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November 15, 2011 > Auto Review: Honda Civic Si

Auto Review: Honda Civic Si

All New, Surprisingly Powerful

By Steve Schaefer

The Honda Civic Si is the performance version of the popular Civic compact - and has been for decades. My experience with a loaded 2012 model proves that it's still got what it takes to entertain - while going easy at the gas pump.

2012 marks Civic's ninth generation. It's nearly 40 years since the tiny, MINI Cooper-sized hatchback debuted. The efficient, cute and quiet Civic was the perfect solution to the first gas crisis of 1973.

Civics were the cutest thing on the road, and came in jelly bean yellow, orange, and red. I wanted a yellow one badly, but it wasn't until 1986 that I finally acquired one of my own. By then, they didn't offer yellow anymore, and had changed their proportions substantially, so my car ended up being white with black trim - no chrome. That was the cool look then, much different from the chrome accents cars use today.

1986 was the first year of the Si. It still had some connection to its tiny predecessor, but with more sharply-drawn lines and a rear window that dropped off like a cliff. There are times when I wish I still had mine - it would be a collectible antique by now.

The new, Canadian-built Civic stretches out significantly longer than my car, and the Si now comes as a coupe or a sedan - back in '86 it was a hatchback only. Over time, the Civic has grown to the size of the old Accord - and even larger. Now, it realistically could be a good family car.

People love their Civics. More than 8.8 million have been sold in the United States alone since the model's debut. It's perennially in the top ten models when the annual sales numbers are counted.

Civic engines have grown larger and more powerful over the years. The standard Civic today features 140 horsepower from a 1.8-liter inline four. With the Si, you get much more - a 2.4-liter powerplant with a generous 201 horsepower. That's 22 percent more than last year's Si, making it a quick performer. My '86 mustered only 90 horsepower, yet that was about 50 percent more than the standard Civic that year. Today's Si offers a six-speed manual transmission only, versus the five-speed manual that was considered advanced in 1986.

The Civic, especially in Si guise, gives you fun plus economy. The EPA rates it at 22 City, 31 Highway, averaging 25 mpg. My Rallye Red coupe earned just over 28 miles per gallon - admittedly spending a lot of time on the freeway, but that's still a very good number. If you want better, the Civic line is broader than ever this year, with the HF ultra efficient model, the Hybrid, and the Natural Gas models offering even better economy.

The EPA's Green Vehicle Guide gives the Si a 6 for both Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gas scores-just enough for SmartWay status. The 1.8-liter standard engine gets 6/7. The HF model earns even better ratings, 29 City and 41 Highway and 9/8 green scores - hybrid level numbers - and the Hybrid itself delivers 44/44 and 9/9 - good for SmartWay Elite rating.

The styling of the '12 is reminiscent of the radically different 2006 model, but now has more expressive folds and angles, although the front isn't all that different. The new tail lamps look a lot like those on the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. It's hard to imagine that it's not intentional.

A new interior retains the two-level instrument panel and in the Si, a sporty character with lots to move the eye. The plastics feel a little inexpensive and there is a lot of "rice paper" pattern surface, but the layout is perfect. Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob add a dash of upscale flavor. Everything works well, too - Honda has long had its ergonomics together. The 360-watt premium audio system features seven speakers and drowns the place in sound. Nothing like that in my '86.

The car is definitely larger and heavier than the Civics of old, but still drives tautly. The electric power-assisted power steering feels natural, and being disconnected from the hydraulic system, takes nothing away from the engine power. The four-wheel disc brakes, coupled with the anti-lock system, brake assist and Electronic Brake Distribution, guarantee that there's plenty of stopping power, even if you get a little overexcited and exceed the posted limits (be careful).

Priced at $24,475, with no options, my Civic was positioned right where the compact sporty hatch market begins. It'll give VW GTIs and other cars some serious competition. Civics start at $16,575 for the DX with manual transmission. The car's reputation on top of its sharp new look and upgraded power should be enough to keep the Si popular.

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