2020 Honda Civic Si Coupe and Sedan Drive Review
Getting some track time in Honda’s time-tested budget performer.
AUSTIN, Texas—When you spend all weekend watching some of the world's fastest race cars scream bloody murder around the Circuit of the Americas for the annual Formula One U.S. Grand Prix, the sight of a pack of red 2020 Honda Civic Si coupes and sedans running flat out the next day on the same circuit is a mind-bending juxtaposition. It's as if the souped-up Civics are stuck in slow mo molasses mode as they roll by.
But then it's my turn to drive a Civic Si around the 3.426-mile track, and as we get up to speed suddenly I'm feeling the racing spirit course through me as I attack the course and try to chase down the pro driver pacing us. No, the Si isn't in the same universe as the Honda-powered F1 machine that Max Verstappen drove to a podium finish at the 2019 USGP. But like a distant third cousin twice removed, the Civic Si has a little of that DNA in there, and it shows as I attack COTA's signature elevation changes and esses.
The Si's 1.5-liter turbo four makes 205 horsepower and all the right noises with the throttle pinned, a wail that's been further amplified through an active sound control feature that pumps the engine jams into the cabin through the speakers. Power is routed through a six-speed manual, one of the best gearboxes going and still the only transmission available for the Si—as God intended. The limited-slip diff and a Sport mode that adjusts the dampers are also part of the Si package. Honda engineers have toyed with the box's final drive ratio, which has been adjusted to 4.35:1 in an effort to make it slightly more responsive in the lower gears.
There are a couple of other minor exterior and interior updates to the 2020 Si coupe and sedan, including a slightly reworked front fascia for both cars, and the sedan's rear end got a minor nip/tuck. The goal was to dial in a bit more aggression. New LED head and foglamps have also been affixed and a set of sweet, matte black 18-inch alloys amp up the look, wrapped in 235/40 size tires all around. The cabin's new duds, including updated sport seats and red trim finishes and stitching, bring it a little more in line with the top dog Civic, the Type R.
Honda also made some changes to how the Si's are specced out after hearing from customers, and beginning with the 2020 models every car will come fully loaded with just about every available option for the overall Civic lineup (other than navigation, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make maps available), including the Honda Sensing suite of safety nannies. The only option is a summer tire package for $200 extra, a no brainer.
Before we hit the track, we had a little street time in an Si coupe on the highway and some mildly twisty two lanes around Austin and environs. It's been a while since I've been in an Si, but it doesn't take long for me to get reacquainted with its lively nature. We've named the Civic Sport and Type R Automobile All-Stars in recent years, and not surprisingly the Si exhibits many of the same characteristics. Every one of them are a delight to rip around a tight bend and get on the throttle hard at exit. Out on the highways and surface streets, the Si is easy to whip in and out of traffic. It can be a bit on the noisy side at higher speeds, especially when fitted with the option tires, but it's not the kind of drone that will drive you crazy, and its overall ride is taut but not jarring.
Like all Honda manual transmissions, the Si's overall operation works well with a few small caveats: The clutch pedal can be too light in action for some tastes and the close throw setup of the throws can lead to a mis-shift or two. Nothing a few days behind the wheel wouldn't cure, though, after some getting used to.
What we wouldn't have given to have had a few more laps than the two we got in Honda's turnkey Civic Si TCA race car, which is loaded up with equipment from the Honda Performance Development shelf. Designed to compete in the Touring Car America series, the TCA has been gutted inside other than the seats and the dash. An OMP quick disconnect steering wheel has been added, as has a rollcage and race style instrument panel, better brakes with six-piston calipers, and slicks all around. Hit the switch in the top left of the dash, push the power button, and the TCA fires up with a throatier exhaust note.
With former IndyCar and NASCAR driver Davy Jones riding shotgun and providing the instruction, we take off and commence the track attack. Though it has essentially the same powertrain as the Si street car, the TCA is quicker thanks to the weight savings, and the slicks grip and stick as Jones urges me to hug the curbing and set up for the next transition, to downshift and power through the second set of COTA's esses. This is a car that just about anyone with the wherewithal and $52,500 to drop could start racing with in pretty short order. While it doesn't have the raw power, Jones lauded the way the TCA can easily transition and you can get in a rhythm and flow on the track. Slow car fast and all that. We would have lapped it all day had they let us.
We got far more laps in the Si street cars. They obviously aren't the match of the TCA, but given they share the same powertrain, it feels almost as engaging at times. As our laps wore on we went ever harder into COTA's undulating surfaces and tight corners, and the Civic Si did not protest other than the brakes, that took a beating but held up relatively well.
No, it doesn't have the power or the sharper reflexes of the Type R or it's TCA race car cousin, but that's not the Si's mission or position. This is a car designed to be an attainable and fun option for entry level enthusiasts, and at $25,930 out the door ($26,130 with the option tires), it's priced to be. It also comes with everything you'd expect from a daily driver in its price point, and it's also efficient for a car of this type, with an impressive 26/36 mpg city/highway EPA estimate.
Honda officials on hand for the event took pains to remind everyone that it's a car company that has been racing since it was a motorcycle company. That it has achieved greatness at the pinnacle of motorsport as well as at the grassroots and sports car levels, and that the Si is an extension of that ethos. During our long weekend at COTA, that message came through with intensity, whether it was Verstappen streaking around the circuit or our pack of Sis shifting, chugging, and buzzing up the hill into Turn 2.
|2020 Honda Civic Si Coupe and Sedan Specifications|
|ENGINE||1.5L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/205 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 192 lb-ft @ 2,100-5,000 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2 or 4-door, 4 or 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD coupe/sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||26/36 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||177.3/182.8 x 54.7/55.5 x 70.9/70.8 in (coupe/sedan)|
|WEIGHT||2,889/2,906 lb (coupe/sedan)|
|0-60 MPH||6.4 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||137 mph|