The prodigal Si has returned! Having spent an introductory afternoon with it shortly before sales started, we already knew that the 2006 Honda Civic Si was a screamer. Our preview post was packed full of praise for this new pocket-rocket’s poise, power, and appearance. Now, after a week’s “work” with this little wonder, evaluating the practical as well as the emotional, we can only reaffirm our earlier opinions, adding the occasional observation about how easy it is to live with, too. For such a little car, there’s an awful lot to love about the Civic Si.
That in itself is something of a feat, considering the lackluster reception the last-generation Si received. As the millennium turned, it was, that the 7th iteration of Civics debuted; although excellent on the whole, the bad-boy of the bunch suddenly became boring. Commonly credited with creating the ‘rice-rocket’ craze, Honda confused the tuner crowd by circulating a Civic Si that was completely un-cool. Sold solely as a stubby 3-door, sporting 160 horses, and shod with dinky little 15-inch rims, the last Si seemed somehow less sporty than its predecessors.
All that has changed for Generation 8. Disturbing memories of the dumpy design and deficient dynamics are suddenly done with, relegated to mere irrelevancies in the face of this fresh redesign. Restored to its proper coupe configuration, the 2006 Civic Si reclaims every crumb of its former glory, and then some. Lean, low, and lithe, is the look now. Still small, the Si somehow evinces a powerful presence. Standard 17″ rims, that sleek spoiler, and a purposeful stance speak of a self-possessed poise and prowess that mere pretenders cannot match. Aerodynamic to the extreme, it appears able to outrun a supersonic airplane with ease.
Rarely does Honda disappoint; deception is not this brand’s domain. Thus it is no surprise that the Si performs as well as its appearance implies. It shoots to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, and feels like it could turn on a dime at that speed. Steering and braking are immediate; the tiniest trace of input in either system is implemented instantaneously. The epitome of agility, this is the essence of motion, distilled to its most basic and raw form.
At the core of this car is a thoroughly electrifying engine; 2.0 tiny liters of free-revving VTEC exhilaration. Redline is a stratospheric 8000 rpm, and this naturally-aspirated animal is eager yet even up to the very end. Output is 197 horsepower, at only 200 rpm short of redline, and although the bulk of this powerband is clearly beyond the 6000-rpm cam boost, there’s always enough brawn on tap to bully the Si’s wispy 2,800-lb. body around. Torque, too, appears inadequate; but the 139 lb.-ft. figure doesn’t tell the true story–the 2006 outshines any older Si from a standstill.
Few cars can claim the level of responsiveness that the Civic Si can. Powerhouse Porches and Lotuses and so on out-handle our little Honda, yes, but besides such purpose-built purebreds, the Si’s prowess is unmatched. It feels like a 7-10ths scale Corvette; equally capable in most contests, yet more portable and entirely more practical.
The Si’s suspension setup is standard sporty-car stuff. Up front is a control-link Macpherson strut system; rounding out the rear is a reactive-link double-wishbone design. Sturdy stabilizer bars at both ends secure sideways motion, measuring 28/17 mm. front/rear. Riding the road is Michelin Pilot Exalto rubber in a 245/45 ratio. The most remarkable piece is an electric-assist-type rack-and-pinion steering system. Working in concert with the low weight and swift powertrain, these modest mechanical bits make for a sharp and spirited chassis.
All the more a shame, then, that such superior skill is marred by such merciless torque steer. We’d beg Honda for a limited-slip differential, but the Civic Si comes with one–it’s just not up to the task of harnessing all those horses. Peeling out in a power-mad puff of smoke, the tires seem to be screaming as much from lateral motion as forward acceleration. A firm grip on the steering wheel is required here; or you’ll sideswipe whatever’s sitting alongside you before you make it across the intersection.
Otherwise, gripes are few and far between. We did feel like the Si’s 6-speed stick-shift could use a taller sixth gear; the close-ratio unit calls for near-constant shifting and causes the engine to spin at 4000-plus rpm at freeway speeds. Elsewhere, everything is in order; our opinions are overwhelmingly positive. Even the trunk proved pleasantly surprising; 11.5 cubic feet of cargo room might not sound spacious, but it can pack an impressive amount of stuff.
In fact, the Si’s interior on the whole is as welcoming as it is innovative. 83 cubic feet of passenger space in a compact coupe is commodious indeed. Particularly praiseworthy are the Si’s seats; the front buckets are accommodating enough to allow for anger-free all-day motoring, and yet supportive enough to firmly infix occupants in no matter how much fun you’re having behind the wheel. The back bench also seems well-bolstered, although the additional support makes the 5-passenger capacity claim less than believable. At least there is room enough for adults in all 4 outboard positions.
More remarkable than mere measurements, though, is the modern motif of the Si’s cockpit. Especially arresting, the dual-level dashboard centers the tachometer directly in the middle of the traditional gauge cluster, while positioning the speedometer several inches upward, nearer to the driver’s line of sight. Contemporary conveniences like an auxiliary input for external mp3 players, a sliding armrest, a tilting/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, red ambient lighting and an extra 12-volt power outlet complete the state-of-the-art theme. High-tech, high-fashion, and entirely hip.
Our tester was also equipped with the new Honda navigation system, which we rate as one of the most useful and user-friendly of the breed. Data entry is by touch-screen or joystick operation, and the user interface is generally intuitive. A 350-watt audio system is integrated into this unit, and the sound from the 7 speakers (including subwoofer) is superb. As befits such an avant-garde automobile, it accepts all mp3 and WMA audio files, and particularly progressive is a PC-card slot that takes SD-RAM, CompactFlash, and other digital media, supplementing the CD deck. XM Satellite Radio further expands the aural options.
“Safety for Everyone” is Honda’s latest mantra, and the Civic Si wasn’t ignored in this respect either. 6 airbags (front, side, curtain) supplement the auto-tensioning 3-point seatbelts, while active headrests counter whiplash concerns. ABS and EBD augment the 4-wheel discs (11.8 vented front; 10.2 solid rear) as well. Conspicuously absent is any sort of electronic stability system; in our opinion, it isn’t needed.
The 2006 Honda Civic Si starts at $20,290. Sure, standard Civic sedans and coupes sell for $6-7 grand less, but the Si yields spirited performance that surpasses the price. An extra bonus; at 23/32 mpg city/highway the EPA says the Si’s economical efficiency still exceeds standard sports cars. Honda’s latest Civic Si may well be the best bang out there for $22,240 bucks.