Honda chose to introduce the 2017 Civic Si at their proving center in the Mojave Desert. Following a short early morning flight from Los Angeles, we had a brief chalk talk and then were quickly whisked away to the winding road circuit at the Honda Proving Center, where we would have our very first shot at driving the new Civic Si.
We were anxious to drive the new Si so we couldn't wait to press the "Start" button on the dash, if only to hear the sound of the exhaust. It turns out that it doesn't sound a lot different from the Civic Sport Hatchback from a qualitative standpoint, though it may be slightly louder. Compared to previous Sis, the sound is a bit more subdued, with a bit less of a bass-y tone.
Pulling out of the paddock area, the clutch and shifter feel superb, like Honda clutch and shifters normally feel. As much as we like the shifter in the Civic Sport 6MT, this one definitely feels better. Besides the shorter throw, it has a more positive engagement feel, and on top of that, it feels like there's somehow less waiting for power at the uptake following a shift. Surprisingly, given the 20.3 psi max turbo boost, the turbo lag doesn't feel too bad straight away. The engine itself feels quite peppy and eager to rev, though the 6500 rpm redline feels far too tame, and unfortunately we find the rev limiter a few times when we really don't want to. We also find that through many of the circuit's turns, the throttle response is quite mushy and vague, due to the turbocharger. As we're negotiating the foreign segments of the HPC circuit, the pro driver that Honda has placed in the passenger seat is telling us to apply 20%, 30% throttle, then to go FULL throttle, but really, it matters not. The car only seems to understand binary throttle inputs. From an outright power perspective, the 205hp rating feels just about right, unlike the Civic Sport 6MT Hatchback, which according to the dynomometer actually puts more power to the wheels than is rated at the crank.
The Civic Si's Large Project Leader (LPL) wants us to appreciate the Si for its light weight and the power to weight ratio. We fully understand power to weight ratio but we also have a strong affinity towards responsiveness. The Civic Si has a very responsive chassis, but the turbocharged engine falls short of the Honda standard of responsiveness. Torque and power are quite good for a 1.5L engine, but the throttle response just isn't where it needs to be. A larger (2.0T) engine wouldn't completely cure the throttle response issue, but it would deliver even more torque and horsepower which would go a long way towards offsetting the mushy throttle response.
On the street, somehow the Si seems to suffer a bit less of the turbo "sag" that the 6MT Civic Sport exhibits between shifts. Perhaps it's the throttle mapping in the "Sport" mode or some other tuning choices made by Honda engineers, but there is a bit less of an acceleration-sapping deadspot between shifts. But there is still enough of a hesitation between shifts to impact timed runs. In other words, the Si pulls much harder than the official 0-60 numbers will indicate, so in that sense it's fun to run it through the first 2 or 3 gears.
We've known since the introduction of the 10th generation Civic that the new chassis is superb, and we knew that the sporting variants would be quite amazing, and the Si doesn't disappoint. With the active dampers, the Si is designed to deliver a high level of cornering performance without any undue punishment to the passengers. The "Sport" mode sets the steering to a weight that is much closer to ideal, and even the feel of the electrically-assisted power steering (EPS) system seems to be improved, while the dampers stiffen up enough to improve handling but if you forget that "Sport" mode is enabled, you might not notice except on the most punishing roads.
On the circuit, the chassis is fairly neutral, but as you push it harder and harder it will yield to mild understeer. If you push it too hard and reach this point of understeer, the remedy is to lift momentarily, and then as the front tires achieve some grip, apply throttle and the limited-slip differential will neatly tighten the line. Of course, this only works if you don't completely overcook the turn entry.
Overall, the Si was quite a bit of fun on the track, especially considering the nature of its street tires and brakes. We did manage to very slightly fade the brakes (which on top of being 1" larger than the EX-T/Sport trims, front and rear, were upgraded to HPD pads for the purpose of our circuit drive) on one or two occasions, but the tires held up quite well. On the street portion of our drive, the brakes and tires were very well suited towards delivering a very satisfying drive.
We only had the chance to drive the new Si at relatively high elevation and in high temperature (>90F) conditions, so we're going to reserve our final judgement for a little while. But for around $24k we do think the Si represents a solid value when one considers everything including packaging, features, fun-to-drive, fuel economy, and performance. We just would have preferred to see an Si that did a better job of splitting the difference between a standard Civic and the upcoming Civic Type R, and we think a detuned version of the Civic Type R's 2.0L Turbo engine would have been the perfect choice, particularly in the face of the Civic Si's direct competition.