Although it’s all about to change, those of us here in the United States have never had the pleasure of the Honda Civic Type R being sold as a normal dealership model. We either only got to experience it in games, or those of us with the right cash flow and knowing the ‘right’ people could buy one from the grey market. However, Honda did give us something that allowed us to have a performance Civic that wasn’t quite the Type R but wasn’t far off – the Si.
While many would rightfully claim that Honda went soft on the Civic since the EP chassis, the new Si is a bit of a revival. But does it really deserve to wear the Si badge? We could only find out by driving one…
Before we jump in, I have to give full disclosure: Honda picked up the bill for my return travel to – and stay at – Marina Del Ray, and hosted me at its Mojave testing facility so I could experience the car.
Let’s start off with a bit of a history lesson and the past Si version Civics that were sold.
The first US model to receive the ‘Sports Injection’, or Si, badge was the Honda Prelude in 1985. The first Honda Civic Si debuted in 1984 with the EA-T chassis, and that got the ZC1 engine, also known as the D16A1. We finally got a Civic Si in 1986, however, the CR-X Si came a year earlier using the EW1/DA15A2 with fuel injection. We didn’t get the ZC1, but it did help that the CR-X only weighed in at 1840-pounds, so the 91hp or so on offer felt like a lot. For 1988, the next generation CR-X came in Si form and it was totally different. Gone was the squishy suspension and in came better dampers, larger front sway bar and 14×5-inch “wide” wheels with 185/60R14 tires to handle the additional power of the D16A6 that would eventually go on to make 108hp in 1989 with a revised camshaft. Two years later, the CR-X was discontinued.
In 1993, someone at Honda wanted a sporty, two-seater car in the Civic line-up again and the (CR-X) del Sol was born with a Si version. Just like the Civic hatch, the del Sol Si came with the D16Z6, a SOHC engine with Honda’s unmistakable VTEC cam technology that made 125hp with a switchover to a more aggressive cam lobe at 4,800rpm. In 1996, Honda retired the Si badge from the Civic line-up until 1999 when it would return in the Civic Coupe Si under the EM1 chassis code, which we only saw it for two years. That model came with the 160hp 1.6-liter B16A2.
This engine was a DOHC VTEC unit that had 10.2:1 compression, a VTEC switchover at 5,600rpm, and an 8,000rpm redline but could hit 8,500rpm or more once built for it. There were only three colors for it: Electron Blue Pearl, Flamenco Black and Milano Red.
There was a body change in 2001 and the EP3 Civic Si came back as a hatchback only, but now with a larger displacement of 2.0-liters with the K20A3, the same engine used in the Acura RSX. It boasted 160hp but accelerated slower than the outgoing Si thanks to gaining 150-pounds over the 99-00 Si. Once up to speed, though, it could hit 60mph in 7.6-seconds and pass the quarter-mile in 15.9-seconds. However, it was doing this without the factory-equipped limited slip differential that previous generations had.
In 2006, the Civic Si had a bit of a revival with the inclusion of a helical limited slip differential and a new body style in the FG2 coupe and the FA5 sedan, but used the K20Z3 which added variable valve timing and phasing with the iVTEC system. The sedan was the first Si of its sorts in the US while Japan offered a version well before this. We also got to see the Mugen Si sedan, but that was determined to be an equivalent to the Si coupe. In 2012, the FG4 coupe and FB6 sedan once again saw Si versions with a bump in displacement to 2.4-liters with the K24Z7 iVTEC. The Si was to be discontinued in 2016.
That New Performance
However, we’re now in 2017 and for its new Civic model Honda has determined that it needed a badging between the regular offering and the upcoming Type R. It needed the Si to come back once again. It’s an interesting mix of EX-T/EX-L/Touring trims and Type R. The engine is based on the 1.5-liter found in the Civic line-up, which is already a radical departure from what was normal for Honda. We don’t have the high-revving, naturally aspirated screamer anymore. Now it’s a high-revving, turbocharged screamer.
The turbocharger itself is an MHI TD03 unit with an internal wastegate that boosts up to 20.3psi, however in normal driving you’ll probably only see up to 16 to 17psi as I did in this pre-production model. Even so, it’s enough for it to produce 205hp and 192-lb-ft of torque from 2,100rpm to 5,000rpm. It’s a very flat and impressive torque curve that can be felt while driving. Even while cruising down the highway in a gear too high, it would still accelerate and not feel like it needed another 20hp. It felt better at accelerating, even when going uphill, than my 2000 Pathfinder with its 3.3-liter V6.
What makes this even more impressive is that it’s able to run a turbo with 10.3:1 compression in the combustion chamber and use regular gas. You’ll only get full power with 91-octane, but thanks to direct injection many cars are able to run 89 to 91 octane with minimal worry about detonation. I explained this before in the GT4586 article when I described how the Ferrari 458 engine works with direct injection, but here you also get the benefit of turbocharging for even more air, and then adding fuel as needed to cool the cylinder while also feeding that spark and air. There are twin piston oil squirters as well that shoot oil into the underside of the piston crown to reduce temperatures and increase longevity that you don’t see on the normal EX-T/EX-L/Touring 1.5-liter turbo engines. However, those trim level Civic engines also see 10.6:1 compression but lower boost.
It’s More Than Just The Engine
There is also that 6-speed transmission and that is the only option for transmission in the Si. No automatics, no paddle-shifters, no CVT – this is the enthusiast’s Civic. The gear ratios are really well thought out to work with the turbocharger; I was almost hitting 100mph on the Winding Road Course and coming close to topping out fourth gear before getting on the brakes for the third gear left sweeper past the front straight.
Another note: the brakes and tires were not the standard types. The car was fitted with the optional summer performance tires while the brakes were the HPD set for the new Civic’s single piston front and rear calipers. Yes, it uses a helical limited slip and you can feel it. The car, if pushed wrong, does still have that front-wheel drive push but isn’t uncontrollable. It’s manageable much like the torque steer that’s still able to get induced as well.
I think a lot of this had to do with the steering. Normally, on electrically-assisted steering racks, the steering wheel feels too light; it’s almost too easy to turn. However, with the Si the steering feel is very ‘heavy’ and feels properly connected to the road. It uses dual-pinion, variable-ratio electric power steering with a minimum ratio of 10.93:1. I feel that by using an electric motor that’s off the steering shaft and has its own pinion on the rack, it makes for a better feeling steering. I feel that it’s even better than the steering feel I had in the Ford Focus RS, which wasn’t bad itself.
What was interesting to learn was that the Si coupe and Si sedan both share the same wheelbase of 106.3-inches. Despite that, the Si coupe felt more twitchy on areas where the weight was coming off the rear and you had to either lift or brake. This is due to the weight distribution difference and where the sedan starts to win out over the coupe. The coupe has a 61.4/38.6 (F/R) weight distribution while the sedan has a better 60.3/39.7 split. This comes from adding two more doors and a longer roof.
When it came to me and headroom, that’s also where the sedan won when I had the helmet on. Front headroom on the coupe is 36.5-inches and 37.5-inches on the sedan – and I could feel it. The helmet was stuck right on the bump for the standard sunroof on the coupe but the one-inch difference of the sedan meant that I only had problems on bumps. That’s my only complaint about the Si coupe, but that could be fixed with lower aftermarket seats or finding some way to get rid of the sunroof and the associated headliner. It does make me wish that Honda would make the sunroof optional on the Si as it would let me gain another inch of headroom on the interior.
So, what does the Si share with the Type R? It’s in the suspension. The normal Civics come with fluid-filled bushings in the control arms but in the Si and the Type R, those are replaced with solid rubber components. This also leads to better steering feel and control as the bushings flex less. The dampers are MacPherson strut front and damper connected to the rear hub and spring on the rear control arm of the multi-link system. These dampers and springs are tuned for the Si, but when you go into Sport mode, things change.
When you hit that button on the center console that says ‘Sport’, it’s more than just a change of lights and maybe more sound. The Si becomes a different car, not radically so, but you notice the difference. First, the throttle becomes more direct; it follows the commands of your foot more than changing the throttle profile. It’s still more of a torque demand system, but it’s far better and you can heel/toe with it unlike many other systems when in Sport mode. The damper’s curve changes to become firmer and makes the car turn and pitch flatter. It does this using a solenoid on the damper body to change how the fluid interacts with the piston on bound and rebound. The steering becomes tighter and firmer while in Sport and the electric motor doesn’t provide as much assist as it does in Normal mode.
Does the car become unlivable with Sport mode on? Not for me when I tried it just driving around the Mojave Desert and California City. It’s obviously not a dedicated track suspension, so it’s not going to jar your fillings out as you run over bumps and the train tracks. It even behaved well in the dirt when I was looking for a different shoot location but came up empty. I wasn’t driving as fast as I would in my Pathfinder, but Sport mode didn’t make it difficult or jarring as I drove on some dirt roads. Overall, Sport mode is civil but it does let you open up the Si on tracks and mountain roads for some spirited driving.
Would I Buy One?
I had a really hard time giving the keys back to Honda. Even as I was driving the coupe for my after-track impressions, I had fun with it. Yes, I would like more headroom and I might consider the sedan over the coupe for that alone. However, I like the look of the coupe more and would be willing to own one even if I had to eventually find lower, aftermarket seats. Though, saying that, I wouldn’t turn down the sedan at all.
On the track the sedan wins. It’s got a better weight balance, has more headroom for those of us over six-feet, and looks great for a four-door. If I was looking for my next Time Attack or even Showroom Stock car, I’d probably go with the Si sedan; it’s the better of the two cars on track. Aesthetically, though, I want a coupe as that has always been my favorite automotive body style and has been the shape of performance cars for me as I grew up. I’ll always take a coupe over a sedan for that reason alone.
But no matter which one you choose, you won’t lose. The Si is back and it’s a proper, sporty front-wheel drive car worthy of the ‘Sports Injection’ badging, even in a four-door. And given how good it is, it’s going to be very interesting to see how the Type R fares in comparison, and whether the extra money required to get into one of those will ultimately be worth it.
Words & Photos by Justin Banner
Cutting Room Floor