Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whateverThe Autance writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Honda Civic Si sedan.
Full disclosure: An earlier draft of this article led with the headline, "The 2018 Honda Civic Si Review: The Only Car You'll Ever Need." Then I realized I'd used basically the exact same hed for a review I wrote of the Honda Civic Sport hatchback about 10 months back. At the time, it was a fair assessment; the Honda hatch packed a stellar combination of features and fun at a price that was hard to beat.
But times change. And while I still wouldn't kick a Civic Sport out of my driveway at its $21,300 as-tested price...if my own bucks were on the line, I'd skrimp, save, and borrow to find the extra $3,475 for a Civic Si.
Which wasn't a guarantee before climbing behind the wheel. The latest version of the Civic Si had a high bar to clear. There was little worry that the 10th-generation Civic would be the most handsome version of the sporty compact in quite a while; the last 12 years of Si cars have been, shall we say, a tad homely. But the new Civic is one of the more handsome sedans on the market, regardless of how much you plan on spending.
However, unlike previous generations, the latest Si forgoes the cliche-forging power of a special naturally-aspirated VTEC engine for a tuned version of the same 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four found in lesser Civics. Granted, going that route allows it to crank out a handy 192 pound-feet of torque from 2,100 to 5,000 rpm...but it also means the engine slams into its limiter at 6,500 rpm, same as the smallblock V8 in the C7-generation Corvette that displaces more than four times the volume.
- There aren't many cars that are quite as much of a joy to drive every day as the Civic Si. Hard as it is to admit, part of that does indeed stem from the new turbocharged engine, which provides a healthy push of thrust in the rev range where most everyday driving takes place. Indeed, between that flat turbo torque curve and the Civic's tidy curb weight of just 2,906 pounds, passing maneuvers and steep grades take far fewer downshifts than in Hondas past.
- Of course, that would deprive you of the fun of snicking the tight six-speed manual—the only transmission to be found in the Si, and a heartwarming sign of Honda's dedication to driving fun—into a lower gear and ripping the car through the gears. Adding to this: a series of supercar-like upshift lights in the instrument panel, which flash green, then yellow, then red to alert you to the onrushing (if annoyingly low) redline.
- This Civic handles and rides with the creamy dreaminess only found in those few cars with a near-perfect balance between sport and comfort: your Porsches, your Mercedes-AMGs, your 1990s-era BMWs. The suspension's adaptive dampers (in a car this cheap, no less) happily soaked up the frost heaves and fractures of New England's roads, but never at the cost of road feel. And the tightly-wound steering—at 2.1 turns lock-to-lock, it's nearly as quick as a Ferrari 812 Superfast—makes slicing up cloverleafs and B-roads a breeze.
- While it might be a compact, the four-door Civic certainly doesn't seem like it from inside. The well-bolstered-yet-still-comfortable front seats pack enough space that even my six-foot-four frame didn't need to rack it back to the last stop; the rear bench has enough room for me to cram myself behind myself, so to speak, though it wouldn't be ideal for a long trip. But unless you need to transport three or more American men in the 98th percentile of height on a regular basis...you'll probably find the back seat more than roomy enough.
- Zippiness notwithstanding, it's still a Honda with a tiny four-cylinder engine, so a tank of gas goes a long way. I averaged close to 35 miles per gallon over the better part of 1,000 miles of mostly-highway driving.
- The teeny electronic handbrake isn't particularly satisfying. Not even from a Ken Block lock-the-rear-brakes-and-slide perspective; subconsciously, awkwardly reaching back to pull up on a small plastic tab doesn't seem like enough of an effort to keep a ton and a half of car from rolling down a hill. It's a problem that affects plenty of cars nowadays, as interior designers fight to find more room for giant infotainment screens and Big Gulp-sized cupholders, but it feels particularly jarring in this Honda's otherwise-minimalist interior.
- That said, it does also suck that you can't do handbrake turns very easily.
- The stereo still lacks a volume knob. You have to adjust it using the hard plastic button on the steering wheel, or tapping/swiping the side of the screen. It's not quite a dealbreaker...but it's close.
- The digital bars that serve as displays for fuel level and engine temperature are a poor substitute for analog needles. Or for the high-definition digital display that serves as the tach and speedo. Or for, really, any other possible way of displaying the relevant information.
The 2018 Honda Civic Si, Ranked:
Hauling people: 3/5
Hauling stuff: 3/5
Curb appeal: 4/5
“Wow” factor: 3/5
The Bottom Line:
The latest Honda Civic Si is the sort of car that makes you wonder why every other carmaker isn't burning the midnight oil trying to copy it. It's a double-level sleeper; not only does it masks its speed behind a rather ordinary skin, it also hides it behind a cheap price. It's not hard to find fun new cars in this accessible price range; a Mazda MX-5 Miata or Toyota 86 will brighten your day every time you climb into it. Likewise, it's easy to find solid, usable new vehicles for that price; automakers from Alfa Romeo to Volkswagen have cars capable of transporting four people and a decent amount of luggage, the vast majority of which will travel tens of thousands of miles with minimal maintenance. But to find a car that balanced those two criteria so deftly...well, that's a steal at any price.
One personal anecdote, just to prove the point. Towards the end of my time tooling around in the Civic Si, I realized that, even if I won the Powerball, I'd still want this car in my garage. Partly, I suppose, as a nostalgic reminder of my roots, something to keep me humble...but mostly because it's just so damn fun to drive.
The 2018 Honda Civic Si, By the Numbers:
Price (as tested): $24,775 ($24,775)
Powertrain: 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four, 205 horsepower, 192 pound-feet of torque; six-speed manual gearbox; front-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: 28 city, 38 highway
0-60 MPH: 6.7 seconds (Car and Driver testing)
Number of George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" used to curse out the volume setup: Three