I was talking to a couple of my colleagues over at Motor Trend about the 2013 Honda Civic Si sedan. Specifically -- and pardon the inside baseball here -- I was lamenting a bout of writer's block regarding the story I had to write. "There's really only one thing to say about it," one of them replied. "It's not as good as it used to be."
He had a point.
A little background might be in order if you're new to the Civic Si's history. The Si badge -- you pronounce each letter; it's not the Spanish word for "yes"--has been the sporty model of the Civic since 1986, albeit with a few pauses here and there. The current Si boasts 201 horsepower and a six-speed manual transmission; if you want an automatic you're out of luck. As is tradition, the Si is quicker, handles better, and thanks to a few design cues, looks better than the standard-issue Civic.
But my colleague was right: the current model isn't as good a performance car as earlier Civic Si models. As the Si approaches middle age, it's lost some of its zing as it tries to appeal to people for whom the sporty side of a car is secondary to its creature comforts. The Civic Si is still fun, especially for the $23,000 and change you'd pay for an example like we drove. But does its more grown up demeanor diminish the Si? Or just make it different? Only a week behind the wheel would tell us.
Model and PriceDespite the Civic Si's status as the top-dog Civic, it still comes in three different flavors. Ours was in the middle; at $23,705 it didn't have a navigation system, but it did come with the high-performance "summer" tire option. Like all Civic Si models, it also came standard with a rearview camera, Bluetooth, a USB audio interface, and a premium sound system. Of course, what makes the Si an Si is the drivetrain: a 2.4-liter four cylinder with 201 horsepower, a six-speed manual transmission, and a limited-slip differential sending it all to the front wheels.
Safety and Key FeaturesRemember how we keep saying the Civic Si benefits from all the goodness of the rest of the Civic lineup? That includes its excellent safety record. It gets five stars from the NHTSA in crash tests, and is a Top Safety Pick+ according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, thanks to a "Good" rating in the Institute's new small-overlap crash test, the highest possible. The Civic also has front, side, and curtain airbags, stability control, and easy-to-reach LATCH points in the rear seating area.
Family Friendliness and UtilityOur 2013 Honda Civic Si test car was a sedan, and thus benefited from the standard Civic's advantage of having one of the roomiest rear seats in its class, at least from our seat-of-the-pants evaluation. The flat rear floor and plentiful head and legroom make it ideal for kids, and even a couple of adults fit without too much trouble. Kids climb in and out easily, and the LATCH points are simple to reach and use.
On the utility front, hey, it's a Civic, y'know? Big trunk, good interior storage, controls are easy to use, and so on. There's little to dislike here since the car is, at its core, one of the most versatile and popular compact sedans on the market.
Comfort and QualityYou'd expect a car with a sporty demeanor like the 2013 Honda Civic Si would have a buckboard ride, but that's not really the case. Granted, the Si bounces around more than standard-issue Civics, but not to the point where you wince over larger bumps. It is on the loud side though, but everyone on staff agreed that it was actually quieter on the road than the Acura ILX we'd had in a few weeks earlier, surprising since the ILX is a luxury-branded version of this exact same car. The sporty Honda Civic Si is a calmer cruiser than a luxurious Acura? What gives? Supposedly, Acura is rectifying this with the 2014 ILX.
Although not everyone on staff loves the current Civic's bifurcated dash layout with digital instruments, we all agree that the interior improvements made for the 2013 model year are a huge step forward compared to the 2012 model. The materials used are much better, and the overall design is cleaner than before. But we especially liked the Civic's sporty seats. They're firmer and a little narrower than the standard Civic seats, but not to the point where they're confining or uncomfortable.
How it DrivesThis is where the Civic Si truly shines...as long as you don't have any experience with previous Si models, that is. The steering is sharp, the chassis is responsive, and the engine revs to 7,000 rpm, making power at every spot along the way. The new Si's engine is larger than the last one, at 2.4 liters, giving it extra power at the lower end of the rev range where the Civic Si has traditionally lacked grunt. The transmission is excellent, with a smooth clutch and wonderfully sharp shifter that's as intuitive as scratching your nose. Driving this car quickly is a rewarding experience, especially for the relatively low price Honda asks for the privilege.
But there are two problems. First, the 2013 Civic Si isn't the performance value it once was. For about $1,500 more, you could get behind the wheel of a 2013 Mazdaspeed3 or 2013 Ford Focus ST, both of which will run circles around this Civic. Granted, you have to keep your wits about you when ordering, since it's easy to inflate the prices of those two vehicles to nearly $30,000, but you can still get into either for a paltry addition to your monthly payment.
The other problem is that this Civic Si isn't even as good as the previous generation. The steering isn't quite as sharp; the suspension is a little softer; and while the engine makes plenty of power, it doesn't have the psychologically important 8,000 rpm redline of previous Civic Si models. On the other hand, this Civic Si is a lot easier to live with when you're not driving it like a getaway car. Dial it back and just cruise, and it's quieter, easier on the ears, and more comfortable.
SummarySo, is the Civic Si not as good? Well, it depends on your definition, we guess. On one hand, yeah, it's not as sharp as its predecessors. As a pure driver's car, it lags the previous generation, and has been eclipsed by modern competitors. But the tradeoff is that the Civic Si is now a car that you can enjoy driving all the time, not just when you're pushing it hard. That's a claim previous Civic Si models couldn't quite make. So what are your priorities? Do you want a car that's super-fast-fun-quick at the expense of all else? Then this isn't the car for you; maybe go check out the Ford or Mazda we mentioned, or even the new Scion FR-S you've heard about. On the other hand, it is a practical, comfortable, and very sporty compact sedan, a combination that's exceedingly rare at this price point. Is that a compromise worth making? We'll let you be the judge of that.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $23,705
EPA City: 22
EPA Highway: 31
EPA Combined: 25
Cargo Space: 16 grocery bags/9 grocery bags with Britax stroller
Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Good
Estimated Combined Range: 330 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Below Average
Notebook Quotes"The Si, which apparently has lost some polish as of late, doesn't fit in with how Honda currently operates. This is the car I think of when I think of the Honda of old. A blast to drive, good handler, sips fuel, and is affordable." -Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor
"The car is fun, agile, the ergonomics are great, it comes with plenty of nice features, it's comfortable, and I'm generally a huge fan of this car because it does what every car should do but most don't: It made me smile. But the Focus ST made my face hurt I was grinning so much. So did the BRZ and FR-S." -Jacob Brown, Associate Editor
"You can take an aggressive corner or get high in to the rev range and have it scream at you, but you can also shift efficiently and quickly and the Si will be relatively quiet and smooth. And I like that, because unlike the FR-S, which is undoubtedly fun and an autocross star, I wouldn't mind the Si being my daily commuter. It's not always 'on.'" -Matthew Askari, Associate Editor
"It's a shame that this is what "Si" has become. I feel terrible that young Honda enthusiasts who, like me at one time in my life, look to the almighty VTEC with wonder and awe.... I guess I understand now why so many Civic hatchback owners are stuffing V-6s into their cars. Because this Si is grossly underwhelming." -Jason Davis, Associate Editor