2009 Honda Civic Si review: 2009 Honda Civic Si

2009 Honda Civic Si

Wayne Cunningham
Antuan Goodwin

Wayne Cunningham

Managing Editor / Roadshow

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.

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Antuan Goodwin

Reviews Editor / Cars

Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and performance to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.

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8 min read

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2009 Honda Civic Si

The Good

An impressive gearbox and good handling make the 2009 Honda Civic Si a blast to drive. An intuitive voice-command system makes hands-free use of the navigation system easy, and the new iPod/USB drive connectivity is a good update to the music system.

The Bad

We have few problems with the Civic Si, besides the rough look of the navigation system and the cheap steering wheel. A little more torque would also be nice.

The Bottom Line

If you like a fun, fast ride, the 2009 Honda Civic Si will make you smile. With navigation, phone connectivity, and modern digital music sources, it also makes a practical daily driver.

The Honda Civic Si, one of the best values in performance, gets updated bodywork and some new electronics to keep it competitive for the 2009 model year. None of these changes are drastic--just a few add-ons and styling to comport with Honda's new look--because the Civic Si doesn't need much changed. It gives extraordinary driving pleasure, as it has since the introduction of the 2-liter engine version in 2002.

The 2009 Honda Civic Si evolves the design introduced in 2005, introducing a more angular grille with diamond-pattern inset. But the basic silhouette is the same, at least in our coupe model test car. Welcome additions to the cabin tech are a USB port in the console and a Bluetooth hands-free cell phone system.

Test the tech: Dynolicious performance
The Civic Si has long been the poster child for the boy-racer compact car set, with its combination of low price and class-leading performance. With Car Tech Editor Antuan Goodwin behind the wheel, we tested our Civic Si's performance in a manner fitting of the Civic's young and tech-savvy target audience: with an iPhone app.

The Dynolicious app shows a steady acceleration line, marked by blips for gear shifts.

The Dynolicious application for iPhone and iPod Touch uses the device's accelerometers to measure vehicle movement on two axes. By calculating movement over time, the app can measure vehicle speed and, subsequently, distance and acceleration. For purposes of our testing, we measured 0 to 60 mph time and skidpad lateral G-forces.

Securing our test iPod Touch to the windshield with a suction cup, we lined up for our 0 to 60 mph test. Previously, we'd tested the 2009 Honda Civic LX-S using the same Dynolicious application, reaching 60 mph in 9.76 seconds, and we wanted to see how much better we could do in the Si. On our first launch, we were a bit overzealous with the revs. The front wheels spun helplessly for grip before the Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) intervened, dampening the acceleration and resulting in an embarrassing time of 14.50 seconds. Subsequent launches were met with equal amounts of wheel spin and equally dismal times, even with the VSA disabled.

We took some rubber off of these tires in our initial launch attempts.

After a few more runs, Goodwin started to hone in on the Civic's sweet spot for the perfect launch and lined up for a final pass. Using fewer revs this time, we dropped the hammer between 2,500 and 3,000rpm. The Si's front tires sounded a chirp before digging in and launching the vehicle forward. Unlike previous generations of Civic Si, the power no longer comes on like a light switch at 6,000rpm; instead the acceleration is a much more gentle and linear push toward redline. Sixty miles per hour was reached at the 8,000rpm redline of second gear at 8.13 seconds. We were sure that another half-second could have been shaved off with practice, but Goodwin didn't want to abuse the Si's clutch any further. Having beaten the Civic LX-S' time by more than a second and a half, we moved on to the skidpad test.

Our skidpad consisted of a figure-eight loop on a closed course. Accelerating up to 35 mph, Goodwin piloted the Civic Si through the course under the watchful eye of the iPod Touch's accelerometers. Steering was a bit vaguer than we'd expected from a small performance Honda, but still precise. In practice, it was mostly judicious feathering of the throttle that kept the Si's slight understeer in check around the course. Checking the readouts in the Dynolicious app, we noted 0.84 g on the left-hand turn and an impressive 0.91 g on the right-hander.

Our better-than-the-average-Civic 0-to-60-mph time of 8.13 seconds is good, but not what we'd call impressive. Thanks to its lack of low-end torque, the Civic Si is no drag racer. However, with a peak 0.91 lateral g on all-season rubber, we think it would make a fantastic auto-crosser, and be even better with stickier tires.

In the cabin
Based on an economy model, the 2009 Honda Civic Si doesn't do luxury, but Honda fitted it out with some performance elements. The seats offer all the bolstering and grippy fabric you need to keep from sliding around the cabin as the car demonstrates its cornering. The console lid features fabric similar to the seats', providing a comfortable arm rest for cruising. The shifter's metal construction gives it a solid feel.

These sport seats keep you planted as you push the Si around corners.

For aesthetics, the big letdown is in the cabin electronics, where the double-DIN navigation and stereo unit looks like an aftermarket piece shoe-horned into the dashboard. Don't get us wrong, we like its functionality; it just doesn't have the same quality fit and finish as most of the cabin elements. But the touch screen is well-position for easy access, and it also includes Honda's intuitive voice-command system, which lets you control most infotainment functions.

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.


2009 Honda Civic Si

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 8Performance tech 8Design 8


See full specs Trim levels SiAvailable Engine GasBody style Coupe