On a recent weekend jaunt to the ATL, I had the chance to log several hundred miles between our TOV Project Si and a stock '06 Civic Si. Since I've been using my '02 RSX Type-S as my daily driver for the past 57,000 miles, I figure it might be time to make some comparisons between that and Honda's latest pocket rocket. The Si has been on the market for about a year, so I'll spare you the minutiae since you are probably familiar with the Si package if you are reading this.
First, let me touch on some of the big positives in the driving experience of this car. The quick steering ratio combined with just the right steering effort is a real treat. When I installed the A-Spec suspension on my RSX, the steering effort rose considerably since the steering rack is much higher than the Si's. Add to that a considerably slower ratio and it's less willing to change direction. In the Si, you get a steering experience much closer to that of an S2000 than I do in the RSX, which is a very good thing. Speaking of suspension, the Si uses a different setup in the rear that eliminates the white-knuckled sensation from excessive toe changes on rough roads. It inspires confidence and makes it easier to drive fast on roads that aren't coffee table smooth. Another positive I cannot praise enough is the LSD in the Si: dive into a corner, mash the throttle at the apex, and the car lays down power like a champ. Trying that in my RSX yields an impressive display of smoke from the inside front tire. Honda finally answered the call that enthusiasts have been making for years and I'm jealous. Moving over to the powerplant, the engineers at Honda did their homework when designing the sound of the intake. The VTEC transition at 6000 RPM sounds wonderfully blissful and makes the price of admission worth every penny. I've never heard a stock Honda engine sound this good.
Now over to the not so good quirks. Drive-by-wire is the biggest handicap to come down the automotive pipeline since OJ gave white Ford Broncos a bad name. It's quite horrible. I almost felt like I was learning to drive a manual all over again, bucking between shifts and just general neck-snapping nastiness. The stock Si had the pre-flash ECU, so it evidenced the "rev hang" many forum users have complained about. Project Si employs the most recent Honda software, so this trait didn't exist. It's a Catch 22, though: with rev hang, there's less delay between full-throttle, redline shifts. Without rev hang, the Si contracts a case of TSXitis and has a big delay when trying to bang fast gear changes. Neither is perfect and both are compromises when lined-up next to a proper mechanical linkage. Computers are great except when asked to take over throttle duties. Sliding back behind the wheel of my RSX was great in this respect: the engine did whatever my right foot wanted at that exact moment.
So what about Project Si? Take everything you know about the performance of the Si and put it under a magnifying glass. That is Project Si. If a stock Si ranks a 6 on the overall performance scale, Project Si bumps it up to an 8 or 8.5. There is a TON more midrange power, which is where most people do 90% of their driving. This helps not only in daily driving, but also on favorite roads, requiring fewer shifts to stay in the "sweet spot" of the powerband. The valvetrain is a bit noisy due to the stiff valve springs required by the IPS K2 cams, but just dial up some volume on the stereo to drown-out the clickity-clack. The suspension could use a bit more damping; it feels a bit underdamped with the stiff springs in normal cruising. Toss it into a corner, though, and it snaps to attention. Project Si has gobs of grip that give it levels far too high to exploit sanely on the street. It is probably too stiff for a daily driver, especially if you live in an area with rutted and potholed roads, but boy it devours a corner like a fat kid at 2-for-1 taco nite. The same could be said for the exhaust: it sounds erotic, but it draws lots (too much?) attention to itself and can be a beating on your eardrums for extended trips. The optional silencer insert quiets things down to just about stock sound levels, but it gives up much of the horsepower gained in the process. This is just about the ideal Si to have for weekend sprints to track events and back with something a bit more subtle for daily driver duty.
So that's my take on the latest Honda Civic Si. It's a good car that needs a few tweaks to move it to the realm of great. If Honda could figure out a way to make drive-by-wire perfect, I might endorse it. As it stands, it's like putting Brett Favre in the game with a broken thumb: he might be able to get the job done, but imagine if he weren't injured.