2009 Honda Civic Si review:

2009 Honda Civic Si

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The navigation system stores its maps on DVD, and the resolution is pretty bad by today's standards. But if you can get over that, it handles the basics well, and is very easy to use. And one of our favorite features is the complete points-of-interest database, which makes every type of business listing available. Route guidance works reasonably well, with an accurate location for the car on the maps. The main things this system lacks are information features, such as integrated traffic reporting and weather.

The stereo is a little goofy, as a CD player is hidden behind the motorized LCD, along with a PC Card slot. You can put MP3 CDs in the player, and you can get a PC Card flash drive or adaptor for SD cards to play MP3s in the PC Card slot. We imagine Honda Civic owners account for the majority of PC Card adaptor sales. Those audio sources, along with XM radio, have been in the Civic Si since at least the 2006 model. For 2009, Honda gets modern by adding a USB slot in the console. Plug in a USB drive with MP3s or an MP3 player that stores its music in a nonproprietary file structure, and you can browse your folders with the touch screen. Plug in an iPod, and you can select music organized by artist, genre, and album.

The USB and iPod port is new for 2009--a welcome addition--keeping the Si competitive for its young and tech-savvy demographic.

For an inexpensive car, the Civic Si's audio system is very good, with a subwoofer adding punch to a six-speaker setup and 350 watts of amplification. It's an appropriate rig for the fast and furious little Si, with meaty bass you can use to set off car alarms. Just don't expect fine separation and clarity: sound is a little muddy in the mid-ranges and the highs are lifeless.

Honda rounds out the Civic Si's cabin tech with a Bluetooth hands-free system, a nice addition considering more states are outlawing talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving a car. This Bluetooth system is pretty basic, because it's voice controlled, and doesn't help you make calls unless you know the number. But people will be able to reach you as you blast the car around corners and rev its high-stepping engine past 7,000rpm. You can decide whether you actually want to answer.

Under the hood
The 2009 Honda Civic Si's redline goes all the way up to 8,000rpm, with peak horsepower of 197 at 7,800rpm from the 2-liter four-cylinder engine. Lacking a turbo, the Si achieves its horsepower with a double-overhead cam and Honda's brand of variable-valve timing. Torque is on the low side, at 139 pound-feet coming on around 6,100rpm. As we found in our acceleration tests detailed above, the Si is no drag racer, but it does step lively. The engine doesn't balk at high revs, so don't be afraid to downshift to second at 50 mph. Likewise, under acceleration you can let the tach needle slip past the two o'clock position before upshifting.

We can't heap enough praise on this transmission, as it makes a huge difference in the Si's performance.

Honda's close-ratio six-speed gearbox, used on the Si, is one of our favorite transmissions. The short throw shifter lets you snick it from one gear to the next, and it clicks into place effortlessly. The high rev points make operating in second and third perfect for track and twists, but on long straights and ascents you will feel the lack of grunt from the engine.

The Si is most fun on tight turns, where its precise steering takes the car exactly where you point it. A limited slip differential keeps power running to both front wheels, pulling the car through the turns with good grip. As we found in our Dynolicious test above, the Si turned in an impressive rating on the skidpad. Our one complaint concerns the cheap-feeling steering wheel, but that has nothing to do with the steering mechanics.

As you would expect with a little racer like this, the ride isn't designed for comfort. Over rough surfaces you will feel the jolts, and bigger potholes can throw the little Si around. But it's no worse than in many compact cars, which makes the Si suitable for weekly commuting and weekend racing. The Si gets top-line equipment for the Civic model line, and that includes a stability program, which isn't standard in the lesser Civics.

Fuel economy looks good on paper, with a 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway rating. But the Si doesn't encourage economical driving, where its best mileage figure might be attained. Even with all of our high-revving fun while we had the car, the tank average still came out to 21.4 mpg, a touch above the city number. If we had spent more time in sixth gear on the freeway, and less watching the tach needle cross 7,000rpm, our mileage would have been much better. For emissions, the Si merely makes the minimal LEV II rating from the California Air Resources Board.

In sum
Our 2009 Honda Civic Si test car was top-of-the-line, which included the navigation package, and came in at a base price of $24,005. With $670 for the destination charge, that adds up to $24,675. In this price range, the Mini Cooper S gives the Civic Si some good competition, and offers similar cabin tech. The choice between the two cars is more decided by their drastic styling differences. The Chevrolet Cobalt SS is an impressive upstart, definitely one to consider for performance, although not so much for the electronics.

We were impressed by the functionality of the Civic Si's cabin tech, if not its design. It's good to see a car at this price offer navigation, digital audio, and cell phone integration. Performance is really excellent, too, as the Si is both fun to drive and can be economical, as well. It also picks up some points for the sporty design.

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