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Reviewing a new version of a car you used to own means coming in with some lofty (and biased) expectations. I was quite smitten with my 2008 Honda Civic Si, and the models that followed left me with an increasingly sour taste in my mouth. But the Si has come back into its own with the 10th-generation Civic, packing turbocharged power in a chassis that's ready to party with some new tricks along the way. It felt like Honda was falling off the path in the last few years of sportier models, but it's back on the right track with the 2020 Civic Si.
While it's not nearly as shouty as the straight-outta-Akira Type R, the 2020 Si is still pretty flashy, and the 10th-generation Civic is definitely one of those cars you either love or hate. I think it looks pretty sharp, thanks in part to new standard LED headlights that not only spice up the aesthetics but also improve safety through increased visibility. The front bumper has a lot going on, but the flash of body color nicely breaks up the otherwise dull expanses of fake-lookin' lower intakes. Out back, there's a wing you can't do anything about -- if it's too Hot Import Nights for your tastes, the sedan has a much tamer rear end.
Open the Si Coupe's big, surprisingly heavy doors and you're met with one and a half routes to the back seat -- only the passenger seat can tilt and slide forward enough to make ingress simple; a pull of the driver's seat lever will generate a tilt sans slide. Make your way back there and you're met with ample legroom for taller passengers. Head space can be an issue for adults, though; the coupe's slinky roofline places my head firmly against the top of the rear glass.
Otherwise, the interior is one of the best in its segment. Honda's build quality is top notch, and while the Civic is very much still a budget-minded vehicle, nothing inside of the 2020 Si Coupe would make you think Honda is cheaping out. The faux carbon fiber might not be everybody's choice, but I still love the way the dashboard is layered, with an ample amount of physical switches in close proximity to my hands at all times. The front seats are just the best, with the right amount of cushioning on the bottom and plenty of bolstering on the sides, in addition to rocking some very comfortable cloth. Manual adjustment is the only route you can take here, which is fine given its sufficiently affordable ($25,200) cost of entry.
Coupes carry less cargo than their four-door brethren, but the Civic Si's 11.9 cubic feet of space is more than enough for trips to… well, whatever's actually open these days. I have no problem shoving a few weeks' worth of groceries back there with room to spare. A shade under 12 cubes might seem small, but for comparison, a Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe can only muster 10.5, so you've got it better than those fancy-pants neighbors down the street. There's plenty of storage in the cabin, too, with cubbies both in and below the center console, in addition to a sliding-cupholder getup that can fit a decently sized purse or large-format water bottles without issue.
On the road, the 2020 Si Coupe is pretty darn sedate in normal driving situations, with its standard two-mode adaptive dampers offering up suitable-but-still-sporty compliance in its default setting. It'll soak up most of the road's bad bits, but the chassis will still communicate the more important divots and bumps to the cabin. Throw the Si into Sport and things get a bit stiffer, but it doesn't improve the driving feel by a huge margin, so I find it best to leave the suspension on the soft side. Wheel and tire choice usually factors into a car's ride quality, but considering all Civic Si models rock 18-inch wheels, there's no way to downsize the rollers to add smoothness. My tester rocks the optional set of 235/40 Goodyear Eagle F1 performance summer tires, but aside from some extra noise on imperfect roads, tire choice should be left to your local climate and whether or not you want to spring for dedicated winter rubber.
And then there's the matter of the powertrain. I'm torn here. The Si's engine is an absolute peach. The 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-4 sends 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels, and while that might not seem like a lot, it feels quite punchy. There's loads of torque available in every gear at nearly every point in the rev range, reducing the need to downshift while improving corner exits and green-light getaways. It's on the loud side, but the exhaust note is enjoyable and it's nice that you don't have to pay more for that sound. The standard six-speed manual's transmission is precise, with short, engaging shifts that never feel like a chore. Sport mode increases the electric power steering's weight and turns up the throttle response, but like the suspension, it doesn't make so much of a difference that I feel it necessary to have a good time.
The Civic Si's fuel economy is also quite impressive. The EPA rates the 2020 Si Coupe at 26 miles per gallon city, which I have no problem achieving. The feds peg this car at 36 mpg highway, but I regularly see north of 40 when keeping pace with metro-Detroit traffic.
Now, for the stuff that needs improvement. As a person who enjoys a well-placed, rev-matched downshift, I am confounded by the Civic Si's throttle mapping, which is about as consistent as Midwestern weather. Some throttle blips will elicit the perfect spike in revs to slide into a lower gear smoothly, while other blips of the same or greater magnitude will do pretty much nothing at all, turning a delicate balance of pedals into a chassis-rocking hot mess express. The Type R's rev-matching software would all but eliminate this issue. There's also the matter of the clutch pedal, which is entirely devoid of feeling and weight. The bite point takes some guess work, resulting in more clutch slip than is necessary, and fast shifting feels anything but smooth. Further obfuscating the idea of a comfortable ride is what's known as rev hang, which is when you push in the clutch and the engine's revolutions "hang" before falling. It's especially heinous in the one-two shift, where the tachometer's needle will sit for at least a half-second before falling, making it hard to time a quick, smooth shift. All these problems can be cast to the side by simply waiting a bit longer and shifting slower, which is, you know, a great trait in a sports car.
Just like the engine, there's plenty to like about Honda's in-car tech, even if it's a little rough around the edges. A 7-inch touchscreen display is standard, but it's still running the older version of Honda's Display Audio infotainment system, which is a little bare-bones in the face of competitors from Hyundai and (believe it or not) Toyota. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, which is nice, but factory navigation isn't possible to add -- a fine problem to have, as smartphone mirroring beats Honda's baked-in stuff all day long. The backup camera's resolution is on the low side, but dynamic parking lines make up for a lack of ultrasonic sensors. USB ports are lacking, with two USB-A ports for the front seats and none for the rear. The port used for phone mirroring offers up a just-OK 1.5 amps of charging power, while the port tucked beneath the cupholders only manages a measly 1.0 amps, which won't provide a net positive charge when running resource-heavy applications.
I wouldn't blame you for assuming manual-transmission vehicles are not capable of packing the latest and greatest safety tech, simply because most stick-shift cars don't have that stuff. But Honda bestowed the Si with the full Honda Sensing suite of active and passive driver aids, one of just a few automakers to do this (VW's also on that list). Adaptive cruise won't work below 22 mph, but it still works above that, and incredibly well, to boot. Lane-keep assist is always nice to have, and automatic emergency braking is here, too -- both systems are a little too sensitive for my tastes, but it's great peace of mind to counter all the bad drivers out there.
For $25,930 including destination ($930), the 2020 Honda Civic Si Coupe offers a solid blend of driving dynamics and affordability. It also places it smack-dab in the middle of the competition. The Si is more expensive than the Hyundai Elantra GT N-Line, but it feels much quicker and is more fun to toss around (even if the GT N-Line's clutch pedal is way better). Honda's offering comes in several thousand dollars below the VW Golf GTI, but the ur-hot-hatch is worth the money, considering it remains the best car in the segment.
But for the money you shell out, it's a tough act to top the 2020 Honda Civic Si. With proper driving dynamics, a decent complement of technology and some unique aesthetics, Honda's mass-market sports car is a right hoot.