2023 Honda Civic Si Road Test: The cheap, do-everything performance car

The Honda Civic Type R and Acura Integra Type S might be Honda’s performance crown wearers this year, but don’t forget about the 2023 Honda Civic Si. As a little reminder to both ourselves and you, the good folks at home, I decided it was time for a road trip in a Blazing Orange Pearl Si down to the Indy 500 with a return trip detour to the Indiana Nürburgring.

I’ll fully admit to being somewhat skeptical about some of Honda’s decisions in engineering the new Si. Removing the adaptive dampers, subtracting 5 horsepower and, to a lesser extent, nixing the previously-standard heated seats were all steps backwards. Of course, all of that ensures the Si doesn’t step on the Acura Integra A-Spec’s toes. My goal is to see if these losses, and if the car as a whole, is still the do-it-all performance bargain you expect out of a Civic Si.

Cruising down from Detroit to Indy gives me time to get acquainted with the cabin. The orange/red and black seats instantly project a performance vibe with their supportive bolstering and comfortable cushions, and since they’re cloth, they won’t freeze you out in the winter, making that lack of heat hurt less. They feel just as good as they look, and the rest of the interior follows suit. The new Civic has an upscale feel to its insides in general, and the Si’s red accents enhance some of its best points, most notably the honeycomb air vents with the red outline.

Visibility is tremendous forward and to the sides, which eases the stress of a long trip like this one. Honda’s full driver assistance suite is standard, and I spend the whole highway portion of the drive with adaptive cruise and lane-centering turned on. With the surprisingly powerful and crisp Bose audio system pumping out the tunes, I spend the long drive in a rather happy and peaceful mindset for being in a budget performance car.

After stepping out of the saddle four hours later, however, I remain convinced that dropping the Si’s adaptive dampers is a notable loss. The Integra benefits greatly from the enhanced ride quality available from slotting it into a “Comfort” damper mode. Meanwhile, the Si hangs out in a middle ground that is great on your favorite set of backroads, but not as calm as the Integra is at long highway slogs. If you’re tolerant of a stiffer suspension, then you’ll likely be fine with this, but knowing that Honda has the parts in its bin to make it the best of both worlds is a tough pill to swallow (and may send you to the Acura dealer instead).

With the Indy 500 wrapped up, I’m feeling properly invigorated for a little enthusiastic motoring of my own. It’s time to stop treating the Si like a daily driver and more like a sports sedan. The Indiana Nürburgring, in case you missed it last time, is a route of winding and technical backroads through southern Indiana that takes you in a big circle roughly resembling the Nordschleife. It’s a perfect place to put a car like the Si through its paces, and you might even find some tasty pork along the way.

Countless sports cars these days have so much power that sustained full-throttle sessions mean you’re asking for trouble from law enforcement or that you’re simply going way too fast for the road. Honda’s little 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 200 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque has no such issue. And sure, maybe that sounds like a roundabout way of saying it’s slow, but on up-and-down, tight roads like these, the Si’s 200 horses are all I need to have a joyous time. Plus, it allows me to exercise 100% of what the car can do over and over, and who doesn’t love more time with the right pedal all the way down? The engine itself doesn’t sing a sonorous high-rpm Honda sound, but it’s still satisfying to listen to and to rev all the way to its 6,500 rpm redline. The last 1,000 rpm come in a rush as power builds as revs rise, keeping you engaged all the way through the rev range.

Close-ratio gearing means I’m always moving that shifter through its superb gates. It doesn’t have quite the mechanical, bolt-action feel as the Type R’s transmission, but the Si’s manual still provides the Honda shifting magic I love. And with this generation of Si, you can toggle between matching revs on downshifts yourself or having the car do it for you. The pedals are set up well enough to facilitate a little heel-toe action, but the car is rather talented, as well, if you’d rather concentrate on other things.

Low-speed corners give the standard limited-slip differential some work to do. It gently pulls you on through and out of a bend without any hint of understeer on-throttle, doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. The chassis is more than suited for any kind of handling task I can throw at it, too. Even a regular Civic handles extremely well, but the Si’s numerous previous-gen Type R bits and pieces (various bushings, rear upper arms and lower B arms) in addition to the stiffer dampers, springs and revised steering give it the perfect amount of edge you want on the road. You can sense the platform’s rigidity as soon as you begin to exercise it, and all of its parts work together in happy harmony — the damping level ensures control and composure through every fast bend, and although I would’ve preferred a softer setting for the long-haul journey, the Si doesn’t suffer from jarring impacts.

The brakes, which are just mildly larger than a standard Civic’s clampers, visually look like they could be a weak point, but they most certainly are not. Feel is fantastic through the stiff pedal, and a couple hundred miles of heavy use couldn’t bring on any hint of brake fade. Honda fitted my test car with the optional Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires, and these tires (or comparable summer rubber) are a must-buy. The all-season tires that come standard on the Si would’ve been screaming and protesting all throughout the hills of southern Indiana, and a car with a chassis as good as this one deserves summer rubber.

I start to love the way this Si drives as the morning wears on into the afternoon. The sheer lightness of the car gives it a sense of agility and eagerness to change direction. Plus, controlling it with the just-right steering is yet another high point. Its features a satisfying amount of weight without feeling artificial in Sport mode, making each successive corner a pleasure to scythe through. I can sense the grip levels of those sticky tires through the highly bolstered seat and through the wheel. And what a lovely wheel it is, too. Honda uses the perfect type of soft leather to wrap around the comfortably-shaped circle that is neither too thick nor too thin.

Right beyond that wheel lies a bit of a head-scratcher for a performance vehicle, though, as the Si doesn’t even have a coolant temperature gauge. It’d be best if Honda integrated the Type R’s LogR displays here to keep an eye on all your fluids and temperatures, especially because lots of folks will use an Si for autocross or track work. At the very least, a couple gauges for coolant and oil temperature would be nice. Running around with the tach needle buried deep in the rev range for hours straight in high temperatures, as I did, will make anybody want to be hyper-aware of a car’s vitals.

Outside of this omission, though, this cabin is perfect for this type of driving. What worked lovely on the way down to Indianapolis is also working now that I’m using the Si for what it’s designed to do. The thin A-pillars make traversing through unknown roads all the more confidence-inspiring. No ergonomic issues rear their heads after endless time in the hot seat as I pass hours eight and nine of driving in a single day. My back isn’t protesting; that shifter couldn’t be more perfectly positioned in the center console, and the plentiful and secure cupholders ensure I stay hydrated without fear of the water bottle flying around the cabin.

For the affordable price of just $30,350, the Si is a screaming deal if you’re after a car that can quite literally do it all in one package. It’s mega fun when you want it to be, but will also carry you home in peace and quiet once the day of fun is over, which is exactly what I did once I turned north toward Detroit again. You’re not going to have your senses overwhelmed and mind altered like you will in a Type R, but it’s hard to fault the Si for what it is at the price Honda sells it for. There’s still a valid argument for paying the extra coin for the niceties picked up in the Acura Integra A-Spec, though the Civic is so refined these days that the Si might be all you really need. If you’re only going to buy one car, and $30,000 is the bogey, I truly can’t recommend anything other than a new Civic Si.

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