2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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2012 Honda Civic Si coupe

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

• SEE ALSO: Honda Buyers Guide


2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe

"Si" - originally meaning Sport, injected - has denoted the most performance-oriented version of the Honda Civic in the U. S. market since 1986, when fuel injection was a rarity. The Si badge started out as the top level of the two-seat CRX hatchback in 1985, with 91 horsepower from a 1.5-liter engine. The next year an Si version of the four-seat Civic hatchback was offered as well. The second-generation Si hatch debuted for 1989, with 108 hp. 1992 saw the first use of Honda's VTEC variable valve lift and timing system in the Si, in a 1.6-liter, 125-hp engine. The Si disappeared after the 1995 model year, only to reappear in coupe form in 1999, with a factory-tuned 1.6-liter DOHC VTEC engine that put out a maximum of 160 hp -- 100 horsepower per liter -- at 8000 rpm. Race engine for the street! And a highly sought-after car today, especially since it only had a two-year production run.

For 2002, the Si returned to its hatchback roots as an English import, from Honda's factory in Swindon. Honda's take on the British sports car still had 160 horsepower, but from a lower-revving 2.0-liter engine with considerably more midrange torque. It was a much easier car to drive, especially quickly, because of that, but lacked the 99-00 version's screaming racercar character. It disappeared after 2005.

2006 saw a return of the Si, in a coupe body style shared with lesser Civics, with an Si Sedan added in 2007. Its 2.0-liter engine made 197 hp (at 7800 rpm), with 139 lb-ft of torque at 6200 rpm. An 8000 rpm screaming rev monster, just like the 99-00 version, but with additional displacement for more torque.


Watch the Civic Si customized cars at the 2011 SEMA Trade Show


That was a tough act to follow, but Honda has done so, and admirably, with the latest Civic Si. Like its immediate predecessor, the 2012 Civic Si is offered in both coupe and sedan body styles, with the coupe a touch smaller and lighter in weight. In a move that superficially sounds like a return to 2002, it gets its power from a larger, more softly-tuned engine, in this case a 2.4-liter twincam four with the i-VTEC variable valve control system good for 201 horsepower, at a lower 7000 rpm. Four more horses? Big deal… but there's also 170 lb-ft of torque, at 4400 rpm, a very noticeable 22 percent boost in the midrange. There's no need to wring the engine to redline, although it has no problem doing that, and with the strong midrange and fine flexibility, the newest Civic Si can be a relaxing car to drive -- something that really couldn't be said about more than a few of its ancestors.

That does mean that there is a change in character, but not really for the worse. I've just spent a week with a new Si coupe, in premium trim with the navigation system, and for those times when you can't go flat out -- which is, let's be honest, most of the time -- it is a much-improved piece of machinery. There's strong midrange power and great flexibility, so no need to row the gearshift lever -- but the shift linkage is good enough that you might want to anyway. And yes, like all Civic Sis, this one is manual-only, a six-speed. Shiftless need not apply. The suspension is matched well to the Si's abilities, there is less engine and mechanical noise heard inside, so greater refinement, and if it isn't the most powerful car in the sport-compact class, the 2012 Honda Civic Si just might be the the most well-balanced. It's no longer a "boy racer"; it has matured, and in a good way.


Watch TACH's exclusive Civic Si promo video


APPEARANCE: As with the sedan, the latest Civic coupe's styling is a development of the previous generation. But in this case, there is noticeably more development, with a true fastback roofline to complement the highly-raked windshield. From the side, it almost has a one-arch profile. The Civic Coupe is further differentiated from the sedan at the front by a unique front clip featuring a small five-sided upper grille (shades of 2002!) between long, low headlights and a modified-trapezoid lower grille with the bumper cleverly concealed. The Si is best told from other current Civic coupe models by the small "Si" badge on the driver's side of the grille and, shades of yore, prominent "i-VTEC / DOHC" stickers on the lower sides behind the doors. The rear spoiler is pleasantly integrated into the trunk lid, so it's functional without being overly obvious.

COMFORT: Again like its sedan counterpart, the new Civic Coupe builds on the interior design of the previous generation, with a double-layer instrument panel that may look spaceship-modern but is very functional. There are some differences, especially in the Si. Don't look for the "ECON" system here -- instead, in its place is an LED-based VTEC notification and sequential rev indicator, a red light that turns on when the engine is in high-rpm mode and a series of amber lights that light as revs build toward the 7000 rpm redline. The Si's digital speedometer readout is not flanked by a color-shifting display, and there's a "Power Indicator" part of the i-MID information display to the right of the speedo for real-time power information. This is not something the driver should be looking at when the power is in the upper reaches… The lower section of the IP houses an electroluminescent tach and warning lights. Windows and mirrors are power, seats and steering wheel are manual. The Si has well-bolstered, comfortable and supportive sports seats with grippy cloth fabric in front and a contoured bench in the rear. The color scheme is black with red stitching, and Si badging adorns the front seats and steering wheel. The driver's seat cushion is height-adjustable, and the steering wheel is adjustable for both tilt and reach. The steering wheel rim and shift knob are leather; information, audio, Bluetooth phone, and cruise control system controls are found on the steering wheel. If the navigation system is specified, it's in the center of the instrument panel, angled toward the driver but accessible to the front passenger. Controls are a simple and intuitive combination of touch screen and hard buttons. Rear-seat access is aided by a front passenger seat that slides forward and flops the seatback forward when the seatback lever is pressed. Once in, there is good room for two outboard passengers because of the deeply-contoured cushion, but the center is definitely the penalty box. No demerits -- this is a coupe so rear passengers are not a primary concern. There's a sedan for that. The rear seatback folds 60/40 if extra cargo space is needed. The trunk has plenty of space but access is through a relatively small opening as this is not a hatchback. A space-saver spare, not a fix-a-flat kit, lives under the trunk floor.

SAFETY: Safety features found in the new Honda Civic Si Coupe include dual-stage front, seat-mounted front side, and side airbags, a strong "Advance Compatibility Engineering™" structure around the passenger cabin augmented by front and rear crumple zones, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist, the Vehicle Stability Assist™ (VSAŽ) electronic stability system , and the new Motion Adaptive Electric Power Steering System.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Greater use of lightweight high-strength steel in the new Civic's unibody structure improves rigidity and helps keep weight in check. The 2012 coupe looks larger than its immediate forebear, but that's merely optical illusion -- external dimensions are nearly identical, on an inch-shorter wheelbase. Weight is also comparable, or less without the extra twenty pounds or so for the nav system. The fully-independent MacPherson strut / multilink suspension takes advantage of that with a firm but compliant tuning that is both comfortable in daily driving activities and gives excellent road manners when pushed harder. Compared to the other coupes, the Si has stiffer springs and shocks, larger stabilizer bars, and a lower ride height. It uses the same electric power steering system as other Civics, but with a different setting that improves road feel and steering response. Interestingly, my Si Coupe felt a bit soft at first, when driven sedately around town. Driven harder, it felt more composed and happier, the best of both worlds. Earlier Sis were not the best choice for a long highway journey; this one should do just fine. And even better on the scenic route.

PERFORMANCE: There's no replacement for displacement, and the new Si's larger, more softly-tuned engine gives marginally more horsepower and noticeably greater torque with no penalty at the pump. Its maximum 201 horsepower ( four more) is made at the 7000 rpm redline, 800 rpm down on the previous power peak, while the 170 lb-ft torque peak comes at 4400 rpm, 1800 rpm less than previously, with 22 percent more torque. The result is a less frenetic engine most of the time, for a quieter driving experience. Short-shift the six-speed manual gearbox, and there's enough torque over 2500 rpm in any gear for reasonable response. But the classic screaming VTEC beast is still there, just nail the throttle until the red indicator light glows and get ready to shift quickly. It may only rev to 7000 instead of 8000 rpm, but it's in no way "soft". Some magazines and other drivers I talked with noted that at times revs don't drop when letting off the throttle while shifting. I noticed this, too -- but only sometimes. As in when I depressed the clutch pedal too far, and was slow to shift. Done correctly, shifting is fast and rewarding. Sloppy technique leads to balky shifts. Yes, it's tricky, but that is as it should be, and that's why the Honda Civic Si is an old-school driver's car, manual shift and all. Technology does not coddle you and make you think you're better than you actually are. If you're thinking that with 201 horsepower and a relatively large engine the new Si will be thirsty, think again. It's a Honda, after all. I saw 22-24 mpg around town, short-shifting and never getting near the VTEC Zone. That rose to 28 with a bit of highway driving. Then 40 miles of backroad fun in the Zone in second and third… down only to 25.5. Which went back up to 27 after a few miles of more sedate operation. Not bad at all for a 2.4-liter, 201-hp engine and better than most of the high-performance competition.

CONCLUSIONS: Rumors of the 2012 Honda Civic Si's softness have been exaggerated.

SPECIFICATIONS

2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe (with Navi)

Base Price $ 23,705

Price As Tested $ 24,475

Engine Type dohc aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with i-VTEC variable cam phasing and valve lift

Engine Size 2.4 liters / 144 cu. in.

Horsepower 201 @ 7000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 170 @ 4400 rpm

Transmission 6-speed manual

Wheelbase / Length 103.2 in. / 175.7 in.

Curb Weight 2897 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 14.4

Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.

Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline

Tires P215/45 R17 87V Michelin Pilot HX mxm4

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22 / 31 / 27

0 to 60 mph 6.8 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Destination and handling $ 770


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