The Winding Course at Honda’s Mojave Desert proving grounds is a challenging place to test out a new car. The nearly two-mile track boasts a series of steep hills, sharp and often blind corners, little run-off, and a menagerie of wildlife ranging from coyotes to several different types of rattlesnakes.
So, strapping on helmet and slipping inside the new Civic Si, we decided to take things slow the first time ‘round the course. The track lived up to its treacherous billing, but so did the new Honda which, by day’s end, we had the chance to drive in both coupe and sedan configurations.
There’s been a lot of buzz, in recent months, about the all-new Honda Civic Type-R. Set to arrive in U.S. showrooms for the first time ever later this year, there’s good reason for all the excitement. For serious performance coupe fans, it will become the most powerful Honda compact ever sold in the States. Too bad, however, that it’s drawing attention away from the 2017 Honda Civic Si. This eighth-generation model might not deliver all the muscle of the Type-R, but it is a solid performer, with good power and great handling yet the ride and comfort you’d want for an everyday driver.
Better yet, with a base price of $24,775 – including delivery fees – it is a striking bargain that requires buyers to make only a handful of choices, including exterior color, all-season or summer tires, and whether to go for the sedan or coupe.
Under the hood, the Si is powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-four making 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. The numbers came as a surprise – and for some Civic fans a disappointment – because that’s the same pony count as the outgoing model. But torque rises by 18 lb-ft and, with turbo boost now raised to 20.3 psi, power comes on smoothly but quickly.
It also helps that the new Si coupe is 17 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, the sedan also shedding mass – that despite the two-door gaining 3.1 inches in wheelbase and 1.3 inches in width. (It also sits 0.3 inches lower.)
Power is channeled to the front wheels through a short-throw six-speed manual transmission – the only gearbox available on the 2017 Honda Civic Si. It’s as silky smooth as anything from Mazda, to us the master of manuals in the affordable performance segment.
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No, the Si is not the quickest car in its class. You don’t get that jolt of acceleration you expect from a Volkswagen GTI. But unless you are worried about 0 to 60 times, it shouldn’t matter. It certainly didn’t on the Honda Winding Course, nor during the 200 miles of driving we put in later in the day, including about 40 miles through the treacherous Kern River Valley.
That higher turbo boost and torque give the new Si plenty of low-end grunt, great when you’re coming out of a corner. The engine also rewards you with a resonant and earthy growl. The car’s helical limited-slip differential also showed off nicely on the Winding Course, readily shifting power to ensure it all went to the pavement through the 18-inch low-profile tires.
Oversize brakes helped scrub off speed going into turns. The front pair have gained 1.2 inches, to 12.3 inches, the rears growing 0.9, to 11.1 inches.
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Still, it’s steering and handling that really shine on the new Si. The new model goes with MacPherson struts up front, with an independent multilink rear. It’s also the first Civic Si to come with adaptive damping, something that plays out well as you manage your away around a track – or tight turns like we experienced in the Kern River Valley – and then settle back for a more mundane daily commute. Significantly, some of the key suspension components, Honda noted, are shared between Civics Si and Type-R.
The steering is also dual-mode and variable ratio. Under aggressive driving, in Sport Mode, you can’t help but being impressed. You get just the right level of road feel coming through the steering wheel. There’s no slop. Turns are quick and precise; point and shoot. That’s especially well appreciated coming over a blind hill where you have to precisely position yourself for maximum exit speed – and to simply avoid running off the road.
Switching to Sport Mode also tightens up the suspension. But give credit to a much more taut chassis, Honda claiming it is a full 25% stiffer than the old model.
It’s all well and good to challenge a car like the Si on track. The real test comes on the road, and we had the opportunity to see what the 2017 remake could deliver during that nearly 200-mile trek. Nowhere was that more apparent during the valley run, the narrow two-lane road nearly as treacherous as the raging river that boiled just yards away.
The Civic Si responded gingerly, letting us push well above posted speeds while yet feeling like it had yet to be challenged. The tires never lost grip, even where we had to make last-minute corrections around blind corners.
Emerging from the valley, the Si proved itself with equal aplomb. Switching to normal mode, it offered a smooth and comfortable ride. And while the steering was a little less tight, the suspension a little less solid, it retained a sense of control, well planted at all times, even on bumpy desert roads.
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Add the fact that the EPA gives the 2017 Honda Civic Si a 28 mpg City, 38 Highway and 32 Combined rating. That’s best-in-class, Honda officials boasted, making the Gen-8 model all the more suitable for commuting. The downside: premium fuel is recommended, though not required.
Factor in the base price of $24,775 – for both coupe and sedan – and it’s the sort of package that shines, even if it isn’t the most powerful vehicle in its class. For those who want the ultimate in performance, we expect the new Civic Type-R to be the winning ticket – and we’ll have a chance to check that out next month. For those who want something just a little less extreme, something that offers great performance and handling, everyday comfort and a great price, the 2017 Honda Civic Si should clearly be on the shopping list.