For a minute there, we were wondering if Honda would even offer a Civic Si this time around. With the Sport hatchback offering an incredibly engaging driving experience (especially in base trim with a manual gearbox), and the imposing Type-R looming on the horizon, the need for one more model in the already expansive lineup seemed a bit overambitious.
But Honda refused to give up on the sporty Si, and we could not be more pleased. This is the original, 100% North America-focused performance Civic. From its humble CRX roots and obscure Mugen beginnings to the unloved EP3 era and the indestructible K24, Honda’s stick shift-exclusive compact sports car remains an iconic nameplate like no other.
Unfortunately, this vehicle has also been in a losing power struggle with the competition for the past few years, with cars like the GTI, WRX, and Focus ST edging ahead thanks to their forced induction power plants. It’s not like the last few generations of the Si were slouches in the performance or handling department, but neither were they game changers. This is the far more affordable “baby Type-R,” which enthusiasts loved because it was responsive and reliable, yet hated because it wasn’t the grown-up version. Fortunately, love for the Si has been strong enough to keep the badge alive, and it now offers subtle yet snazzy external and internal styling tweaks, a bulletproof naturally aspirated engine, and snappy manual transmission that harbored many of the same tightly wound inclinations as the sport suspension cradled beneath its four corners.
Recently, a shift toward forced induction engines within the 10th-generation Civic line has transformed the Honda landscape significantly, as the 1.5-liter Earth Dreams engine earned the Honda compact the title of North American Car of the Year at the North American International Auto Show for 2016. Honda reports that sales of the Civic have made it the best-selling car with individual American car buyers in 2016, meaning it will more than likely garner the highest U.S. sales numbers in all of its 44-year history by the end of the year. This leads us back to the fiery red hatchback pictured here, because now the iconic H-badge has a new weapon at its disposal for next year. A completely recalibrated Civic Si appears to be leading to all things R-rated via an approach that prefers to focus on agility over aggression.
We were on-hand when the Civic Si prototype made its global debut at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show, and we were able to glean a few notes on the direction Honda plans to take the badge as it looks to launch both a coupe and a sedan model next year. While Honda fanboys may be miffed over the fact that their favorite automaker has dropped a 1.5-liter turbo in the damn thing, we feel comfortable with this decision. There is no reason for Honda to go backward after building previous generations to the 200 horsepower mark, so even though the car’s creators have yet to release power figures, we can safely assume that gains will be somewhere in the 210-220 horsepower range, based purely upon the fact that the same engine in the all-new CR-V sports 190 ponies.
It’s also worth noting that the Rallye Red Pearl prototype seen here is not the car you will see on dealer lots come next year. This show machine has been outfitted with a complete Honda Factory Performance (HFP) kit, which includes both front and rear splitters, a wing, polygonal exhaust, and 19-inch high-performance tires wrapped around forged HFP 19-inch alloy wheels. While word on what other go-fast goods from Honda’s street performance tuning shop are going to be available is still unclear, drilled rotors and upgraded pads will be an option for buyers down the line — a promising start considering how nimble this little four-banger will be in the corners.
Honda is tight-lipped about its dyno numbers, but it did reassure the audience that the 2017 Si will have what it calls a “high-torque 1.5-liter, directed-injected and turbocharged DOHC in-line 4-cylinder engine.” With torque on the front burner (something previous generations did not have in spades), a tricky limited-slip differential at the ready, and a short-shifting six-speed manual gearbox as your only option, the Baby R should ride a tight line between the Civic’s two extremes.
The big performance news here isn’t power related or aero focused, but handling-oriented. For the first time in history, Honda’s Civic Si will be outfitted with an adaptive damper system, as well as active steering setup. This should set the performance compact apart from the pack by giving it something one would expect to find on the Type-R, and reinforces the fact that acute handling characteristics have and always will be a cornerstone for the Si model.
More things that will likely never change are the unique interior tweaks Honda gives the Si. Like many models past, exclusive front sport seats with red stitching and stitched Si logos are a staple, with this generation taking said red touches and fusing them into the doors, steering wheel, and leather shift boot. Much like the the Sport hatch we drove recently out in San Francisco, the Si Prototype rocks a red driver’s TFT meter and audio system lighting, a dashing trio of grippy sport pedals, and a carbon-like panel trim theme. While these touch points may not be everyone’s cup of tea, they showcase a logical progression of the Si nameplate. Even though it may not be what many enthusiasts were hoping to see, we respect the fact that Honda has left a healthy gap between this car and the Type-R, making it a solid choice for performance fans once again.