The Si recipe has always been a simple one: Take a Honda Civic Coupe or Sedan. Bump up the power. Stiffen the suspension and improve the brakes. Slap on a few aggressive exterior bits and maybe a spoiler. Take that, put it all together and you've got yourself a stew, baby.
OK, it's not so simple, but we're talking about the sort of modifications that a teenager would make to their hand-me-down base model given enough time and money, but as a turnkey solution with a warranty. This new 2017 Civic Si sticks fairly close to that recipe but has a few new tricks up its sleeve for this generation and an unexpected level of on-road refinement.
205-horsepower turbocharged engine
The Si is powered by the same 1.5-liter turbocharged engine as the Civic EX-T, but with a larger 20.3 psi turbocharger feeding it. Output is up to 205-ponies and 192 pound-feet of torque. That's a pretty decent 31-horsepower bump and a very usable fun bump for most drivers. It's still a few hp short of the Si's natural enemy, the Golf GTI's 220 horsepower.
(The aftermarket has already proven that non-Si turbo can be coaxed to 233 horsepower with a plug-and-play tuning add-on, so it stands to reason that the Si's larger turbo is just a retune away from similar gains.)
The 205 ponies we've got flow through a six-speed manual transmission on the way to the front wheels. A standard limited-slip differential makes sure that most of that power actually reaches the road.
Two-mode adaptive suspension
The suspension department is where the Si gains a few new and more grown up tricks. It's got the requisite stiffer springs, bushings and suspension components that we expect. However, Honda has also outfitted this Si with a two-mode adaptive damper system that can be toggled between a firm Sport setting and a softer Normal setting. Both settings are firmer than the suspension on the EX-T, but Normal mode is more relaxed and less harsh than Sport.
This is important because at this price point, the Si is likely to be your only car, your daily driver, so it's nice to have access to a less punishing ride when stuck in traffic or commuting to work.
The Sport and Normal modes also tie into the electric power steering system and the throttle map, adjusting the responsiveness of these systems alongside the suspension. The two modes don't make the Si feel like two different cars, but do highlight two sides of its personality.
On the road, the Si feels agile and light around corners. The steering is direct and offers good feedback in both the Normal and Sport settings. The interesting thing about the adaptive suspension is that it's not a ridiculously harsh ride even in the Sport setting, though the car does corner more flatly and the extra firmness can be felt. However, I did appreciate the Normal setting's ability to take the edge off of the ride during the extended freeway stretches at the beginning and end of my day of canyon carving.
Acceleration also feels good. You'd be hard pressed to notice the slight power deficit compared to the GTI, likely because the Si is over 200 pounds lighter than VW's hot hatch. More power would be nice, obviously.
While the Si's engine is a ton of fun to wind up and let go, the six-speed manual gearbox is a mixed bag. The ratios chosen feel fine with tightly geared lowered speeds and a tall sixth gear that helps the Si achieve a respectable 28 city, 38 highway and 32 combined mpg. The shifter itself is a joy to operate with a light, short throw and really satisfying engagement. The clutch pedal is where things start to fall apart for me.
The third pedal is almost too light and has very vague feel at the engagement point. On one hand, the light clutch probably won't be fatiguing in stop-and-go traffic or daily driving. On the other hand, the lack of "bite" means making quick gear changes a bit of a guessing game and accurately timing heel-and-toe downshifts tricky, especially on the track at the Honda Proving Center.
Smartphone-powered HondaLink tech
The rest of the Si's amenities are pretty much identical to a well equipped non-Si Civic model. There's a standard power sunroof and the newest generation of the Honda's HondaLink infotainment.
In the dashboard is a standard 7-inch display audio system with standard USB connectivity, satellite radio and Bluetooth for hands-free calling and audio streaming. I didn't see on-board navigation listed among the Si's optional features, so you'll want to make sure you bring along a smartphone to make use of the standard Android Auto or Apple CarPlay connectivity.
Perhaps my only real complaint about the Si's dashboard tech is one that's shared with most of Honda's current batch of vehicles: I wish there was a true volume knob rather than the capacitive slider that HondaLink uses.
Safety tech is pretty much limited to a standard rear camera and Honda's LaneWatch blind-spot camera, which is also standard. With the only options available to Civic Si drivers being the color, number of doors and a choice between Summer or All-Season tires, there's no way currently to add the Honda Sensing suite of advanced driver aid features to the mix.
Most refined Si yet
Despite its goofy spoiler, this generation of Honda Civic Si is more refined than ever and seems like it'd be very easy to live with as a daily driver. The power boost is welcome, but the efficiency doesn't suffer. The dashboard tech inherited from the rest of the Civic lineup is the best it's ever been. And the adaptive suspension is both sharp when you want to cut loose and smooth when you're cruising. I'd like the clutch to give more feel at the engagement point for spirited driving, but the light pedal keeps it from being tiring in stop-and-go traffic.
It held its own on the track and was a lot of fun, but this generation Si definitely feels more comfortable on a winding canyon road than on a racetrack. That's fine because track junkies can hopefully look to the new Civic Type-R for their fix.
The 2017 Honda Civic Si is currently rolling out to dealerships starting at an MSRP of $23,900 for both the Coupe and Sedan before an $875 destination charge. The only option available is an upgrade to stickier summer tires for $200, but Honda has an entire catalog of dealer-installed HPD performance parts (such as the upgraded brake pads we used on the track) at launch.