When you spend all weekend watching some of the world’s fastest race cars scream bloody murder around the Circuit of the Americas for the annual Formula One U.S. Grand Prix, the sight of a pack of red 2020 Honda Civic Si coupes and sedans running flat out the next day on the same circuit is a mind-bending juxtaposition. It’s as if the souped-up Civics are stuck in slow mo molasses mode as they roll by.
The Si’s 1.5-liter turbo four makes 205 horsepower and all the right noises with the throttle pinned, a wail that’s been further amplified through an active sound control feature that pumps the engine jams into the cabin through the speakers. Power is routed through a six-speed manual, one of the best gearboxes going and still the only transmission available for the Si—as God intended. The limited-slip diff and a Sport mode that adjusts the dampers are also part of the Si package. Honda engineers have toyed with the box’s final drive ratio, which has been adjusted to 4.35:1 in an effort to make it slightly more responsive in the lower gears.
There are a couple of other minor exterior and interior updates to the 2020 Si coupe and sedan, including a slightly reworked front fascia for both cars, and the sedan’s rear end got a minor nip/tuck. The goal was to dial in a bit more aggression. New LED head and foglamps have also been affixed and a set of sweet, matte black 18-inch alloys amp up the look, wrapped in 235/40 size tires all around. The cabin’s new duds, including updated sport seats and red trim finishes and stitching, bring it a little more in line with the top dog Civic, the Type R.
Before we hit the track, we had a little street time in an Si coupe on the highway and some mildly twisty two lanes around Austin and environs. It’s been a while since I’ve been in an Si, but it doesn’t take long for me to get reacquainted with its lively nature. We’ve named the Civic Sport and Type R Automobile All-Stars in recent years, and not surprisingly the Si exhibits many of the same characteristics. Every one of them are a delight to rip around a tight bend and get on the throttle hard at exit. Out on the highways and surface streets, the Si is easy to whip in and out of traffic. It can be a bit on the noisy side at higher speeds, especially when fitted with the option tires, but it’s not the kind of drone that will drive you crazy, and its overall ride is taut but not jarring.
What we wouldn’t have given to have had a few more laps than the two we got in Honda’s turnkey Civic Si TCA race car, which is loaded up with equipment from the Honda Performance Development shelf. Designed to compete in the Touring Car America series, the TCA has been gutted inside other than the seats and the dash. An OMP quick disconnect steering wheel has been added, as has a rollcage and race style instrument panel, better brakes with six-piston calipers, and slicks all around. Hit the switch in the top left of the dash, push the power button, and the TCA fires up with a throatier exhaust note.
With former IndyCar and NASCAR driver Davy Jones riding shotgun and providing the instruction, we take off and commence the track attack. Though it has essentially the same powertrain as the Si street car, the TCA is quicker thanks to the weight savings, and the slicks grip and stick as Jones urges me to hug the curbing and set up for the next transition, to downshift and power through the second set of COTA’s esses. This is a car that just about anyone with the wherewithal and $52,500 to drop could start racing with in pretty short order. While it doesn’t have the raw power, Jones lauded the way the TCA can easily transition and you can get in a rhythm and flow on the track. Slow car fast and all that. We would have lapped it all day had they let us.
We got far more laps in the Si street cars. They obviously aren’t the match of the TCA, but given they share the same powertrain, it feels almost as engaging at times. As our laps wore on we went ever harder into COTA’s undulating surfaces and tight corners, and the Civic Si did not protest other than the brakes, that took a beating but held up relatively well.
No, it doesn’t have the power or the sharper reflexes of the Type R or it’s TCA race car cousin, but that’s not the Si’s mission or position. This is a car designed to be an attainable and fun option for entry level enthusiasts, and at $25,930 out the door ($26,130 with the option tires), it’s priced to be. It also comes with everything you’d expect from a daily driver in its price point, and it’s also efficient for a car of this type, with an impressive 26/36 mpg city/highway EPA estimate.
Honda officials on hand for the event took pains to remind everyone that it’s a car company that has been racing since it was a motorcycle company. That it has achieved greatness at the pinnacle of motorsport as well as at the grassroots and sports car levels, and that the Si is an extension of that ethos. During our long weekend at COTA, that message came through with intensity, whether it was Verstappen streaking around the circuit or our pack of Sis shifting, chugging, and buzzing up the hill into Turn 2.
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