2015 Honda Civic Si review: Aging Civic Si still has a bit of pep in its step

Roadshow Editors' Rating

7.4 Overall
  • Performance 8
  • Features 7
  • Design 8
  • Media 6

The Good The Civic's 2.4-liter i-VTEC engine makes 205 horsepower and torque comes on at a lower, more usable rpm than the old 2.0-liter did. The Si's handling and steering are light and effortless. MirrorLink compatibility allows smartphone mirroring and HD Radio, two USB ports and Bluetooth round out the digital media sources.

The Bad HondaLink infotainment system is sluggish to respond to inputs. The Honda's interior is a complex, cluttered collection of screens and gauges.

The Bottom Line The 2015 Honda Civic Si's new HondaLink tech is flawed, but still slightly better than the competition's. However, its performance is starting to lag behind the younger, more powerful models.

About the only thing that's changed between now and Honda Civic Si's 2012 refresh is that now the sedan -- which is also available as a coupe variant -- is that the Si now faces even stiffer competition in the sport compact space. Today, the 2015 Honda Civic Si must do battle with the excellent Volkswagen GTI and the more power Ford Focus ST, both of which are newer models with newer tech and more powerful, turbocharged engines.

The Si, on the other hand, is powered by a naturally aspirated, high-compression variant of Honda's 2.4-liter i-VTEC engine -- the same block that you'll find in a Honda CR-V, but with a different port-injected head. Peak output is stated at 205 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque.

The competition makes more power with turbocharging, but the Si continues to use a naturally aspirated engine. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Like its predecessors, this i-VTEC engine uses the automaker's famous Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control system that switches over to more aggressive tuning at higher RPMs. In older models, the transition was a dramatic one -- there'd be no power at low engine speeds and then a sudden surge of torque at about 5,800-6,000 RPM -- but this generation's 2.4-liter boasts better low end torque than so the transition is more subtle.

The transition is so subtle, in fact, that Honda has seen fit to install an i-VTEC light on the dashboard that lets drivers know that VTEC has indeed kicked in, yo. The improved low-end torque is more accessible and makes the Civic Si is a much more flexible and zippy car around town, but I miss the Jekyll and Hyde drama of the old 2.0-liter engine.

That light is accompanied by five additional LEDs that illuminate in sequence as the RPMs rise toward the 7,000rpm redline, acting as a shift indicator. And additionally, the dashboard's multi-information display features a power meter that indicates how much of the peak power the engine is currently generating. Of course, like most live performance meters, bad things happen if you're watching the lights and gauges instead of the road.

The i-VTEC light lets the driver know that VTEC has kicked in, yo. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

A six-speed manual transmission is the only gearbox option for the 2015 Si and it puts power to the front wheels. A standard helical limited-slip differential makes sure each of the drive wheels do their part putting power to the road.

Underpinning the Civic Si is a sport-tuned version of the standard Civic's MacPherson strut front suspension and rear multilink setup. The Si also features larger antisway bars on both axles.

On the road, the Honda Civic Si is as effortless and precise as its legend implies, but it now seems to lack a really engaging feel. Part of this is the fault of the electric power steering system, which is lacking in the feedback department. I also didn't really enjoy the overly light clutch pedal.

Yes, the Civic Si is quicker than it's ever been, but piloting the Si doesn't feel as special as previous generation Si models or even my old 2004 Acura RSX Type-S (which used the same underpinnings and powertrain as its contemporary Civic Si cousin).

On the road, the Civic Si is faster than ever, but it doesn't feel as involved or as dramatic as its predecessors. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The Civic's cabin is, well, complicated.

For starters, the dashboard instrumentation has been split into a two-tier configuration that stacks a digital speedometer and i-VTEC shift light in an upper brow above the tachometer in the conventional position. The upper brow is also home to an LED fuel gauge and a small multi-information display that displays fuel economy info, the aforementioned power gauge, and other auxiliary information.

Then there's the 7-inch main HondaLink infotainment screen that is home to the multimedia playback options and, if equipped, navigation. The HondaLink system is new for 2015 and an upgrade over the touchscreen system in the 2014 model, but still feels a bit clunky and old.

The Civic's dashboard is a complicated mish-mash of screens, gauges and pods. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Standard features include a slot loading CD player, two USB ports for device charging and media playback, an HDMI input for use with MirrorLink-enabled devices, and HD Radio tuning. With the optional Satellite Linked Navigation upgrade, the system gains a rather dated-looking GPS option that features voice command and HD Radio traffic.

I like that the dual-screen, dual-tier setup gives the driver a bit of flexibility of what information to display and helps to keep their eyes on the road by putting the most important information up high. But when I sit back and look at the entire dashboard, it's simply overwhelming. There are too many places to look and the information feels too spread out.

Perhaps the biggest nit that I have to pick is with just how sluggish the HondaLink infotainment system can be. Virtually every operation seems to take a second longer than it should, from simple volume adjustments to moving between audio and navigation screens. Each of those small seconds adds up to almost constant frustration with the system. More complex functions, such as voice command, are so laggy that I just didn't want to use them.

Driver aid tech is largely limited to the standard LaneWatch and rear cameras. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Honda's saving grace is that HDMI input, which allows the driver to totally bypass the Honda software and use smartphone mirroring, but finding MirrorLink phone that works with the Honda system is a totally different challenge.

Driver aid tech is limited to a pair of cameras. The first is the standard rear camera that activates when reversing. The second is the also standard Honda LaneWatch camera that hangs off the bottom of the passenger side mirror and activates when the right-turn signal is activated. LaneWatch gives the driver a peek into the car's blind spot, but isn't as good as a true blind-spot monitoring sensor. The biggest issue here is that by the time the camera's feed comes active on the 7-inch dashboard display, I've already glanced over my shoulder and initiated the lane change. HondaLink's sluggishness again proves to be its biggest Achilles' heel.

Pricing a 2015 Honda Civic Si sedan is simple. It starts at $23,090 and the only options available are $200 for summer tires or $1,500 for navigation. Since the navigation system is pretty crap, I'd go with the former. However, our example with navigation and a $820 destination charge. As tested, we're looking at an MSRP of $25,410.

When compared with the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen GTI, even the Honda's flawed cabin tech looks good. However, these hot sport compacts aren't really about the tech, they're about the performance. The GTI just feels like a more engaging ride and the ST is simply a more powerful and faster car for about the same amount of money. The Civic Si isn't without its charms -- the car has a much lighter feel than either the VW or the Ford and a slightly more compliant and quiet ride -- but I don't think that the sort of person who buys a red-badged Honda with a goofy spoiler is concerned with NVH.

In the UK and Australia, there is no Civic Si sedan. Instead, they get the Civic Type-R, which is even more powerful, more agile, and even more hardcore. It's also based on a totally different chassis and body and costs significantly more, making an apples-to-apples comparison impossible. Fortunately, the next-generation Civic Type-R will be US-bound, so Honda enthusiasts have something to look forward to.

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