Honda's roller-skate-sized Civic put the company on the map in America during the first gasoline shock back in 1973, and since then, Honda has been cranking out successive--and usually excellent--iterations of its small car, regardless of where a gallon of unleaded was charting at the moment.
Starting in the mid-'80s, Honda took the Civic in a new direction with fuel-sipping performance funsters like the CRX and the Si. The latter has endured, off and on, to the present day, sometimes convincing, sometimes not. But it's always been a two-door.
Now there's a four-door Si, as Honda has become hip to the fact that functionality is cool and that younger buyers don't necessarily equate two-doors with sportiness. The Si sedan packs all the same goodies as the Si coupe. Headlining the list is its 197-hp four, which in classic Honda VTEC style revs high and hearty, producing a distinct shove in the back when you cross 6000 rpm. Peak power arrives at 7800 rpm, just shy of the 8000-rpm redline. Where some past VTECs were decidedly sleepy until they reached full sound-and-fury mode, this DOHC iVTEC pushes the Si along smartly even before you get to the far end of the tach. In our tests, the sedan, which is 59 pounds heavier than the coupe, took 7.4 seconds to reach 60 mph, versus 6.7 seconds for the coupe.
Torque has never been a strong suit of Honda fours, and the 2.0-liter's 139 lb-ft isn't terribly impressive. At least the standard helical limited-slip differential helps the Si pull strongly away from tight corners that unload the inside wheel.A six-speed manual is the only gearbox for the Si, and it's moved from its oddball, dash-mounted location in the previous model to a more comfortable perch in the center console.
Stiffer springs and dampers, more robust front and rear antiroll bars, and larger wheels (seventeen-inchers are standard) give the Si a firm ride and excellent handling. Stability control is now standard. The only real letdown is the steering, an electrically assisted system that's a bit light and artificial-feeling for Si duty.
Inside, you find supportive seats upholstered in a neat, black, suedelike material with red stitching. A three-spoke steering wheel and metal-trimmed pedals add to the performance-car look. The driving position is comfortable and the seats do a great job holding you in place, but the extreme cab-forward windshield and large dashboard scream minivan. The four-door takes a slightly different twist on the Si trim, with a reshaped trunk spoiler and a fatter grille bar. The wheels (with a darker silver finish) and the special exhaust tip are the same.
The four-door Civic has often been excellent but never exciting. In bringing the Si package to the sedan, Honda recognizes that performance cars are not some isolated subset of the compact market but are an integral part of it. As more performance enthusiasts find themselves shopping the compact-car field, the notion that they all should be shunted off into coupes seems pretty ridiculous; why should four-doors be a bore?