2006 Honda Civic Si Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2006 Honda Civic Si

The letters ``Si'' have magic meaning to Honda enthusiasts, as they denote the hottest and sportiest Civic model. When the first Civic Si debuted as a hatchback in 1986 with a 91-horsepower, 1.5-liter engine, it was one of the quickest and best-handling small cars made. In 1992 it got a 1.6-liter engine that, with one of the earliest implementations of Honda's Formula One-bred VTEC variable valve timing and lift system, made 125 horsepower. With a new generation of Civic, the Si seemingly disappeared after the 1995 model year, but was resurrected in coupe form in 1999, with a screaming 1.6-liter, 160-horsepower, 8000-rpm race-bred mill. Alas, that went away after 2000, as yet another generation of Civic debuted minus the Si. When the Si reappeared for 2002, it was a European import that owed little to any other Civic sold in North America. The screaming little 1600cc engine gave way to a less highly-tuned 2.0-liter that had the same 160 horses but considerably more torque, at 132 lb-ft.

There's an all-new, eighth-generation, Civic for 2006, and this time Honda is not making Si fans wait. Even better, the newest Civic Si is the best yet. Like the 1999-2000 car, it's based on the Civic Coupe, and so, like the latest Civic Coupe, it's larger, more spacious, and offers greater refinement and comfort. Also like the `99-`00 Si, the new one features a screaming 8000-rpm engine. But this time around, it's a 2.0-liter, with 197 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque. And the chassis is fully capable of handling that power, with a longer wheelbase and new suspension geometry and tuning. Brakes for the Si are four-wheel antilock disc. A high-grade MP3-compatible, XM-ready audio system is standard in the Si.

The first time I drove a new Civic Si was at a media racetrack event. At speed, it's one of the best front-wheel drive cars ever made, with precise handling and shifting and no shortage of power. I've just finished a week with one in the real world, and it's great there, too. Although it's low, it never felt cramped, and its comfort and refinement levels are very high. The engine is wonderfully flexible, with good low- and mid-range torque, and the shift linkage is excellent. Fuel economy, at over 25 mpg split pretty evenly between highway and city driving, is exemplary, although excess fun with the loud pedal will decrease that.

APPEARANCE: Especially in coupe form, the new Civic looks futuristic, with a sleek, integrated shape Honda calls ``One-Motion Form''. Well, why not - this is the 21st Century, after all, and the 2006 Civic Si is a 21st Century Honda. Styling trends that started with the current Accord are further developed in the Civic, in both coupe and sedan form. Boxes can't be used in a styling analysis, as there aren't any. The new Civic coupe is more of a one-arch design, with a short hood, a large windscreen raked back almost as an extension of the hood, a long passenger cabin, and a short, high rear deck. It owes nothing to the ``classic'' long-hood, short deck, cab-rearward front-engine, rear-wheel drive coupe of the past, and very obviously takes advantage of its transverse-engine, front-wheel drive layout. External differences between the regular coupe and Si are minimal, with different wheels and the Si's small deck spoiler the most apparent.

COMFORT: If that extra-long passenger cabin makes the Si look a little different from the outside, it makes wonderful sense inside. The large glass area allows good visibility and an airy, spacious feeling. As in the regular Civic coupe, and even the sedan, an interesting split-level instrument panel sets a futuristic-looking but eminently practical tone. Temperature and fuel gauges, and a digital speedometer, all backlit for easy visibility in all lighting, are placed far forward, in the driver's line of sight near the base of the windshield, lessening the need to refocus eyes. The tach and warning lights are in the usual place of honor closer to the driver. Audio and climate controls are in the center of the dash, also accessible by the front passenger. The climate control system works very well; the Si's audio plays the usual AM and FM radio and audio CDs, and also MP3 or WMA CDs, with a jack for an external music player. The Si differs from other Civic models in its well-bolstered front sport seats, black nylon with red stitching and ``Si'' logos, leather-rimmed height-adjustable steering wheel, metal-and-rubber pedals positioned well for heel-and-toe driving, and silver-gray plastic trim. The front seats offer fine support, especially lateral support, without being difficult to get into or out of. The front passenger seat is spring-loaded to ease access to the rear seat, which is contoured for two but does have three safety belts. Two medium-sized adults fit, three's a crowd. The trunk is usefully large, with a good-sized opening.

SAFETY: ``Advanced Compatibility Engineering'' (tm) unibody structure improves frontal collision energy management and protects the Civic Si's occupants along with standard front, front side, and side curtain airbags, active front headrests and four-wheel antilock disc brakes.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The new Civic's structure provides solid, rigid mounting for its fully-independent MacPherson front, multilink double-wishbone rear suspension. In the Si, the tuning is appropriately firm for sport driving, but compliant enough for everyday use. The Si's electric power steering is a little quicker than the hydraulic system found in other new Civics, for faster response to driver inputs. Pushed hard on the track, the Si holds the road extremely well, and is one of the best-handling front-wheel drive I've ever driven. Stopping power from the antilock discs is first-rate. Yet it's quiet and comfortable enough for daily use and even long trips on the highway.

PERFORMANCE: The Civic Si has moved up a class, at least, in performance. It weighs 95 pounds more than last year's Si (and 265 pounds more than the 1999 version) but more than makes up for that in the engine department, with 197 horsepower at 7800 rpm and 139 lb-ft of torque at 6200 rpm. That's 37 more horsepower and 7 extra lb-ft compared with its immediate predecessor, and 37 hp and 28 lb-ft better than the `99. It's as rev-happy as the '99 car, and hard to keep out of the 8000-rpm rev limiter, especially as the VTEC high-power cam cuts in at 6000 rpm. But the extra displacement and Honda's i-VTEC valve control system, which adds variable cam phasing to VTEC's dual cam lobes, means that there is adequate low- and mid-range torque. Power gets smoothly to the wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox with well-chosen ratios and excellent shift linkage, with a helical limited-slip differential getting all the power to the ground. The Si is as quick as many a larger-displacement car, yet can return very good gas mileage, and I got well over 25 mpg without trying too hard. The engine's efficiency also means low exhaust emissions, with a LEV-2, Tier 2/Bin 6 rating.

CONCLUSIONS: Need a definition of ``impressive'' on four wheels? Take a look at the 2006 Honda Civic Si.

SPECIFICATIONS
2006 Honda Civic Si

Base Price			$ 19,990
Price As Tested			$ 20,540
Engine Type			aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder,
				 dual overhead cams, i-VTEC variable
				 valve timing
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			197 @ 7800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			139 @ 6200 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		1104.3 in. / 174.8 in.
Curb Weight			2877 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		14.6
Fuel Capacity			13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P215/45 VR17 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS and EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multi-link double wishbone
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		23 / 32 / 27
0 to 60 mph				6.8  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination charge			$ 550

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