Earlier this week, we reviewed the VW Golf GTI, a jack-of-all-trades car that, in the words of one reader, is “the most refined and least ‘boy-racer’ of the hot-hatches.” But what if you want a cheap and sporty car that leans into that boy (or girl) racer image? The answer could well be the car we’re reviewing today—the 2020 Honda Civic Si. OK, technically this one isn’t actually a hot-hatch; your $25,000 buys either a two-door coupe or a four-door sedan.
The idea, as always, is pretty simple. You start with a cheap car and add a more powerful engine, tweaked suspension, and some go-faster styling accoutrements that through the power of transubstantiation imbues the entire lineup with a shiny, glowing halo. (Ignoring the more special but even more expensive Civic Type-R, which polishes that halo.)
Honda describes the way the Si looks as “benefit[ing] from exterior styling enhancements befitting the model’s aggressive driving dynamics.” Another way to describe it would be to say that this one really looks like a space fighter. At the front there’s a new front bumper with some elements that call to mind mid-engined exotica or the complicated front wing of a race car. At the back, a wide exhaust that kind of resembles an HDMI port, and a rear wing that I’m not sure does much aerodynamically. And to round it all off, some matte-black 18-inch alloy wheels, which you can have wrapped in sticky summer tires for an extra $200.
The sporty theme continues on the inside, with some red-and-black winged seats that offer more support to keep you in place as the lateral Gs begin to increase. Otherwise, it’s mostly the same as the normal Civic interior, although you will notice in the footwell you get not two but three pedals, each capped with a drilled metal face. Yes, this car has a six-speed manual transmission, and there isn’t an automatic option. The gearstick is topped with a leather-and-aluminum knob that feels good in the palm of your hand. (The fact that it’s not just an aluminum ball like the Type-R is to be appreciated by anyone who parks one of these outdoors in summer.)
Looks faster, goes faster
The changes compared to lesser Civics are more than just cosmetic. Under the hood is a 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but here it’s been breathed upon to produce 205hp (153kW) and 192lb-ft (260Nm). Since it’s a turbocharged engine, the redline is at 6,500rpm, but forced induction also means a broad peak torque plateau, from 2,100-5,000rpm. That gets sent to the front wheels via a six speed transmission that has a (six percent) shorter final drive for MY2020, and there’s a limited slip differential that helps you put that power down when cornering.
The 12.3-inch (312mm) front brake rotors are bigger than a normal Civic’s, it rides on stiffer springs, it uses stiffer antiroll bars, and it even has adjustable dampers. You switch these between their two settings by toggling the car from Normal to Sport, which also remaps the accelerator pedal and the power steering. It also replaces the digital tachometer with a set of shift lights on the main instrument display.
Other than that, everything is much the same as the less powerful, cheaper Civic we drove in 2019. So you get an infotainment system that’s not great but which does offer Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and you get some advanced driver assists including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning (but not adaptive cruise control or lane keeping).
Since the Civic Si weighs just 2,889lbs/1,310kg (or 2,906lbs/1,318kg for the sedan), the result is a car that’s fast enough for most boy racers out there. There’s enough torque to make the front wheels chirp if you launch it from a standstill, even on the stickier summer rubber that our test car came equipped with, and there’s some degree of torque steer in the lowest ratios if you apply a lot of power. The steering is relatively communicative with regard to passing along messages from the front tires without being nervous, and I can’t decide if it really is a great gear shift action or just the best we have left at this point as every other car comes with some kind of automatic transmission. It’s also not particularly thirsty; I met the EPA’s combined 30mpg (7.84L/100km) over the course of a week.
Which is to say that the Civic Si is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re looking for a grocery getter, a car to take the kids to school, or something to do a regular traffic-filled commute, you may want to look elsewhere. Similarly, if you’re looking for an affordable performance car, but you want to be able to fly under the radar, this winged Civic is probably not your first port of call. But if you wish you could be a Gundam pilot and don’t want to break the bank, Si could be the one.
Listing image by Honda