Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Test Drive: 2012 Honda Civic Si Sedan

I may be a little late to the 2012 Honda Civic Si "hate parade," but I mention the 2012 Civic Si quite a number of times in our review of the 2013 Acura ILX, so it only seems fair to give the Civic Si Sedan a proper shakedown as well.

In late 2011, Honda introduced the 9th generation Civic for the 2012 model year. The new 9th generation Civic comes with a revised interior and exterior, and for the Si model, a new motor as well. The Si comes equipped with the K24Z7 2.4 liter, DOHC i-VTEC inline-4, making 201 hp and 170 lb./ft. For those of you that know your Honda engine codes, yes, this is the same motor that is equipped in Acura's all new for 2013 ILX 2.4 and is the base motor for the Acura TSX. Besides the electronic features that come standard on all Civics, other standard features for the Si include a 6 speed manual transmission (the only transmission choice), limited slip differential, 17 inch alloy wheels, performance all-season tires, cloth interior with Si exclusive red stitching and Si badges. The only available options for the Si are summer tires and a Honda Link navigation system.


The Good

From a handling stand point, the 9th generation Si keeps most of the driving dynamics of the previous generation car with fairly crisp turn-in and handling without an obscenely harsh ride. The standard Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 tires, which Honda has been using for years on its performance models, are adequate and hold the road reasonably well. If you want a stickier tire, Honda offers the Michelin Pilot Sport 3 as its summer tire option.

The brakes on the Si were surprisingly good. Unlike many of the mass production Honda models, the Si's brakes actually felt like they grabbed relatively well, and did not feel like they were going to fade after a bit of hard driving. The pedal itself was surprisingly stiff, creating a sense of confidence while trail-braking into a corner. Having a decent set of brakes on a Honda product out of the factory is, sadly, not common. Prior to driving the Si, the only other three Honda products I have driven with decent brakes were the Acura TL Type-S, the 8th generation Civic Si, and the S2000. 

As expected from Honda, the Civic Si's manual transmission is top notch. Shift feel is crisp and the shifter exhibits a very nice, and solid engagement feel slotting into the gates. Clutch travel is nicely weighted and offers the driver a good sense of where the clutch engages.

All of the 9th generation Civics come equipped with some pretty nifty standard equipment, and the Si is no exception. Bluetooth, USB, a 360 watt 7.1 stereo, iMID display, and tire pressure monitoring are all standard on the Si. The Si's standard upholstery, fitted around nicely bolstered seats, also looks decent and is comfortable. Unlike the standard upholstery on the lower end Civic models, the Si's seats hold the driver nicely in place and never feel like they would cause the driver to slide out of place during spirited driving.

The Bad

Unfortunately for the 9th generation Si, much of the bad outweighs the good. Two of the biggest gripes from Honda enthusiasts and the automotive press had to do with the car's interior and the engine.

Photo courtesy of MotorTrend
While the upholstery of the Si was nice, the same could not be said for the rest of the interior. The plastic trim pieces adorning the car look like they melted a bunch of plastic Cracker Jack prizes and used that to make the interior trim on the car. Besides looking cheap, the plastics felt cheap as well. Honda has always been known for delivering cars with interiors that look much nicer and more upscale than the competition at the same price points, but the 9th generation Si's interior, including all models of the Civic below it, almost look rental car cheap.

The K24Z7, while in itself a decent engine, seems ill suited for duty in the Civic Si. When Honda enthusiasts think of Honda performance vehicles, they think of cars with screaming engines and peaky power bands. Instead, the K24 equipped 9th generation Si exhibits a character more suited for the Acura ILX than a Civic Si. While the motor offers a significant torque and mid-range boost for the Si, the engine also seems to give up towards its 7,000 rpm redline. Granted, these characteristics make the car much easier to handle on a day to day basis, but the car is also missing the rush that made the last generation Si special. During my test drive, when pushing the car hard, I found myself bouncing off the rev limiter when I expected the car to keep pushing. If only the engine had an extra 1,000 rpm to give, there would be far fewer complaints about the power plant. With the K24Z7 at its heart, it seem the 9th generation Si has lost its soul.

Besides these two major complaints, there were some other minor gripes with the car. One of the blatantly noticeable problems, one that Honda seems to never be able to get rid of, was the seemingly gigantic wheel gap between the 17" alloys and the body. The Si's slab-sidedness pretty much screams for a set of 18" wheels to lessen the gap. Thankfully, Honda's factory performance division, HFP, offers an optional set of 18" wheels. Other minor complaints include the dull steering feel, thanks to the new electric power steering, and Honda's laziness in redesigning the exterior. Regarding the steering, this is an issue that has become prevalent in many of Honda's new products that include electric power steering. Honda has started to find the right balance for EPS with cars like the 2013 Accord and the mid-cycle refreshed 2012 and 2013 Acura TL. This means that there is still hope that somewhere down the line, the Civic's steering feel will be improved as well, though why they were unable to get it right the first time is beyond me. As for the exterior, it is pretty clear that the 9th generation Civic's exterior is merely an evolution of the 8th generation Civic's design. Put the cars side by side, and you will notice the similarities almost immediately. Calling the redesign "all new" just seems lazy.

Summary

Honda CEO Takanobu Ito promptly admitted that the 2012 Civic was a rush job brought on by the economic collapse of 2008 and the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. Ito has even admitted that work on the revised Civic for model year 2013 began even before the 2012 Civic went to market, indicating that Honda was well aware of its potential folly. Fortunately, as of this writing, the re-worked 2013 Civic has already gone on sale. Customer complaints about the chintzy interior were heard and fixed. The wheel gap problem that plagued the entire 2012 Civic line up has been more or less alleviated. Honda has even increased the amount of standard features, most notably a standard back-up camera on all models. The only thing that has not changed throughout the Civic lineup are the power trains. Even though the 2013 Si still includes the same K24Z7, the improved interior and extra standard features make it a more compelling package than the $5,000 more expensive Acura ILX 2.4. So if you went out and bought a 2012 Civic Si, or any 2012 Civic for that matter, go trade it in for a 2013 model.

For our review of the 2013 Civic Si Sedan, click here.