Honda's Civic Si is a car of dueling personalities. Drive with patience and a light right foot, and the Civic Si is as docile and pleasant as a base Civic. Attack the road and the Si responds with eagerness and energy in the engine, in the chassis, and in the steering. This split character is not a result of uncertainty or insecurity; the Civic Si is exactly the car that Honda set out to deliver, a daily driver that you can beat the snot out of on weekends, or a weekend backroad bomber that you can comfortably live with every day.
Having previously driven the 2011 Civic in standard and hybrid trims, I was delightfully surprised by the Si's lively, accurate, and well-weighted steering. Honda would be wise to transfer the Si's on-center responsiveness over to the standard Civic. Additionally, Honda's switch from the 2.0-liter to the 2.4-liter is a meaningful improvement. The larger engine spins with the same enthusiasm at full throttle but adds a dollop of torque to combat the previous Si's weed-whacker-like character. My only issue with the new (to the Si) powertrain is its gravelly demeanor at part throttle in the middle of the tach range. It's in those situations -- when you're driving quickly but hoping to avoid drawing attention to yourself -- that the Civic Si comes off as atypically crude.
At a relaxed pace, the Civic Si doesn't have the fun factor of a Volkswagen GTI and in harder driving it doesn't have the bite of a Mazdaspeed3. Either of those two would be a better car for the enthusiast who intends to track or modify their car. But if maturity and civility have a high standing on the shopping list, the Civic Si is the right car. It is the pocket rocket for those whose rational side overrules their passionate side.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor