• By: Neil Moore

Canada’s most popular car turns up the heat with Si Coupe

All photos by Neil Moore

It’s hard to believe Honda Civic is now in its tenth generation, evolving radically since coming to Canada in 1973 as a “cheap and cheerful” three- and five-door econobox. It soon grew both in size and sophistication, and quickly became no longer just an entry ride for those short on cash.

All of which had a positive effect on sales. Honda’s longest-running nameplate has been ranked the top-selling car here for 21 consecutive years.

Civic Si features an aggressive front fascia with swept back LED headlights, large lower air intakes, and big 18-inch split 5-spoke alloys that fill the wheel openings.

That may not match Ford F-150 – the overall top-selling vehicle – but as we’re all aware, passenger car sales have been fading. Which is a shame, as they’re more fuel efficient than SUVs, crossovers and pickups, and typically more fun to drive. Especially those models offering sportier versions, like the ever-popular Civic Si.

I’ve driven several generations of the Si, and have always appreciated that Honda has maintained the best aspects of Civic, while dialing up performance and handling. Like swapping its standard, and thrifty, four cylinder engine for something a little more potent, stiffening the suspension, and adding a limited-slip differential to tame the “wheel hop” – common in front-drivers – when you get a bit frisky.

Honda also continues with a manual gearbox, the only way you can buy one.

The current Civic range – coupe, sedan and hatchback – are all a welcome change from recent generations. Gone is the wallflower styling, replaced with a look that is equally fetching whether you’re sporting two, four, or five doors.

Si models, which were all-new in 2017, come only in Sedan and Coupe flavours, with the latter being my tester for the week.

Regular Civic coupes, which start at $21,190 for the base LX, are powered by either a 2.0-litre VTEC four cylinder (158 hp, 138 lb/ft of torque) or a direct-injected 1.5-litre turbo four (174 hp, 162 lb/ft) found in upscale Touring trim at $28,390. The Si is a thousand dollars more and gets that same 1.5 litre mill, but it’s tuned to 205 hp and 192 lb/ft of torque.

Heated sport seats are well bolstered, and clad in a nice grippy fabric.

This is a step up from the 2.4-litre VTEC that powered previous Si models. Horsepower remains the same – but arrives 1,300 rpm sooner – and more significantly, there are now 18 more pounds-feet, with peak torque arriving at 2,100 rpm instead of 4,400.

What this means is more low-end grunt. Get past the minor turbo lag in first gear, and there’s loads of torque as you approach its 6,500 rpm rev limiter – a number that seems relatively low compared to earlier models.

The sweet spot on those older, naturally-aspirated VTECs was around 7,000 rpm (and higher, depending on year), and it was a joy winding them up. On the downside, those delayed shifts weren’t ideal for the daily commute, grocery shopping, or dropping the kids at school, making the current powertrain a more sensible choice.

Other upgrades include a more rigid, yet lighter body, sport­tuned suspension with adaptive dampers, stiffer springs and stabilizer bars, larger brake rotors and wider 235/40 R18 tires.

The Si’s two driving modes, Normal and Sport, adjust suspension damping from firm to firmer, with the latter mode also stepping up throttle response.

Bottom line, the Si is a delight on dry roads, and I was blessed with a few. Its taut suspension and variable-ratio electric rack-and-pinion steering, give you a strong sense of the asphalt below, and corner carving, as with past Si’s, continues to be stellar.

Sure, the skinny rubber on big 18-inch alloys can be jarring on potholed winter roads, so keeping it in Normal mode offered some relief.

Typical Si buyers may be performance enthusiasts, but many of us have families and domestic duties. And it is with these the Sedan shines, although I was still able to manage in the Coupe.

Back seat leg room is generous for a two-door, but as you’d expect in a vehicle with a steeply-raked rear windshield, head room is compromised. My five-foot-nine teenager was okay in back, but wait a year, and that may no longer be the case.

Drop the 60/40 split-folding rear seats, and the 289-litre trunk expands to accommodate larger objects like knock-down shelving units, skis and the like. The sedan offers 379 litres.

The centre stack is tidy, with a seven-inch infotainment screen handling most vehicle functions. HVAC is made easy with buttons and knobs.

Up front are well-bolstered, and heated, front sport seats with red stitching and Si badging, aluminum sport pedals, faux carbon fibre panel trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift boot and leather/aluminum shift knob. That last item looks great, but aluminum is not your friend on frigid winter mornings.

Other items include power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, wireless charging, smart key with pushbutton start, rearview camera, and Honda’s LaneWatch blind spot display. Signal right and it shows a live feed from your side mirror camera on the seven-inch touchscreen, where you’ll also find audio, navigation, HVAC and other functions.

Speaking of audio, the Si gets a 10-speaker, 452-watt system that pumps out classic rock as good as any in this segment.

Those petrolheads who enjoy an occasional track day will appreciate the new seven-inch driver interface that displays real-time info like throttle and brake application, turbo boost, and lap time, along with race-inspired shift lights, and a G-meter for acceleration, braking and cornering.

I doubt many Si owners will rely on this gear, but it’s interesting and gives you real insight into both car and driver. More important to the buying decision is what continues to place Civic on top of the sales charts, which is practicality, build quality, and a reputation for reliability.

And with the Si, you get all the above, while paying a small premium for the kind of upgrades that make a difference – and give this Civic true performance cred at a reasonable price.

SNAPSHOT: 2019 Honda Civic Si Coupe

BODY STYLE: 2-door coupe

ENGINE: 1.5-litre, 16-valve, direct injection, DOHC, turbocharged 4-cylinder (205 hp, 192 lb/ft of torque)

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual

DRIVE: Front Wheel Drive (FWD)

FUEL ECONOMY:  8.4/6.2/7.4 litres/100km (city/hwy/combined)

CARGO: 289 litres

PRICING: $29,390. For pricing on options and accessories, visit the website. Freight and taxes extra.

WEBSITE: Honda.ca