It’s hard to review Honda’s ninth-generation Civic Si without referencing the eighth-generation model. That car, sold from 2006 to 2011, was a master class in small, affordable, thrifty performance. The quick steering rack, taut suspension, and revvy, 197-horsepower VTEC engine were things of beauty. Even the Si’s lack of torque (it came to market with just 139 pound-feet) was a benefit, thanks to the unique traits of its engine.
That low torque, coupled with a tenacious ability to climb the tachometer made for a challenging driving experience, as the driver had to work to keep the Civic going hard. We hate to use this term, but when the VTEC kicked in (yo!), it was accompanied by a sweet, audible changeover that became downright addicting the more we triggered it. With these combination of characteristics, the Si practically begged its driver to push harder and harder.
That’s not the case with the ninth-generation Si, which arrived to mixed reviews in 2012. Part of this was down to the new, 2.4-liter four-cylinder, which featured a significant jump in torque, up to 170 pound-feet. This newfound torque came at a cost, though, with the redline dropping from the stratospheric (and giggle-inducing) 8000 rpm to a more sane 7100 rpm. Moreover, the action of the VTEC is far subtler, lacking the two-staged nature of the old car.
Not surprisingly, the new Civic isn’t quite as good a companion as the eighth-generation car. Where the 2013 improves, especially over the 2012, is in its refinement. The interior is quieter, cutting down on wind and tire noise. The only engine noise that enters the cabin is of the “good” variety.
The choice of cabin materials is a significant improvement, as it now feels befitting of a $25,000 car. The materials are softer to the touch, and look better in general. There are still niggles, though, like the navigation and infotainment system. The graphics of the touchscreen display are subpar, and surrounding the screen with small, difficult-to-read-and-manipulate buttons is as bad of a call now as it was when the system arrived in the mid 2000s.
As usual, Honda has done just fine with the driver’s primary interfaces. A pair of meaty sports seats keeps the driver and passenger snug during hard cornering, and the small, flat-bottomed steering wheel is finished in a grippy, perforated leather. The shifter, a tiny knob, has the beautiful action that Honda is known for. It’s smooth and easy to use, although the gates aren’t quite as distinct as we remember.
Overall, while this new Civic isn’t the engaging drive that the eighth-generation model is, we’d argue that the improvements in refinement and comfort are enough to take a look at one.