When the list of things you don't like about a car has one item -- "Emergency-brake lever presses against my leg" -- there's a good chance the designers and manufacturers have gotten pretty much everything right. Such is the case with the 2007 Honda Civic Si sedan, which takes all the good things from the Si coupe and adds two doors.
This current-generation Civic is the best yet, leaps and bounds ahead of the last one, regardless of the body style or model. The fact that the Si sedan is, in many parts of the country, selling for well above list price suggests just how right Honda has gotten its performance model.
The Civic Si, coupe or sedan, has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 197 horsepower, accomplished without turbocharging or supercharging. The little engine revs up to a motorcyclelike 8,000 rpm, but unlike a lot of high-revving engines -- including the original powerplant in the Honda S2000 sports car -- you don't have to rev it that high to find some power. The Civic Si does fine around town at lower rpm, but then turn it loose to, say, accelerate onto the expressway, and it's a different engine.
An engine that is, incidentally, perfectly matched to a short-throw, six-speed manual transmission.
No automatic is offered on the Civic Si, which probably costs Honda some sales, but this engine just wouldn't be as much fun if you couldn't shift for yourself. EPA-rated fuel mileage of 22 miles per gallon city, 32 mpg highway drops quickly if you're an enthusiastic driver. Premium gas is recommended.
On the road, the Civic Si's taut suspension and largish 17-inch wheels and Michelin radial tires make for superior cornering, but the ride is surprisingly good, even on exceptionally rough pavement. Brakes are excellent, and the electrically boosted power steering is just fine.
Inside, the Civic Si's huge, picnic-table-sized dashboard seems odd at first, but you get used to it. Instruments and controls are nicely placed -- even the digital speedometer seems appropriate. The cloth-covered bucket seats are supportive, and even the rear seats have room for adults, as long as they aren't basketball players. Trunk space is more than adequate.
The Civic Si sedan has no factory options: You either get it without the navigation system, or as with our test car, with it. Honda's nav system is, and always has been, one of the easiest to use. Other features include XM radio, stability control, side air bags, anti-lock disc brakes, a power sunroof and most everything else you'd want.
If we're voting on the best all-around car, the Civic Si sedan would likely get my vote. Looks, performance, comfort, room, a decent price, Honda reliability -- but an emergency-brake lever that presses against my leg. We all have crosses to bear, and that's a pretty small one.