During development of the 10th-generation 2016 Civic, Honda benchmarked small cars from BMW and Audi.
The strategy was driven by Honda’s wish to reinvigorate the Civic, to subject it to a process of “dynamic rejuvenation.” With that goal, Honda engineers took a deep drive the Germans’ mastery of ride, handling, steering precision and high-speed stability.
This focus on dynamics animates the new Civic. It runs on a lighter, stronger and more rigid platform that enables suspension and steering systems redesigns. Underway, the Civic is lively, responsive and engaging. Its cabin grows roomier, more comfortable and better equipped. Cabin noise, a long-time Civic bugaboo, fades into near-obscurity.
Two new 2017 trims exemplify Civic’s rebirth. The Si is a stem-to-stern reworking of a beloved Honda performance nameplate; the Type R marks the U.S. debut of a track-ready model previously available only in Japan and Europe.
The 306-horsepower Type R recently set the record at Germany’s Nurburgring racetrack for the fastest lap run by a front-wheel-drive car.
Sedan and coupe body styles
The Si is available in sedan and coupe body styles, both priced at $23,900, and both tricked out with black-out grilles, gloss-black trim, cats-eye headlamps and crimped and folded sheet metal.
Honda’s turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is tuned here to make 205 hp and 192 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission offered is a six-speed manual.
The turbocharged four dramatically alters the Si’s persona. Previous Sis were powered by high-revving, normally aspirated four-cylinder “VTEC” engine. Docile at low engine speeds, the VTECs exploded into life at about 4000 rpm, with a salvo of sonic mayhem and a mad burst of acceleration.
The new engine is less raucous and more tractable. It delivers more power at lower engine speeds and sustains it over a wider rev range.
Honda’s six-speed manual gearbox makes quick, clean shifts through well-defined gates. Troubled by overlong pedal travel and vague feel, clutch take-up is less certain.
Pedal positioning is also suspect; the clutch and throttle pedals are badly aligned for execution of the heel-and-toe technique used to balance the chassis when entering a hard corner.
Steering precise, well weighted and communicative
During cornering, a limited-slip front differential applies braking power to the inside front wheel, improving cornering attitude, stability and precision.
Steering is precise, well weighted and communicative. As with the German machines, road surface imperfections are transmitted through the steering wheel, not through the chassis.
Si suspension upgrades include stiffer spring rates, beefier stabilizer bars and solid compliance bushings that replace the fluid-filled bushings found in lower trims. In a bit of suspension wizardry, Honda eliminates the old front-drive torque-steer affliction. Stand on it in a straight line and the Si tracks true, with scarcely a hint of tug on the steering wheel.
Despite this suspension-tightening, engine-revving regime, however, the Si’s ride quality and overall refinement shine impressively through.
Deeply bolstered sport seats grip occupants in a supportive embrace. There’s a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a 450-watt 10-speaker audio system. Faux carbon-fiber inserts dress up the instrument panel.
Inner adult rebels
Heated seats, dual-zone automatic climate control and an electronic parking brake with hill-start assist make their Si debut this year.
A 7-inch Display Audio touchscreen controls audio, HVAC and other functions and integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Navigation is not available on the Si, but Display Audio provides access to maps and other phone-based functions.
Civic radios are notoriously weak at pulling in signals and the Display Audio interface is clunky and dated.
A 7-inch Driver Information Interface provides a flow of real-time data and includes a graphical G-force gauge that represents acceleration, braking and cornering forces. My inner adult finds this an unnecessary distraction; during hard cornering, the driver’s eyes must be focused on the road, not on a floating ball inside a game-type display.
I’ve driven three of this new crop of Civics and have learned that each trim and body style is dynamically suited to the needs of buyers. Whether you take yours mild, medium or hot, Civic is likely to satisfy.
2017 Honda Civic Si
Vehicle base price: $18,740
Trim level base price: $24,100
As tested: $24,975
Options: Our tester included no options
EPA rating: 32 combined/28 city/38 highway
Premium fuel specified