In a world where manual transmissions are an endangered species, Honda is keeping the dream alive. The 2019 Honda Civic Si comes only with the shift-it-yourself variety – an automatic isn’t an option. Unusually for a sportier model, it comes both as a coupe and, as I drove it, a four-door sedan. It comes in a single trim level, priced at $29,090 before freight and taxes; the only extra-charge item you can add is pearl white paint for $300.
When I arrived to pick up my tester, it was parked alongside a Civic Type R. I had a brain freeze and momentarily couldn’t remember which one I’d booked. From the flat-out-fun standpoint I would rather have had the Type R, but at the same time, I was a bit relieved that I wouldn’t be flying around in the waaay-over-the-top high-winged Type R.
The Si is a sleeper by comparison, but with cues that differentiate it from mere-mortal Civics, including its gloss black grille, centre exhaust, and rear wing. I don’t think it’s a handsome car, and I very much dislike the large, cheap-looking embossed plastic panels stuck on the front and rear fascias. But there’s no denying that the Civic’s sharp creases differentiate it from much of what’s on the road, and it still looks slick and swoopy even with two extra doors.
The Civic sedan gets the highest five-star rating from NHTSA overall, including for front and side crash, and rollover (the two-door gets four stars for frontal crash). It also gets the top rating of “Good” from the IIHS for crash tests, head restraints, and seats.
However, while other Civic sedan models get the full high-tech safety treatment, the Si misses out on a few items: it doesn’t receive adaptive cruise control, emergency front braking, lane-keeping assist, or automatic high-beam headlamps, and they’re not available as options. It does, however, include LaneWatch, Honda’s version of blind spot monitoring. Instead of getting a warning light in the mirror when another vehicle is alongside, activating the right-hand turn signal gives you a camera view of the passenger side.
With four-door access to the rear seats, sedans are naturally more practical than coupes if you’re taking extra passengers along. There’s a slight trade-off with the trunk size, at 379 litres versus a maximum of 428 litres in other models, apparently because of the exhaust system placement, but it’s still a decent size for a vehicle in this segment.
For 2019, the cupholders are larger than before (but for heaven’s sake, this is a sports model; drink your coffee at the shop and then go drive), but what really impresses is the centre console storage bin into which they’re placed. There’s a small lid and a tray over top of the deep bin, and you can slide the cupholders and tray back and forth to get the storage configuration you prefer.
User Friendliness: 7/10
Credit where it’s due: after far too long with just a wonky slider icon in its infotainment system’s touchscreen, the Si has upgraded to a real, honest-to-goodness volume dial as other Civics already have, and as all systems should use. Most of the climate system is simple as well, with temperature dials for the dual-zone automatic system, toggles for the fan speed, and buttons for the heated seats.
But to change the vent mode, you still have to hit a hard button to bring up a computer screen and make your adjustment there. And while the infotainment system is mostly intuitive to use, it’s very slow to react and can have an annoying lag as it switches between functions.
Save for the rather surprising lack of higher-tech safety features, the Si shares most of the goodies from the Touring, the highest level of the remaining non-R Civic trims. This includes 18-inch wheels, LED headlamps and front turn signals, navigation, heated front and rear seats, premium stereo with subwoofer, and as with all other models save the very base one, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
However, there are a couple of things missing that you’ll find on other trims, including illuminated vanity mirrors, power-adjustable seats, and rain-sensing wipers – although I’m okay with leaving off that last one, because I’ve never found a set of these, from any manufacturer, that can figure out what to do in light snow or drizzle.
The lower Civic trim levels, including the Sport, use a 2.0L four-cylinder engine that pumps out 158 horsepower; the Touring carries a 1.5L turbocharged four that makes 174 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. The Si also uses that little turbo powerplant, but it coaxes out of it a more-than-respectable 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque.
The six-speed shifter is a work of art, with short throws and a perfectly sized aluminum knob, and unique to the Si is a limited-slip front differential. But for all that, the engine hangs onto its revs for a ridiculously long time, and you’re shifting a lot to keep it in its sweet spot. It makes this engine feel less righteous than you know it is, especially since its chassis is beautifully tuned for something under the hood that can really sing in every key.
You can spend a lot of time in this car and still feel supple and refreshed, thanks to the well-bolstered front chairs that are finished off with Si embroidery. The seat cushions are long enough for support, and I found the seating position just right.
The sloping roofline shaves off a bit of the headroom, but there’s a generous amount of legroom given the car’s compact footprint, and you shouldn’t have too many complaints from those seated back there – especially on cold days when they can switch on the heated rear seats.
Driving Feel: 9/10
Honda can really tune a chassis when it puts its mind to it, and the Civic Si is proof of that. This little sedan, with a slightly lower suspension than its siblings, and with adaptive dampers and that limited-slip differential, hugs the curves with confidence, especially when you press the “Sport” button and everything tightens up even more. It feels light and agile, and it responds beautifully to steering input while returning decent feedback through the wheel.
But even with its sportier side, the Si works well as an everyday driver. It’s never twitchy, and the ride is smooth and composed. This Civic really does an excellent job of handling both sides of the coin: It wouldn’t be out of place on autocross day, but it’ll also get you to work every morning on your daily commute calmly and comfortably.
Fuel Economy: 9/10
Just about everything in this segment tends to sip fuel through a thin straw, but the Civic Si delivers impressive numbers for its horsepower. It’s officially rated at 8.4 L/100 km in the city; 6.2 on the highway; and 7.4 combined. In my week with it, I came under that, at 6.8 L/100 km. You can put regular fuel in, but premium is recommended.
At $29,090, the Si may be the priciest Civic, but it’s still a reasonable deal for its horsepower and especially its great driving characteristics – even if Honda got to that number by leaving off some of the luxury and active safety features from the Touring, which is $1,000 less. And while you get 306 horsepower in the Civic Type R, you’ll pay an additional $12,600 over the Si’s price tag.
The Si also comes in lower than the starting price on some of its competitors: the 228 horsepower Volkswagen Golf GTI is $30,845, but the deal for what’s under the hood might be the Subaru WRX, which offers up 286 horsepower and all-wheel drive for $905 more than the Civic Si. However, to get some of the Si’s premium features, including its navigation, top-end stereo, 18-inch wheels, and blind spot monitoring, you have to move up to the WRX Sport Tech at $36,695.
I like vehicles that let you have fun without having to go full fanboy to get it, and the Civic Si delivers on that. I also like that there’s no compromise: if you want an automatic, you’ve got to go elsewhere in the Civic lineup. Throw in a relatively reasonable price, and Honda has a winner here.
|Peak Horsepower||205 hp @ 5,700 rpm|
|Peak Torque||192 lb-ft @ 2,100 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||8.4/6.2/7.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||379 L|
|Model Tested||2019 Honda Civic Si|
|Price as Tested||$30,845|