2017 Honda Civic Si first drive

Honda's featherweight Civic Si slims down and speeds up

The Civic Si offers value to budget-minded performance enthusiasts, but faces heated competition in the segment.

As the tenth generation Civic crests half a million cars sold in its first 18 months on market – making it the best-selling car in America for 2016 – the performance-oriented Si trim enters the lineup. Situated between the garden-variety Civic trims and the forthcoming track-focused Type R, the Si offers a sport-tuned chassis, more power and a livelier overall driving character than the standard car while keeping the asking price under $24,000.

With predominantly male buyers that are on average nine years younger than would-be shoppers for the standard Civic models, the Civic Si goes up against cars like the Volkswagen GTI, Ford Focus ST, Subaru WRX, and Toyota GT86 in the sport compact segment, which represents about 100,000 cars sold annually in total.

What’s new

As 2017 marks the introduction of the Si trim for the tenth generation Civic, it benefits from all improvements of the tenth generation platform, including a lower and wider stance, a longer wheelbase for best-in-class interior volume, and 25 percent more torsional rigidity than the previous generation Civic despite being slightly lighter (17 pounds, according to Honda).

Beyond the benefits of the platform itself, the Si gets a number of performance-oriented upgrades. Compared to the standard Civic, the Si’s turbocharged 1.5-liter four cylinder mill gets a bigger turbocharger and recalibrated engine management software that results in a peak output of 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque, gains of 25 hp and 15 pound-feet over the standard Civic trims.

The chassis tuning is also significantly revised with a focus on sporty driving. The suspension utilizes stiffer springs, stabilizer bar and bushings, while two-mode adaptive dampers offer the driver the ability to further adjust ride stiffness on the fly by way of a Sport button on the center console, which also changes the steering weight and throttle sensitivity. A limited slip differential also helps the Civic Si put the power to the ground and claw its way through corners with more urgency, while larger brakes with 12.3-inch rotors offer great stopping capability.

Trim levels & features

Offered at $23,900 before an $875 destination charge, all the content available for the Civic Si is equipped as standard aside from the optional Goodyear Eagle F1 asymmetric summer tires, which will ring up an additional $200 for buyers who opt for the enhanced dry grip they provide.

Taller drivers may find headroom to be at a premium, particularly when wearing a helmet.

That means that all Civic Si models will come boasting heated sport seats, a 450-watt audio system with a 7-inch touchscreen interface that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, red contrast stitching, sport pedals, a power moonroof, and a six-speed manual gearbox, among other standard features.

The Si also stands out from the standard Civic models aesthetically as well with a revised bodykit that features a rear wing, more aggressive front and rear fascias, and 18-inch alloy wheels that are wrapped in 235mm-wide rubber at all four corners.

Technology overview

Since the Si does not offer any optional infotainment system upgrades, would-be owners will be working with Honda’s standard touchscreen interface and an unbranded 10-speaker, 450-watt audio system. In what we can only assume is a nod to the potentially Gen Y-skewed customer base for the Si, the system itself does not offer navigation functionality but instead offers the aforementioned support for CarPlay and Android Auto, making that feature redundant for most Si buyers anyway.

honda civic si first drive 2017 press 11

Considering the system’s dated visuals and limited feature set, that’s probably for the best anyway. But for a standard infotainment system in this price range the hardware on hand here works well enough, and audio system should more than satisfy casual listeners. A USB port is provided deep in the bowels of the center console, and a small storage area hidden behind the shifter offers an additional port as well as a cigarette lighter-style power outlet.

A combination of digital displays replace the traditional analog gauges used to relay information to the driver about the car’s speed, engine revs and other vital statistics, as well as the current drive mode selected (Comfort mode is enabled by default each time the car is restarted).

Interior fit & finish

While the overall aesthetic of the Si is similar to the standard Civic models, the inclusion of a leather-wrapped steering wheel, titanium accents, red contrast stitching, and Si-exclusive sport seats give this model a more performance-oriented vibe than the other Civic trim levels currently on offer (the Type R is still a few months away).

Opting for the sedan cures the issue of limited passenger capacity, but at the cost of coupe’s more handsome exterior.

Though the Civic is a compact car, its extended wheelbase and wider stance compared to the previous generation car makes the interior less claustrophobic, though the rear seats in the coupe would likely only be suitable for small children or cargo you might want easy access to. Opting for the sedan cures the issue of limited passenger capacity, but at the cost of coupe’s more handsome exterior. While legroom up front is ample, taller drivers may find headroom to be at a premium, particularly when wearing a helmet – your 6’3 author had to open the moonroof cover in order to sit comfortably in the car during track sessions.

11.9 cubic feet of cargo volume is available in the coupe when utilizing the rear seat pass-through, while the sedan offers a bit more capacity at 14.7 cubic feet when using that same cargo pass-through feature, improvements of .2 cubic feet for the coupe and 2.2 cu ft. for the sedan when compared to their previous generation counterparts.

Driving performance & MPG

Honda brought us out to their recently renovated proving grounds in the Mojave Desert to put the Civic Si through its paces on their 1.9 South Winding road course, a technical track that put the Si through a gamut of different high-performance scenarios. Here the Si could prove its worth over the standard Civic – its taut suspension, bigger brakes, well-weighted steering and slick six-speed shifter exploited to their full potential.

While the 1.5-liter turbo engine offers more power than the standard Civic, we couldn’t help but wish for a few dozen additional ponies, as it is still significantly down on power versus competitors like the Focus ST and Subaru WRX, which offer 252hp and 268 hp respectively. And although the Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires offer substantially more grip than the standard all-season rubber, their threshold of grip still remained fairly low, chatting away as we navigated the course with vigor.

honda civic si first drive 2017 post wm3

Bradley Iger/Digital Trends

But in contrast to trends in the automotive industry in recent years, the Si remains relatively light at under 2,900 pounds. That undercuts cars like the Focus and WRX by hundreds of pounds, making Civic Si quick to respond to inputs and easy to corral if a corner is overcooked.

Honda tells us that the Civic Si offers best-in-class fuel economy at 28 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 32 combined. But our on-track testing and spirited high speed jaunts through the Mojave Desert – both of which entailed repeated uses of wide open throttle in quick succession – do not represent typical usage and thus would not yield results anywhere near these numbers. We’ll have to wait until we have some quality time with the Si back in the civilized world to find out whether those figures are reasonably achievable in everyday driving, but with the Civic’s turbocharged motor and low curb weight, we’d theorize that they likely are.

Safety

Through a combination of active safety features like Brake Assist, which recognizes emergency or hard braking situations and applies additional braking force, as well as the extensive use of high-strength steel through the unibody construction, the Civic Si has achieved 5-Star Overall Vehicle Score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP).

Good outward visibility along with Honda LaneWatch, which uses rear view cameras to provide a view of the car’s passenger side blind spot through the infotainment display when making right-lane changes, should also help Si drivers to reduce the chances of needing those additional safety features when out on the road.

Conclusion

At $23,900, the 2017 Honda Civic Si undercuts the Volkswagen GTI and Subaru WRX by thousands of dollars and the Ford Focus ST by a few hundred bucks, all while providing virtually all of the Civic’s available content as standard. While the Si’s 1.5-liter mill is a bit underwhelming compared to those vehicles, it’s worth noting that’s right on par with the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 for horsepower while offering more torque, though that pair’s rear-drive layout admittedly makes them an outlier in this competitive set.

The Civic Si is undeniably agile and fun to drive overall while offering a wide array of standard content.

Regardless of where its output puts it in the pack, the Civic Si is undeniably agile and fun to drive overall while offering a wide array of standard content. In this case much of the buying decision comes down to a value proposition, as cars like the VW GTI offer more performance, a dual clutch gearbox and a more supplicated technological suite – but it all comes at significant additional cost.

Ultimately, there’s little doubt that plenty of budget-minded performance enthusiasts will take the plunge on a new Civic Si and subsequently have a blast on their favorite back roads and local autocross courses while not breaking the bank to do so. In regards to this segment, one could argue that accessibility is just as important as capability.

Highs

  • Lightweight and fun to drive
  • Improves upon previous generation
  • Lots of standard equipment

Lows

  • Underpowered versus the competition
  • Infotainment system looks dated
  • Summer tires still a bit low on grip