2012 Honda Civic Si

February 22, 2012

Sport-compact enthusiasts, I have some bad news: Make a sign, bang some drums, occupy the local auto mall.

The 2012 Honda Civic Si has gone soft.

The Civic's performance version has been around since 1985, and the nameplate's ninth-generation redesign gets the largest Civic engine ever. While it scoots with newfound power and gets better gas mileage, the high-rev pizzazz and handling poise that gave the Si such unique appeal — even as its competitors got faster — are gone. The ninth-generation Civic chose comfort over dynamics, and too much of that rubbed off on the Si.

This review details the Civic Si, which comes as a coupe or sedan with a six-speed manual. Click here to see our full review of the redesigned Civic, and here to compare the 2012 and 2011 Civic Si. We tested the Civic Si coupe.

The Moves

Courtesy of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder cribbed off the Acura TSX, the Civic Si scurries off the line. With 31 pounds-feet more torque than the old 2.0-liter Si, there's enough oomph to get moving in 6th gear above 45 mph or so, no downshifts needed. Pushing the car toward its 7,000-rpm redline reveals little of the high-end rush that the old 2.0-liter unleashed, but most editors found the experience refined enough to enjoy.

Gas mileage improves, too, at an EPA-rated 22/31 mpg city/highway. That's well below the 28/39 mpg that most 1.8-liter Civics get, but it beats last year's 21/29-mpg Si. Like most performance hatches, the car still needs premium gas — a longstanding Si requirement.

The 201-horsepower engine works through a six-speed manual whose light clutch and short throws make banging out shifts a cakewalk. Alas, the engine hangs revs too long, delaying a half-second or so before the tach needle falls back to earth — and blunting the precision of a well-timed rev match. Mash the pedal hard, and the front-drive Si succumbs to some torque steer, but it's not as pronounced as quicker front-drive cars like the MazdaSpeed3.

The MazdaSpeed isn't the only competitor to outrun Honda. Similar cash gets you a smidge-quicker Volkswagen GTI or Mini Cooper S, while the V-6 Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro will show an Si driver their taillights by 2nd gear. The Si never packed the most potent motor, but redemption always came in its reflexes.

Until now.

Handling Flubs

Honda doled out the power-steering assist, making the new Si easier to steer at low speeds than just about anything in its class, but you pay for it elsewhere. Attack a corner, and the car feels out of its element, with pitchy body roll and soupier turn-in precision than any performance compact ought to have. Cut the wheel harder, and the nose pushes readily. It's all but impossible to drift the tail, something Honda's CR-Z does so well.

The Si's all-disc brakes — with larger front discs than the regular Civic's — are among the few effective elements, with a linear pedal and strong stopping power. Another bright spot was our test car's Michelin Pilot HX MXM4s P215/45R17 tires, which made a valiant effort to keep the understeer in check. A standard limited-slip differential quells uneven wheelspin, too, but the Si's heavy nose wins the dynamics fight time and again.

Despite its stiffer springs and shocks, the Si cushions bumps well enough, and the wheels stay planted on broken pavement. It's firmer than the regular Civic, with more road noise from the Michelins, but overall ride quality benefits from the redesign's softer tuning. A lot of performance compacts are road-trip nightmares; the Civic Si is viable.

The Inside

Si specifics include aluminum pedals, red gauges and stiffer seat bolsters. Most editors found headroom tight in our test car, whose standard moonroof cuts headroom by 0.4 inches versus lesser, moonroof-free trims. Our staff had differing opinions on the seats, which I found too stiff compared with the non-Si sedan's cushy chairs. Another editor, in contrast, found seat comfort outstanding.

Endemic of all 2012 Civics, cabin quality has fallen — duller dash surfaces, cheaper door panels. A Honda engineer conceded the short shrift on interior quality; faced with widespread criticism, the automaker has promised improvements by the 2014 model year. The last Civic had standout quality; its successor feels midpack at best.

The subwoofer-equipped stereo, shared with the Civic EX coupe, is a high point, featuring a sharp multimedia system that displays album art from your iPod.

Skip the available navigation system; like most Honda systems, it's easy to use but the graphics look 10 years old, and the maps have too few street labels.

Backseat legroom is adequate, as coupes go, but headroom is tight. Trunk volume totals 11.7 cubic feet in the Si coupe and 12.5 cubic feet in the sedan — more than before, but still at the small end of the compact segment.

Safety, Features & Pricing

With top crash-test scores, the Civic sedan is a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The coupe hasn't been crash-tested, however, and structural differences mean the sedan's scores don't translate. Click here for a full list of safety features, or here for our evaluation of child-safety seats.

Relative to a Civic EX, the Si adds $2,500 for the coupe and $1,900 for the sedan. Like the well-equipped EX, it comes with basic power accessories, a moonroof and a USB/iPod-compatible stereo with Bluetooth phone capability and audio streaming. Other features include larger wheels and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Curiously, the non-Si Civic offers an EX-L trim with heated leather seats, but the Si is only available with cloth upholstery.

High-performance Michelin Exalto PE2 tires and a navigation system are the sole options, bringing the sticker for a loaded Civic Si to around $24,000.

Civic Si in the Market

The Si works as a quicker Civic, much like a six-cylinder midsize sedan suits family shoppers who want more passing power. As a factory performance compact, it falls short, especially given the competition. The good news for Honda is that a lot of performance enthusiasts might not care much. The Civic is arguably the most customizable car in recent history, and those who find the Si too dull can have at it with a parts catalog and a lot of free Saturdays.

Snapshot:

Starting MSRP $15,605–$22,405

MPG

City: 22 – 29

Highway: 31 – 41

Available Engines

201-hp, 2.4-liter I-4 (premium)

140-hp, 1.8-liter I-4 (regular gas)

Transmissions

6-speed manual w/OD

5-speed automatic w/OD

5-speed manual w/OD

New or Notable

• Full redesign for 2012

• Coupe or sedan body styles

• Manual or automatic

• Performance Si version

• Efficient HF version

• Hybrid version

What We Like

• Improved mileage

• Competent performance

• Larger backseat (sedan)

• Si more powerful for 2012

• Hybrid more refined

• Forward visibility improved

What We Don't

• Higher mpg costs more

Photo Courtesy of Ian Merritt, Cars.com

Photo Courtesy of Ian Merritt, Cars.com

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