Although the 2012 Honda Civic Si is the most changed model in Honda's Civic lineup, it is also the variant with the most to lose. While the standard Civic EX-L and Civic Hybrid models represent mostly mild, safe evolutions over their previous iterations, they're basically driving appliances. One could argue, however, that the Civic Si is the soul of what made Honda great and the last remnant of a brand that built its reputation on high-revving, fun-to-drive compact cars that offered thrilling, yet efficient, performance.
I don't think this new Civic Si exactly recaptures the spirit of the previous Si models, but as much as nostalgia tells me otherwise, I'm not convinced that's a bad thing. No, for the 2012 model year, Honda seems to be taking the idea of what the Si badge means in a slightly different direction, starting with an engine borrowed from an Acura.
The Civic's small heart grew three sizes that day!
Honda has decided to dump the high-revving 197-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine of the previous-generation Civic in favor of a 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter power plant borrowed from the larger Acura TSX sedan. If you're looking at that 20 percent increase in displacement and scratching your head at the mere 4 additional peak horsepower, then allow me to talk torque for a bit. You see, the previous Civic Si was notoriously gutless for the first two-thirds of its engine's power band, only really coming alive from about 6,000rpm up to the lofty 8,000rpm redline when the Intelligent Variable Valve Timing Engine Control (i-VTEC) system triggered a sudden leap in torque output (thus spawning the Internet meme, "VTEC just kicked in, yo!").
The larger engine outputs much more torque in the low- to midrange of the power band.
For 2012 Honda has chosen to place a heavier emphasis on boosting and flattening the torque curve. The 2.4-liter engine now outputs 170 pound-feet of torque (31 pound-feet more than last year), but it also delivers it as low as 4,400rpm. And the new engine's redline is about 1,000rpm lower than the previous generation's 8,000rpm limit. This shift in power delivery fundamentally changes the way you drive the Civic Si. Gone are the waiting for the sudden burst of power and the paying careful attention to keep your engine speed high enough to stay above the "VTEC point" for performance driving. The new model's torque delivery is so linear across its range that you'd miss the i-VTEC system's engagement if you weren't paying attention. In fact, Honda had to put a light on the new Si's dashboard to let the driver know that VTEC has--in fact--kicked in, yo!
This new Civic Si is thus a much more flexible and more forgiving car. It's less Jekyll-and-Hyde, it's easier to drive, and it requires less effort to enjoy. It's also faster, particularly off of the line. But it's not perfect.
Honda builds some of the best manual gearboxes this side of BMW and the Civic Si is no exception. Its six-speed manual transaxle (the only transmission available at the Si trim level) slips effortlessly from gate to gate with a satisfying mechanical clunk and its clutch pedal offers just the right amount of resistance for a feeling of good engagement without being tiring. However, timing those near-perfect shifts can be difficult thanks to the engine's tendency toward "rev hang" when releasing the throttle for a shift. Rather than dropping quickly to a lower engine speed in preparation for an upshift, the Si's engine holds its speed for a second or so before dropping, which makes timing the clutch engagement for smooth shifting difficult.
A fantastic gearbox and shifter are handicapped by the engine's tendency toward 'rev loft.'
You'd think that a boost in displacement and performance would yield an equal and opposite drop in fuel efficiency, but somehow Honda managed an increase in miles per gallon. The 2012 Si's 22 city mpg and 31 highway mpg estimates are 1 mpg and 2 mpg, respectively, higher than the previous generation's ratings. At the end of our heavy-footed testing, the trip computer indicated 22.3 mpg combined.
Power from the new engine exits through the front wheels by way of a standard helical limited-slip differential, helping to wrangle the increased power into grip when accelerating out of turns. Also helping with the grip situation is the sport-tuned suspension with its multilink rear end and 215-width all-season tires wrapped around standard 17-inch wheels at all four corners. (Stickier summer tires are available as a factory option, but our vehicle was not so equipped.) The seat-of-the-pants meter reports that the new Si hustles around a corner just as well as the old model, with the same neutral handling that can be finessed into slight liftoff oversteer with just the right footwork--an admirable capability in a front-drive car. All in all, it still feels like a Civic Si should--only more so.
New cabin tech package and interior
I've never really been a fan of the Honda Civic's cabin tech package, and at first glance this new model appeared to be more of the same. The maps that come with the optional navigation package look as pixelated as the previous generation and are just as difficult to read. The menus feature the same dated aesthetic and low resolution. But beneath the surface, the infotainment system is mostly new.
Digging through the menus reveals that most of the screens have been redesigned and reorganized to make browsing audio sources faster and inputting a destination more intuitive. The user interface still requires a bit of effort to learn, but it's much easier to work with than it used to be.
The Civic's navigation system has been improved, but the map screen still looks like it was drawn by a child.
Audio sources for our Si with Navigation were AM/FM radio, a single-CD slot with MP3 playback, USB connectivity with iPod control, an auxiliary audio input, and Bluetooth A2DP wireless audio streaming--which I'm pleased to report finally supports metadata for compatible devices and apps. The previous two Civics we tested featured a basic six-speaker audio system that was good, but not great. Our Civic Si came equipped with a 360-watt, seven-speaker audio system that adds a subwoofer to the mix. Still, this is a system that straddles the line of mediocrity and your enjoyment will depend heavily on what genre of music you prefer. When playing hip-hop, electronica, or jazz with a heavy double bass, the Si's subwoofer is able to mask some of the harshness of the other six speakers. However, for rock, bluegrass, or other genres that rely more on bass "kick" than "boom," you'll need to fiddle with the three-band EQ.
Bluetooth hands-free calling joins audio streaming in the Civic's bag of tricks. The system features address book sync and, with the aid of Honda's slightly improved voice command system, makes it possible to initiate calls by voice. The system isn't as seamless as, for example, Ford Sync, but it is more fully featured than Hyundai's system. A new help screen is shown when you press the voice button, useful for those who may have struggled with the previous voice command system.
The power monitor displays the amount of power being generated by the engine.
Located at the top of the dashboard--under the eyebrow that houses the digital speedometer and fuel gauge--is the Civic's new i-MID, a secondary 5-inch LCD that interfaces with the trip computer and infotainment system to mirror vehicle information within the driver's field of view. By pressing a button on the steering wheel, you can change the display between audio source information, turn-by-turn directions, trip computer and fuel economy information, and even customizable photo wallpaper that can be imported via USB. We found the i-MID to be extremely useful, particularly for displaying upcoming turns while navigating. Unfortunately, the crisp graphics of this secondary display had the side effect of making the primary display look even worse by comparison.
The Si's cabin is littered with small changes that add up to a very different behind-the-wheel experience than other 2012 Civics. Unlike the standard and Hybrid models, which feature blue illumination for the dashboard elements and a color-changing Eco gauge, the Si's dashboard and displays glow in all red, all the time. Where other 2012 Civics feature a big green Econ button to the left of the steering wheel, the Si has only a button to disable the traction control. Below the dashboard, the Si driver stomps aluminum pedals with rubber studs and grips a cold metal shift knob with baseball-stitched leather trim. The Si's grippy sport seats have contrast stitching and are embroidered with bright red Si logos.
'Si'-embroidered seats with contrast stitching indicate this Civic's sporting intent.
To the left of the digital speedometer, where lesser Civics house a fuel economy readout, is the aforementioned i-VTEC indicator that illuminates a red LED when the i-VTEC system is engaged and displays a five-stage shift indicator that illuminates three amber LEDs in sequence as you approach the redline, a red LED when it's time to shift, and a second red LED to indicate that you've maxed out and hit the rev-limiter. Within the i-MID interface is a power meter screen unique to the Si. This graph measures how much of the engine's maximum output is currently being generated, much like the Nissan Juke's torque meter. It can be cool for your passengers to look at, but at anywhere near 100 percent, your eyes should definitely be on the road.
Once upon a time, I used to own a 2004 Acura RSX Type-S, a car that--for all intents and purposes--was mechanically identical to the previous-generation Honda Civic Si (model years 2006 to 2011). So my time spent with the 2012 Civic Si puts my nostalgia for what the Si was into conflict with my excitement about what it is.
On one hand, the old 2-liter engine's lack of low-end power was annoying, but the sudden burst of power could be downright exhilarating! The engine's two modes highlighted one another with a stark contrast that was core to the character of the car, and taking away that change is like picking up a comic book and finding that the Hulk and Dr. Banner have been blended into a new character of moderate temper--it's not really what I signed up for.
This i-VTEC light is one last nod to the old Civic's bipolar personality.
On the other hand, there's no denying that the new 2.4-liter Civic Si is a much easier car to live with on a day-to-day basis and it's just as fast as it's ever been. As much as I love firing off a quick heel-and-toe downshift on a back road, it is nice to not have to fiddle with gear selection just to pass a Prius on the freeway.
Whether the new Civic Si is better than the old is a toss-up, but where it fits among the competition is pretty cut and dried. The 2012 Civic Si coupe bases at $22,205 but jumps to $24,475 with the addition of the Navigation package and destination charges. A similarly equipped 2012 Scion tC would be about $3,000 less, but nowhere near as fun to drive. Likewise a 2012 Volkswagen GTI would be about $3,000 more, but with much better creature comforts. And buyers who are serious about all-out performance in this price range should consider a step up to the Hyundai Genesis Coupe R-Spec's class.
|Model||2012 Honda Civic Si coupe|
|Power train||2.4-liter i-VTEC gasoline engine, FWD with limited-slip differential, 6-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||22 city, 31 highway mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||22.3 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||yes|
|Disc player||single-slot CD|
|MP3 player support||analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connectors with iPod compatibility, Bluetooth audio streaming|
|Other digital audio||satellite radio|
|Audio system||7-speaker premium audio system including subwoofer|
|Price as tested||$24,475|