Introduced to the Japanese market in 1984, the Honda Civic Si was an exciting new hot hatch baked up just for the land of the rising sun. A 1.5-liter ZC1 four-cylinder engine produced 122 horsepower, which was enough to push the Si from 0-60 miles per hour in 8.9 seconds. As Americans, our first glimpse of the Si badge didn’t happen until a year later when the 1985 Honda Civic CRX Si landed on U.S. soil. The engine in that car only made 91 horses, but the CRX Si still ran from 0-60 mph in less than nine seconds.
Two generations of the Civic Si came and went until we were given the car known as the EM1. In 1999, Honda dealerships were quick to show off the Electron Blue Pearl coupes fitted with B16A2 powerplants. The 2,606 pounds cars are still a joy to toss around to this day, and the 1.6-liter four-bangers love running all the way up to their 8,000 rpm redlines. As a matter of fact, you pretty much have to run them all the way up the rev range so you can enjoy the changed cam profile that comes when Vtec kicks in (yo!) at 5,600 rpm.
I know what it’s like to drive the EM1… because I own one. A 2000 Honda Civic Si that I think looks particularly handsome in its Flamenco Black Pearl skin. Sure, the nose has been beaten up due to some recent highway trouble under the care of the previous owner, but the car is still an absolute blast to drive.
Since the EM1 first launched, Honda has produced two more generations of the Si, and even added a light touch-up to the car in 2009. Now, however, there is an entirely new version to get excited about. The 2012 Honda Civic Si is here… but has Honda gone soft with its latest red-badged budget sports car? Keep reading to find out.
We’ve come some ways from the days of the screaming 1.6-liter four-pot. The 2012 Civic Si sports a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 201 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. If you want all 201 horses to come out and play, you need to keep the throttle open all the way up to the car’s 7,000 rpm redline. That torque, however, is fully realized at 4,400 rpm. That figure sounds high, but it makes a huge difference when compared to the Si coupes, hatches, and sedans of old.
You can now leave a stoplight and keep up with traffic for the first few seconds of forward travel. No more watching taillights pull away from you until you engine has spun from its torque-less depths to its VTEC heights. An added bonus is that the high-revving fun is still available, because the 2.4-liter mill enjoys being run to its limit. It’s fun to run it there not just for the power, but also for the noise. While it doesn’t sound quite as good as previous Si mills, when VTEC joins the band you might just find yourself humming along.
Honda has paired the rev-happy motor with a six-speed manual transmission, and it’s your only choice when it comes to gearboxes. That’s fine by us, because a car like this needs to be driven with three pedals. The throws are standard Honda-solid, and the clutch pick up is smooth. Pedal placement is setup for some easy heel-toeing, but your author sucks at doing so, which means this Civic was treated to some rev-matching downshifts after the brakes were already applied. Throttle response could be a bit snappier, but the powertrain package is rather enjoyable overall.
We said this is Honda’s boy racer grown up, and since it’s a brand new car you expect it to pack on pounds with respect to previous models. Thankfully, however, Honda has managed to keep weight on the good side of 3,000 pounds, and the 2012 Si weighs as much as the 2006 FG2 version. This coupe tips the scales at 2,877 pounds, and, although it’s not as slim as my 2,606-pound EM1, the extra heft doesn’t spoil the handling dynamics. Sure, the weight distribution is 61-percent front/39-percent rear, but the MacPherson front suspension handles the hefty nose, and twisty roads don’t have you mimicking the handling of an old Chevy pickup with a snow plow hanging off the bumper. The car is responsive and, coupled with the quick-not-fast engine and transmission package, you’ll never get into too much trouble on your favorite backroad. You’re just going to wind up having lots of fun.
You’re going to have even more fun at the F & I desk should you decide to pick one up. The car you see here (not the busted-up, older one) is priced at $24,475. You’re looking at the fully-loaded Navi example, but if you can live without someone barking directions at you then you can pick up an Si for $22,205. It’s hard to find a fun (new) car for under $25k, but Honda has managed to cram a whole lot of enjoyment into the 2012 Si.
I haven’t gone completely crazy here though, as I know you can also pick up the Ford Mustang V6 for about the same number of greenbacks. The base Blue Oval coupe will cost you $22,855 before you add on the optional 3.31 limited slip rear axle and V6 performance package. Still, you will be a bit bummed when you look at the interior of the 2012 Civic Si, because the seats are better and you haven’t even added in the cost of the Nav system, Sync infotainment or Bluetooth hands-free. Honda has already included that stuff (minus Sync of course) in the Si Navi.
It’s not all sunshine and lollipops inside the Civic cabin though. The multi-level dash takes some getting used to. It looks like Honda passed off IP design to the ghost of Frank Lloyd Wright… and Fallingwater doesn’t translate well in the automotive world. While it’s nice to get a bunch of different information presented at once, it’s also quite distracting to, well, to have a bunch of information presented at once.
If you’re tech obsessed, you might really enjoy it. If you’re not, then you will hate it. Simple as that.
Still, that cabin is greatly improved over the Civic Si examples of yore. No more tinny doors that produce a sound akin to closing the metal shed in your backyard, and no more ultra-cheap materials that look like they were plundered from Korean cars built in the ’90s. The interior certainly doesn’t look expensive, but it also doesn’t look cheap, and that’s a great achievement for any car under $25k.
In addition to the cabin space itself, the seats are both comfortable and supportive. Something I can’t say about the seats in my 2000 Si. The EM1 seats put my head right near the roof, and boast the support of a drunk AA sponsor. The 2012 Civic Si has nicely bolstered seats keeping my butt and back in place, while also keeping them comfortable.
If you find yourself grabbing for the passenger handle in a 2012 Civic Si, make sure you’ve yelled out “Shotgun!” well ahead of time. The back seat is a place designed for legless midgets or horrible children. This is a coupe we’re talking about though, so just get the Si sedan if you want to retain friends who need a ride somewhere.
Honda is getting a lot of flack for the 2012 Civic lineup. I can’t speak to any version other than the Si coupe, however, because it’s the only one I’ve driven. Truth be told, it’s the only one I want to drive. It’s a more modern version of a car I actually own. The question I asked at the beginning was whether Honda has gone soft with the latest Si iteration.
The car has matured. The seats are more refined, the engine makes low-end torque (well, for a Honda…), and the cabin materials are a pleasant surprise for the price point. The car is still fun to drive, wants you to rev its head off, and also returns solid fuel economy (22 city/31 highway per the EPA). It also does all that at a price below $25k. Other folks can rip the new Civic lineup apart. Here, we’re focusing on the model we care the most about.
My 2000 Si offers up a more visceral experience by way of its tinny doors, better engine noise, and seemingly harder pulls once VTEC kicks in(yo), but the updated coupe has gone to finishing school and come out a better every-day car on the other side.
The 2012 Honda Civic Si is a refined ride that fondly remembers the boy-racer roots from which it came.
[Disclosure: Honda provided the keys to this 2012 Civic Si and a full tank of gas]