For a car that's been out for five years, the Civic Si has very few shortcomings. It's still an absolute riot to drive thanks to its quick, communicative steering and delightfully smooth gearbox. And that engine. Achieving 200 hp from a four-cylinder isn't a big deal these days thanks to turbocharging and direct injection, but the Si's screaming 2.0-liter employs neither, and still makes 197 hp in an inimitably inspiring fashion. To get the most out of it, you have to push the tachometer needle deep into red territory, up to about 8500 rpm. Your reward is a surprising kick in the back and a glorious howl. If the sound doesn't make you smile or giggle out loud, you're just not a car person.
Alas, there are areas where the Civic does show its age. Since the compact's last redesign in 2005, the bar for small-car interiors has been raised considerably. Its hard, shiny dash plastics don't pass muster anymore. Neither does the ancient navigation system, which at this point is an advertisement for buying a much cheaper portable unit. Honda's attention to ergonomic detail still wins some points -- the tach and speedometer are easy to read, the thickly bolstered seats hold you in place, and the small-diameter steering wheel feels perfect in the hands -- but otherwise, the Civic's cabin ranks behind even the likes of the Kia Forte. New offerings from Chevrolet and Ford this year will likely push it even further down the leader board.
Dynamically, the Si's main shortcoming is its at-the-limit handling. This became painfully clear when driving the Si back to back with our Four Seasons VW GTI. The Civic understeers where the GTI rotates, and its mechanical limited slip differential isn't as adept at keeping the inner front wheel from spinning as is the GTI's electronic setup. Make no mistake, this is still a very nimble car, but it's no longer the benchmark.
Having said all that, the Si still belongs on the shopping list for anyone looking to buy a sport compact. It may not be as quick as a MazdaSpeed 3 or as refined as the GTI, but there's something uniquely intoxicating about its high-rpm growl that deserves respectful consideration. I only hope that Honda, whenever it gets around to redesigning the Civic, can bring the Si up to date without ruining what makes it so special.
- David Zenlea, Assistant Editor