Price: $19,910 to $25,190
2011 Honda Civic Si six-speed manual: $29,990 (As tested: $30,465 with metallic paint).
The Honda Civic hatch – called the Honda Civic Si in its current form – is once again a modern-looking, well-equipped and reasonably priced option for small car shoppers in Australia.
This hasn’t been the case since 2005, when the seventh-generation hatch was phased out and replaced by the current Honda Civic sedan – which is one of the largest ‘small’ cars in the country.
The British-built Honda Civic Type R reintroduced the hatch body style to the range in mid-2007, and was joined by the standard Si hatch early in 2009. Unfortunately, Honda Australia got the pricing and positioning all wrong. Although it was well equipped, the asking price of $38,990 for the manual and $41,290 for the automatic was well beyond what most Australians were willing to pay for a Honda Civic hatchback (back in 2005, the Civic Vi hatch cost just $25,950 in manual form).
Fortunately, as of March this year, all that has changed. The refreshed Honda Civic Si once again has an entry-level price below $30,000 (before on-road costs), while still retaining many of the premium features that make it strong competition for the best offerings from Japan and Europe.
The new Civic Si hatch is a real head turner, even when finished in Alabaster Silver paint like our test car was. The March update brought with it a new mesh front grille, making it look even more like the hard-core Type R. Outside you get triangular front fog lights and matching chrome exhaust pipes at the rear. The satin silver front door handles look like spaceships, while the rear handles are hidden in the window frames, adding to the coupe illusion. The headlights and windscreen wipers are automatic and the door mirrors are heated.
The styling is subjective, of course, but the dramatic Civic Si is likely to polarise people to a greater degree than most of its small car competitors. The only element I’m not a particular fan of is the grey plastic that borders the lower edges of every panel and wheel arch. All of this kit, combined with 17-inch alloy wheels, means the Civic Si is dressed at least as well as the equivalent Volkswagen Golf 118TSI, Mazda3 SP25 and Subaru Impreza RS models.
The interior of the Civic Si won’t disappoint fans of the exterior design. The sci-fi theme continues into the asymmetrical cabin, with all the controls focused towards the driver. Standard equipment includes dual-zone climate control (with climate controlled glovebox), auto-dimming rearview mirror, metallic pedals, cruise control, push-button start, and a tilt and reach adjustable leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The six-speaker audio system includes a single CD player, auxiliary jack, USB connectivity with iPod integration, and speed sensitive volume compensation, meaning you can easily enjoy all of your personal music on the go. The sound quality will satisfy most owners, although the signal received by the rear glass-embedded radio antenna tends to waver sooner than you would like.
The split-level dashboard is an ergonomic triumph, with all of the most important vehicle information positioned intuitively. The digital speed readout at the base of the windscreen means you can check you speed while keeping your eyes close to the road. The display is flanked by two LED indicators – Eco and Rev – which add a bit more theatre to the interior, but offer little in terms of practical driver information.
The tacho is a highlight. It is multi-coloured and enthusiastic (at least when teamed with the six-speed manual transmission), and encased behind its plastic cover it almost seems like it’s kept out of reach for your own protection, like a dangerous animal in a zoo. The only downside is that sun glare makes it a little difficult to read.
Most of the interior is finished in hard plastics, but in a way it suits the car’s sharp, sporty edge. It’s all put together perfectly so it doesn’t feel tacky like most other scratchy-surfaced cabins. One feature that looks half-baked, however, is the manual’s gearstick. Without a surrounding boot it just looks flimsy and cheap.
The seating adjustments are all manual (no lumbar support regulator for the driver), but getting comfortable in the front is easy. As it’s built in the UK, the indicator stalk is on the left side of the steering wheel. The cloth trim has a quality feel to it, but for $2200, the full leather option isn’t unreasonable either.
The worst thing about sitting in the driver’s seat is the car’s rear visibility. The C-pillars (the panel between the rear passenger windows and the rear windscreen) are definitely some of the widest in the small hatch segment, and the wider the C-pillar, the bigger your blind spot. It means you have to spend an extra moment looking over your shoulders when moving around in traffic. The rear windscreen incorporated what Honda calls a ‘glass spoiler’, which in reality is just a bar through the middle of the hatch that further obscures your view.
Although the Civic Si may seem impractical behind the driver’s seat so far, it is actually one of the most versatile offerings among its competitors. Its 415-litre boot is one of the largest going around, and soundly beats the Golf, Mazda3 and Impreza mentioned before (which offer between 300 and 350 litres). The Civic also features Honda’s ‘Magic Seats’, the same clever system used in the smaller Jazz. The seat backs fold completely flat if you need to transport long items, while the seat bases can also be folded up and back, creating a floor-to-roof storage section behind the front seats for tall items like furniture and plants. The middle rear seat is really for short trips only, as it’s an odd shape, uncomfortable and pretty much just crammed in there.
With just 19Nm less torque than the Type R, the Civic Si will satisfy most small car shoppers from a drive perspective. Its 1.8-litre petrol engine (one of the few features the hatch shares with the sedan) produces 103kW of power (at 6300rpm) and 174Nm of torque (at 4300rpm). This is less power and torque than the three competitors mentioned above (in the case of the benchmark supercharged/turbocharged Golf, it trails by 15kW and 66Nm), but for a car of its size it doesn’t feel underpowered. Teamed with the six-speed manual transmission, you can actually have a lot of fun with the engine, which loves nothing more than revving north of 4000rpm.
Although the engine is enthusiastic, it’s generally rather efficient. Its combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.9 litres/100km for the manual and 7.2 litres/100km for the automatic means it once again trails the Golf (6.2-6.5 litres/100km) but is considerably more economical than the Mazda3 (8.6 litres/100km) and the Impreza (8.8-8.9 litres/100km). The Honda’s city consumption isn’t amazing (8.9 manual/9.9 auto), but balanced with some stretches on the open road it won’t hurt your wallet too much (and unlike the Golf, it can be fuelled with regular unleaded petrol).
The five-speed automatic transmission adds $3000 to the price, decreases your efficiency and takes away some of the driving enjoyment. If you’re happy driving a manual, it’s a good option in the case of the Civic Si.
Whether you’re in the city or at 100km/h on the highway, the Civic Si feels solid and composed. Although visibility isn’t great, the Civic’s short front and rear overhangs make it intuitive to manoeuvre and park in tight spaces. The standard rear park assist takes even more of the stress out of reverse parking.
The ride is just firm enough to give the car sporty undertones, and rarely feels harsh or uncomfortable. Like many vehicles in Honda’s range, the steering is well tuned: light at low speeds and focused when you’re on the highway. A little more feedback and some extra weight in corners would make a good dynamic package even better.
The brakes inspire confidence with a strong initial reaction and a progressive feel throughout the pedal range. You get a bit of road noise on less-than perfect roads and on the highway, but it’s far from a deal-breaker.
The Civic Si has been awarded a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. Standard features include six airbags (dual front, side and curtains), electronic stability control (Honda calls it Vehicle Stability Assist), traction control and seatbelt reminders for all passengers. One extra feature that would be nice in the manual model is a hill hold function to counter roll-back. The security system includes engine immobiliser and alarm, making it better protected than most of its competitors.
The Honda Civic Si is a genuine contender in the competitive small car market. It’s priced to go head to head with top-end models and although it falls short on a pure power basis, it does more than hold its own in terms of economy, equipment and practicality. The Volkswagen Golf may be the benchmark in the small car class, but if you’re looking to stand out from the crowd, the Civic Si is a convincing alternative that impresses in almost every department.