE: Great performance for the price, although with some compromises in comfort and drivability.