2020 Honda Civic Si review: A top pick for budget performance

2020 Honda Civic Si review: A top pick for budget performance

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Living somewhat in the shadow of the razor-sharp Honda Civic Type R and competing directly with the excellent Volkswagen GTI, the humble Honda Civic Si has sort of flown under the radar since its debut in 2017. But in fact, the Civic Si is an exceptionally well-balanced and engaging sport compact — one of my favorites in this class. On top of that, it’s also a great budget performance pick.

Like

  • Turbo engine matches good midrange torque with high-rev thrills
  • Handling is precise and engaging
  • The 2020 model is easier to live with thanks to new driver-aid and cabin tech

Don’t Like

  • No onboard navigation option
  • Honda LaneWatch is no substitute for true blind-spot monitoring

This year, the 2020 Si gets the ol’ midcycle refresh with revisions to the exterior and interior design, enhancements to its suite of standard driver assistance features and a few performance tweaks.

The little turbo that could

Peek under the hood and you’ll find the Si is powered by a 1.5-liter, turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engine producing 205 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Now, 1.5 liters may sound a bit small, but the peppy little engine boasts very healthy midrange torque — with peak twisting force coming on as low as 2,100 rpm — and a delightful willingness to happily swing the tachometer up to its 6,500-rpm limiter time and time again. Sure, it’s at a power and torque disadvantage compared with its fiercest foe, the VW GTI, but the Si is no less exciting once the revs start building.

The thrill of the engine is enhanced by one of the most satisfying six-speed manual transmissions on the road today. The gearbox is precise with a shifter that almost magnetically slides into place with each short throw. Gear changes are accompanied by a light clutch — great for low-fatigue commuting and stop-and-go creeping — with excellent pedal placement for easy heel-and-toe blips.

The 2020 Civic Si’s transmission features revised gearing with a shorter final-drive ratio than last year. The result is improved acceleration and better throttle responsiveness, but that comes at the cost of slightly higher revs — and a hair more drone — when highway cruising. Overall, the new gearing feels like a better match for the 1.5T and the Si’s performance goals.

The manual transmission is the only gearbox available to Si buyers; there is no automatic or dual-clutch option. I’m perfectly happy with that — the Si’s six-speed is about as perfect as I could ask for — but this will understandably come as bad news to folks who can’t or don’t want to drive a manual.

Precision handling

A limited-slip differential is standard on the Si, helping to manage traction between the contact patches at the front wheels. The Si rides on a set of 18-inch wheels shod in 235-millimeter wide all-season tires, though you can also opt for summer tires. A $673 add-on, summer tires are a must-get for Si buyers, as they improve the performance considerably and are a fantastic value for the money. (Note: According to Honda’s consumer site, the summer tire price tag has gone up to $673 from the original $200, which is what it cost at the time I filmed the video review. Even so, it’s still a pretty good deal.)

The final piece of the performance puzzle is the suspension, which consists of a MacPherson strut front and multilink rear combination with adaptive dampers at all four corners. The dampers are able to go from firm to hella firm at the touch of a Sport button near the shifter turret.

The Si’s ride is a stiff one, but never harsh. The steering has a good weight to it and an engaging feel that makes the sport compact come alive in your hands. Like the powertrain, the chassis tuning is precise, giving me great control and feedback through every phase of a turn — from the braking to nailing the apex to transitioning back into acceleration.

honda-civic-si-2020-02733

Summer tires are a $673 upcharge. Get them.


Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

As I mentioned, the Si is down on power relative to the GTI, but the way it tackles corners feels so much more precise and engaging that, on the street — where the joy of each corner and crest is far more important than specs — I really don’t care. I feel emboldened to carry more speed through a turn with the Honda, which seems lighter on its toes, and this makes up for any lack of torque. On the track, it’d probably be a different story, but time attacks and lap battles are more the Type R’s domain, anyway.

What else is new for 2020?

The rest of the updates to the Si are new features and tweaks shared with the rest of the 10th-generation Honda Civic family.

There are new standard driver-assistance features starting with forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. On the highway, adaptive cruise control makes long cruises more relaxing by maintaining a set following distance behind a lead car while lane-keeping steering assist helps hold the compact between painted lane markers and warns you if you drift out of your lane or over the edge of the road.

My favorite safety addition is the new set of LED headlamps with automatic high beams that activate on dark roads and automatically dip to prevent dazzling oncoming traffic. My least favorite continuance is Honda’s LaneWatch system — a passenger-side camera that activates at the press of a button or when the turn signal is activated. I’d much rather have an actual blind-spot monitoring system watching both sides of the car, but I suppose LaneWatch is better than nothing.

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The 7-inch Display Audio system is the same. The volume knob, however, is new.


Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Front and center in the dashboard is an updated, 7-inch version of Honda’s Display Audio infotainment system. Make sure to bring your phone along for the ride to take advantage of the standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, because there’s no OEM navigation option available for the Si. As I prefer Android Auto over almost every onboard infotainment at this price, I don’t mind this setup, but still, it bears mentioning.

Smaller tweaks that you may miss are the new volume knob — which replaces the old and awkward capacitive slider — along with more physical buttons and shortcuts for infotainment and climate control functions. On top of that, the new Civic has improved Bluetooth pairing and smoother overall system performance. The steering-wheel thumb controls have also been revised, the seats have been updated and the rest of the cabin receives a small visual refresh for this new half-generation. Oh, and the cupholders are bigger now, too.

Pricing and competition

The 2020 Honda Civic Si is available in coupe and sedan configurations. Personally, I prefer the look and utility of the sedan; rear doors can be very handy. With the same wheelbase and less than 20 pounds of curb weight difference, performance is surely identical either way you go. Pricing is also identical, starting at $26,195 (including a $995 destination charge) whether you pick two doors or four.

The price is the same whether you choose two doors or four.


Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

There aren’t many options on the table for the well-equipped Si, but I’d recommend forking over the extra 673 bucks for summer tires, bringing you to a recommended price of $26,868. That’s about on par with what you would expect to pay for the softer-around-the-middle¬†Jetta GLI. A less refined but hell-of-a-lot-more-fun option is the new Hyundai Veloster N, which starts just under $29,000.

However, it’s no surprise that the Civic Si’s fiercest rival is also its oldest: the Volkswagen GTI. The VW is more of a premium car with nicer cabin materials, an available dual-clutch automatic transmission, a larger 8-inch screen with onboard navigation, a digital instrument cluster and other features. Plus, it’s a hatchback, which I love. However, the Honda starts at about $2,000 less than the GTI — which can almost price itself right out of this class, if you’re not careful.

The Honda Civic Si — a sport compact legend in its own right — continues to shine as an excellent performer and an excellent performance value, and the 2020 model year gets even better.

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