Honda-tech Review: Driving the All-New 2017 Honda Civic Si

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The 2017 Honda Civic Si is here, and it does not disappoint. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

All eyes are on the 2017 Honda Civic Si right now. Why? It’s the first Si in over 20 years to come turbocharged from the factory. Honda has embraced turbocharging, but is that a good thing?

Honda’s sporting heritage is deeply rooted in simple, lightweight cars that excel in being fun to drive. In years past, this fun-to-driveness has been paired with naturally-aspirated, responsive engines that made do with less. Usually, that “less” was displacement, with most of the brand’s memorable cars having small displacement, four cylinder engines that you could wring them right out to the red line.

Enthusiasts have been worried that the new turbocharged Honda engines would lose that personality, and freneticism that made the old cars so great. To be honest, I was also a bit worried about that, as well. My daily driver is a stock 2010 FA5 Civic Si, so I feel like I have a good benchmark as to how an Si should perform. Let’s find out if the new Si is any good.

First stop: Honda Proving Center, Cantil, California.

Cantil lies deep in the heart of the Mojave Desert. This is where Honda’s Western proving grounds, HPC, is located. Far away from prying eyes, so that the company can test it’s products in peace. It’s also hot, very hot. The Mojave is unrelenting, even in May, temperatures were over 100* Fahrenheit, and shade is a scarce commodity. They call it a Proving Center for a reason.

HPC is an enthusiasts’ playground, with a 7.5 mile high speed, banked oval; 5 miles of multiple configuration “winding road” courses, located next to several off-road trails and courses, naturally. However, amongst our crew, all eyes were on the road course, as 5 Si’s were lined up on the front straight.

When the 2017 Honda Civic Si hits the track, it all makes sense.

This is the stiffest Si yet, in terms of the chassis structure and the suspension, and that’s a definite merit when the road gets twisty. Body motions are very subdued, especially compared to my 8th gen, or a 9th gen. This is appreciable inside, and outside of the car. When I wasn’t driving, I was trackside, taking pictures. The reduction in roll from previous Si is very noticeable from the outside, this means the car is quite responsive to your inputs. Look at the pictures below, and you’ll see both the coupe and sedan hitting the same corner entry. Right there, both of those cars are trailbraking into the corner, so braking and steering. The left-front wheel is fully loaded up, and theoretically, the inside wheels should be light, exhibiting the most roll. Looks pretty tame to me.

Speaking of which, the electric power steering has a nice, smooth motion. It allows appreciable feedback to bleed through, especially as the outside front wheel loads up under cornering. At first, it felt like the steering ratio was slower than my FA5, I soon realized that the difference was in the heft of the steering. In Sport mode, the steering is much firmer, allowing for more precise feel and control. Despite being on regular passenger car tires, turn in is crisp, and actually takes some getting used to. The quick front end offers a sensation not totally unlike an S2000 from years prior. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

The brakes are the biggest upgrade of all. Full disclosure: for the track test, these Si were fitted with Honda Performance Development (HPD) performance brake pads, since we were taking the cars out back-to-back-to-back all morning. Pad fade was obviously a non-issue, however, that’s not what I’m getting at. The massive increase in rotor size over the old Si means that they can handle a lot more heat. The front rotors are 1.3″ larger in diameter than the old car. Unsure how much thicker they are, but just eyeballing it, I’m going to guess a few millimeters thicker. You better believe that pays big dividends on track.

I actually had issues destroying rotors on track with my stock FA5 because of how undersized they were. They can only handle so much heat before completely deforming, and cracking. Out of the box, the new Si is track-ready. Throw some good pads and fluid in it, and go.

In fact, my only qualm was the tires, which is a great problem to have. Hear me out: the overall package is so competent, that it needs stickier tires to truly experience it to the max. Throw some sticky 200 treadwear street-track day tires on this thing, and it will be a champ. Usually, stock cars tend to be quite soft, so increasing tire grip serves to only further accentuate that issue. Not with the new Si, it’s level of composure means it’s begging for more tire grip to match the rest of the car’s capabilities.

Also, let the record show that at 100* temps, with the A/C on and people back-to-back hammering these cars, the temp gauges never so much as budged. The track day bros are going to love the new Si. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

How it’s so good: a technical debriefing (Honda Nerds, take notice).

When I first covered the pricing announcement for the new 2017 Si, I noted how impressive it was that Honda was giving out a lot of technical details. Well, the nerdfest continued at the launch. After the track test, we were scurried inside a conference room and bombarded with facts and figures. Amazingly, some people tuned out during this, but they had my full attention, I love the details, and I figure, some of you will, as well.

Here are scans of the technical data Honda presented, in all of its nerdy glory. [Click the images for full-size resolution and follow along with my rant.]

So many juicy details, so little time. I’ll try to keep this piece below 10,000 words, but there’s a lot to take in. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

First off, the 10th gen chassis sees a torsional rigidity increase of 25% over the 9th gen [Picture #1]. That in itself is huge, and certainly is a big part of the equation as to why the car feels so good on track. The other big takeaway: they reduced the curb weight by about 100 pounds from the 9th gen. Coming in at a hair under 2,900lbs, the Civic is the featherweight in the sport compact segment. That’s some 300lbs lighter than the Focus ST. Dynamically, less weight improves every aspect of performance: accel, decel and cornering, so this is fantastic news.

To put in perspective how impressive this diet is, note that dimensionally, the new Civic Si sedan is 3.4″ longer than the 9th gen, with a 1.2″ wheelbase stretch. It’s also an inch lower, and 1.3″ wider, giving it a very long, sleek appearance from the rather upright 8th and 9th gen Si sedans. A lot of this visual stretch is in the tail end of the car. The sedan has a cavernous trunk. For those curious, the new Si coupe is 1.4″ shorter than before, but featuring a massive 3.1″ wheelbase stretch. The new Si coupe is rakishly short, with much shorter, more aggressive overhangs due to that increase in wheelbase. From there, it is 0.3″ lower than before, with the same 1.3″ track width stretch that the sedan features.

As you would expect, almost every suspension component is upgraded over the standard Civic, and the new Si even shares some parts with the upcoming Civic Type R [Picture #2, 3 and 4]. The massive increase in rear roll stiffness, via spring rate, anti-roll bar size and other chassis components, reduces understeer bias coming from the regular car. Crucially, the hydro-filled bushings and voided bushings used in the standard car are replaced with solid rubber all around, reducing deflection, allowing the suspension to work more efficiently, and improve overall sharpness and response. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

For the first time ever, the Civic Si features a “Sport” mode button that changes the calibration of the electric power steering, dampers, and throttle response [Picture #5, 6 and 7]. On track, I toggled between Sport mode on and off, and there is an appreciable difference. The way that the steering weights up is the biggest initial difference. However, what actually ends up being the most important are the dampers.

Let’s talk shock: the 2017 Civic Si is the least expensive car on the market with adaptive dampers [Picture #8]. Yup, a $24,775 sport compact has two-mode adaptive dampers as standard equipment, and by god do they work well. Honda actually provided a shock dyno plot showing the compression and rebound characteristics of the shocks used by the new Si, and what the difference is between Normal and Sport modes.

It’s big on paper, and bigger in the real world. In Sport mode, a solenoid opens up in the shocks, altering the valving, and available fluid in the dampers. Looking at the graph, you can see that both compression and rebound are affected by Sport mode, offering a sharper initial ramp up, before settling into a linear rate of bump and rebound. This can clearly be felt on road and track, with the cars initial responses to pitch, yaw and roll being much quicker. I personally preferred to leave the car in Sport full time. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

Why did you save the engine for last? It’s what we all actually care about.

I know, it’s what you, me and really, everyone else, need to know: is the turbocharged engine worthy of the Si badge?

You bet your sweet ass it is. The L15B7 as seen in the new Si is different than the one found in the Civic EX-T and Sport. The turbocharger is the same MHI TD03 housing, but the impeller is different, designed to flow better at high RPM. The head is different too, with sodium-filled valves to reduce temperatures. And, though specifics weren’t mentioned, the head apparently flows better, and the block is more rigid than the standard L15 turbo. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

Check out the power chart on Picture #9, the Si loves to rev. In fact, it charges hard to it’s 6,500RPM redline. It feels like it could make power at 7,000. The freneticism and urgency that defined previous Civic Si engines is still there, the difference is that it’s now assisted by 20 psi of boost. It doesn’t scream like a K20 entering the stratosphere at 8,300RPM. Instead, it growls as the boost comes on and the engine claws it’s way through the powerband.

As per Honda, in this state of tune, the Si is making peak torque from 2,000-5,000RPM, so it has grunt down low that even the K24 couldn’t match. However, Honda tuned the power curve to try and be pretty linear, so while it will pull you along at 3,000RPM, it wants to be up the rev range, and definitely rewards drivers who hustle the car. You can’t deny it’s prowess at progress, either: by all performance metrics, this is the fastest Civic Si we have ever seen.

It seems a bit muffled, but in terms of decibels, it’s making about the same amount of noise as K-powered Si of the past, inside and out. It sounds pretty hearty in the mid-range, with a deep rumble around 4,000RPM. On the outside, at full throttle you can hear the 1.5L four cylinder engine buzzing along as it comes towards you, and as it passes you hear the distinct turbo wastegate noise coming from the exhaust.

Picture #10 is indicative of changes made to the transmission. Of course, the Si has a helical limited-slip differential, which, with the turbocharged torque, is awesome at helping the new Civic Si claw it’s way out of corners. Beyond that, shift throws are shortened 10% from the Civic EX-T and Sport, and I’d guess a heavier duty clutch as at work. It’s still featherlight, but heavier than what comes in the Civic Sport 6-speed manual car I drove. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

A track test is one thing, but how does it work in the real world?

Well, fortunately, a world exists beyond Honda Proving Center. A 190 mile road trip was mapped out by Honda, to see how the new Civic Si works where it will be used 99% of the time. I hopped in a Rallye Red sedan and hit the road. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

The start of this journey was a long stretch of two lane desert highway. As a dozen Skittles-colored Civic Si hit the road at once, our very bright color palette lit up the dusty desert roads like nothing else the locals had ever seen. Cruising along at some miles per hour, it’s clear that the new direct-fuel injected, turbocharged Civic Si really does deliver in the fuel economy area. Officially, it’s rated at 28MPG city/38MPG freeway. For perspective, my 2010 Civic Si was rated at 22MPG city/28MPG freeway. That’s a tremendous amount of progress. The car is a fuel sipper on the freeway, happy to putz along in 6th gear at 2600RPM and crack almost 40MPG.

The Si is geared so that it’s sitting at about 2,500RPM at 70MPH, great for fuel economy, not so great for passing. While the turbo will spool down there, and get you going, it does take time. If you want to make serious progress however, drop it a gear or two, first. On the rural two lane highways, this meant downshifting to 3rd or 4th to pass slow moving semis and big rigs. Again, not unlike Civic Si’s of years past. You’ll hear no complaints from me about this, because the 6-speed transmission is such a nice thing to operate. Personally, I’m willing to trade top gear passing prowess for fuel economy. I drive manual transmission cars to shift myself, I’ll gladly work the pedals and shifter to get the acceleration I’m after. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

At the same time, the A/C was on full meat locker mode the whole time. The amount of standard features and goodies in this car make for a truly epic roadtripper. It was easy enough to pair my phone to the center stack via Android Auto (Apple CarPlay also standard). The Si also has heated seats as standard. I didn’t try them for fear of catching on fire under the desert sun, but I’m sure they work just fine. The touchscreen audio display was intuitive, and easy to swipe through without being distracting while driving. Speaking of distracting, the screen actually has an “off”  button on top, so you can kill the screen at night on command and not burn your retinas out. Sounds simple, but you would be surprised how many cars can’t do this.

I do have a few gripes, and one of them is with the “performance meters” that can toggled through the gauge cluster. Included is throttle and brake positions, boost pressure, a G-meter, lap timer and a shift light. That’s all cool, but there is no provision for oil temperature, or even coolant temperature. Yes, there is a coolant temp gauge, but there are no actual numbers or values associated with it. Turbocharged cars tend to be hard on their cooling systems, so seeing an oil temperature or coolant temperature display would be nice. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

My other complaint is regarding the aforementioned manual transmission: the shifter is a joy to operate, and I can live with the super light clutch. However, it seems like the pedal spacing isn’t quite right. Heel-and-toe downshifts never seemed to work right, often coming up short on the gas, and not getting enough revs for a smooth downshift. I pride myself on being a very adept manual transmission driver, so this was a minor pet peeve. I think with enough seat time, I could used to it, but it’s certainly not as intuitive as other Honda products I’ve driven. Lest you think this was purely a personal problem, I asked around, and a few other people mentioned the same thing.

Additionally, rev hang is still a lingering issue with the Si. It’s not nearly the epidemic that plagues the Civic Sport, but it’s certainly still present. Clutch in, and the revs just stay where they are before eventually slowing beginning to drop. This makes smooth gear changes an exercise in patience while waiting for the revs to drop. Again, it’s much improved over the Sport, but still noticeable.

Beyond that, I have only good things to say about the Si. It’s jam-packed with value. Seriously, I’m amazed Honda can sell this car for $24,775 (MSRP and destination charge) with all of this standard equipment. It absolutely shames most of the competition dollar for dollar.

In fact, I think when it comes to the Civic Si, the most direct competition that the car will see is within Honda dealership showrooms: the Civic Sport. Prior to driving the Si, a number of people asked me if there would be a hatchback variant. When I told them that the Civic Si would be coupe of sedan only, they all asked the same thing: how much does the hatch cost, again? For about $3,000 less than the Si, you can get a Civic Sport hatchback, with the slightly detuned 1.5T engine and a 6-speed manual. Dynamically, the Si is obviously better, but the Sport is no slouch. If you’re not regularly attacking the canyon roads, or hitting the autocross or occasional track day, the Sport is by all measures, a very competent little daily driver. I think it will really boil down to this: do you want really want the hatch? Buy a Sport hatch. In every other instance, buy the Si and pat yourself on the back. This coming from someone who loves hatchbacks.

Eventually, the desert highway drive transitioned into a winding road, where I didn’t have time to think about the interior amenities and niceties, or the Civic Sport. It was time to really drive the Civic Si. In the seemingly endless twisting, winding roads that California spoils us with, the Si was a gem. The tractability of the turbocharged engine meant that even if the car was in 4th gear instead of 3rd, it would still pull out the corners with tenacity. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

Moving through the mountains at speed showcased how utterly composed the Civic Si was: those adaptive dampers are your best friend when the going gets twisty. Don’t take its composure to mean it was boring, it wasn’t. The car is still lively and gives you options, if you want to trail brake, it will trail brake, and come right around the corner with you. The tires that I bemoaned on the test track communicate really well: listen for howling and know you’re just at the edge of adhesion. I had established a rhythm with the Si and we flowed through the mountain roads faster than the raging waters just over the edge. The Civic Si takes your hand and is equal parts ready to lead or let you lead to the rhythm of the beat.

The all-new 2017 Honda Civic Si ticks a lot of boxes for a lot of enthusiasts. That one car can be so capable, in so many venues, is truly a testament to what Honda can do when they really come out swinging. This is the same “make more from less” engineering principle that Soichiro Honda founded his company on. Call me a fanboi, because if Honda keeps turning out cars like the Civic Si, you better believe that I and many other people are going to put our money where our mouths are. 2017 Honda Civic Si Jake Stumph First Drive Review

Full photo gallery below [Click on images for full-size resolution]:

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