The Honda Civic Si is one of the most entertaining new cars you can buy for $25,000. And thanks to a number of updates for the 2020 model year, it's one of the most well-rounded, too.
The changes seem relatively minor at first blush, but they go a long way toward making the Civic Si a better daily driver. LED lights not only give the front fascia a more striking appearance, they're brighter (and safer) than halogen bulbs, as well. Inside, the Si gets the same infotainment screen as other refreshed Civics, complete with a row of hard buttons and, yes, a physical volume knob. Safety tech gets a really big boost; the Honda Sensing suite of advanced driver-assistance features is now standard on every Civic Si, bundling adaptive cruise control, collision-mitigation braking, forward-collision warning, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beams.
Mechanically, the Civic Si is largely the same as before. Power comes from a higher-output version of the 1.5-liter, turbocharged I4 engine found in other Civic models; the Si puts out 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. And as a nod to enthusiasts everywhere, Honda only offers the Civic Si with a six-speed manual transmission.
The transmission has a shorter final-drive ratio this year, which improves passing power. In sixth gear on the highway, the engine revs slightly higher than before, meaning you're closer to the heart of the powerband. Getting around a slow semi truck no longer requires a downshift to fifth gear, but unfortunately, this ultimately takes a toll on the Civic Si's fuel economy. Ratings of 26 miles per gallon city, 36 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined all represent a 2-mpg decrease compared with a 2019 model.
A lot of enthusiasts rag on Honda for "only" giving the Civic Si 205 hp, but I don't think those complaints are warranted. Whether scooting around town, merging onto the highway or climbing a steep mountain pass, the Civic Si never feels underpowered. No, this turbocharged engine isn't a rev-happy little thing like older Si models (VTEC does not kick in, yo), but it's happy to hang out near its 6,500-rpm redline all day long. There's the tiniest bit of lag when pulling away in first gear, but as soon as you drop it into second, and then on into third, fourth, etc., the Civic Si is nothing short of peppy. It even sounds good, too.
The light clutch has a predictable take-up point, and the six-speed gearbox is a joy to work, with short, precise throws between each gear. I'd love it if Honda brought the Civic Type R's rev-matching tech over to the Si, but it's easy enough to blip the throttle on downshifts to get the same experience. That's especially true in the Civic's Sport mode, which increases throttle response. Sport mode adds some heft to the steering and firms up the adaptive dampers, as well, though the latter adjustment is barely noticeable.
The Civic Si strikes a great balance between sport and comfort on the road. The sophisticated dampers aren't so stiff that they make highway commutes a chore, but they keep the Civic properly poised while cornering. Honda's always-excellent steering tuning is on full display in the Si, with point-and-shoot precision at turn-in and a good amount of feedback through the wheel. Predictable and fun, the Civic Si is every bit as sharp as a Hyundai Elantra Sport or a Volkswagen Golf GTI.
What really seals the deal isn't anything that's unique to the Si itself. Rather, it's all the goodness that's baked into every example of the 10th-generation Honda Civic. The interior is nicely appointed, with great fit and finish, and a general sense of quality. Vehicle controls are easy to locate and operate, and the buttons and knobs have good tactile feedback. This might be an economy car cabin, but it hardly feels like bargain-bin stuff.
For the Si, Honda adds a pair of sporty front seats that offer lots of lateral support with plenty of cushy comfort. They're heated, too, though sadly, they can only be adjusted manually. The 7-inch Display Audio touchscreen doesn't offer embedded navigation, but every Si comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and honestly, your smartphone's maps are better than Honda's proprietary software, anyway.
If there's a complaint to register here, it's with the Honda Sensing tech. The forward-collision warning system is sensitive -- you'll get flashing "BRAKE!" warnings as you approach slower cars that might be turning, or if there are cars parallel parked on a curvy street. The rest of the Honda Sensing suite isn't so intrusive, and it's nice to see adaptive cruise control available on a car with a manual transmission. Given the added complexity, this obviously isn't a fully stop-and-go system; Honda says you can activate adaptive cruise control at speeds above 22 mph. Of course, if you're the sort of person who frequently slogs through slow-going commutes, you'll likely be turned off by the Si's manual-only mandate in the first place.
Really, the best thing about the Civic Si is that the whole package is available for just $25,000. That's the starting price for both the Si Coupe and Si Sedan, and the only option is a $200 set of summer tires. Out the door, including $930 for destination, you won't pay more than $26,130 for a 2020 Civic Si. I love the Volkswagen Golf GTI, but a similarly equipped SE trim costs about $6,000 more. Even the sweet-spot Rabbit Edition is roughly $3,000 more than a Civic Si, though I'll admit it's hard to pass up the functionality of a hatchback, not to mention those lovely plaid seats.
Speaking of hatchback, if there's any car that'll pose a threat to the Civic Si, it's the one sitting next to it in Honda's showroom. No, not the Type R -- at nearly $10,000 more, it's a whole different animal. I'm talking about the Civic Sport Hatchback, which comes in at a cool $23,680 including destination. It has a 180-hp version of Honda's 1.5T engine and a slightly sloppier six-speed stick, but it's a superfun car to toss around and comes with the added benefit of hatchback versatility.
Still, at $25,000, the 2020 Civic Si feels like a hell of a bargain. The Si has always been a value play among sporty compact cars. But with the addition of more standard amenities and a big helping of safety tech, the 2020 model is a proposition that's even harder to overlook.
Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.