New Honda Civic Si rekindles the spirit of beloved mid-‘80s CRX Si

New Honda Civic Si rekindles the spirit of beloved mid-‘80s CRX Si

Turbocharged engine, short-throw 6-speed manual and adjustable suspension bring back the thrill

I had exceedingly high expectations as I awaited my first drive of the 2017 Honda Civic Si. I’d heard that for the first time since Honda’s original Civic Si, the much beloved CRX Si of the mid-1980s, the automaker had replicated the recipe that made the CRX so popular with driving enthusiasts who wanted something that was fun but affordable.

Even better, Honda had baked all the right ingredients into the brand-new and eighth-generation Civic platform with its latest chassis, safety, performance and technology features.

As a bonus, I heard, the coupe version of that eighth-gen Civic has a sleek and sporty design that, at least in Si guise, lives up in performance to the visual promise of its sculptural styling.

Perhaps, but I had to see for myself. After all, I’d lived for several years with one of those original, first-gen CRX Si cars. Not long after I joined the staff at AutoWeek magazine, the mother of our children needed a car with a functional heater and defroster, those aspects of her Volkswagen Beetle having been rusted away.

1988 Honda CRX Si | American Honda Motor Co. photo

One of the art directors at AutoWeek had a CRX Si that he enjoyed, both on the street and in weekend autocrossing, that he wasn’t driving often enough to justify keeping so he sold it to her. Yes, it was her car, but from time to time she was willing to let me drive — and the experience was never disappointing.

The car was quick, agile, and had the slickest short-throw shifter.

So, here we are in 2017 and there’s a new Civic Si and it does, indeed, rekindle all those wonderful memories of the original, while adding modern conveniences and safety gear.

Empowering the new Civic Si is yet another 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, but this one is turbocharged, has direct injection and dual variable cam timing so it pumps out 205 horsepower when you rev it up. It also provides 192 pound-feet of torque all the way from 2,100 rpm to 5 grand. Even with its standard helical limited-slip differential, pounce on the throttle from a stop and be sure you have a good grip on the steering wheel because you’re about to experience torque steer as you launch down the road.

Allowing you to take best advantage of all that power is a six-speed manual gearbox that not only has a quick and nimble short-throw shifter, but that meshes marvelously with the clutch. Note to parents: If you want your teenagers to learn to drive a stick shift, get a manually shifted Honda.

Oh, and if you’ve fretted that the manual is dead, consider this: Honda equips the 2017 Civic Si coupes only with standard gearboxes. There’s not even an automatic on the specifications sheet.

The newest Civic chassis not only is stiff, but the car is quiet as well. The Civic Si rides on MacPherson front struts/rear multi-link suspension with adaptive shocks, stiffer springs, firmer front and rear anti-roll bars and bushings, dual-pinion variable-ratio electric power steering, 12.3-inch front and 11.1-inch rear brakes and rides on 18-inch wheels. Much of that stuff is being applied for the first time on the Civic.

Not only is the car a delight to drive, but it has some delightful styling details | Larry Edsall photo

Buyers have their choice of all-season or summer tires. Our test car was equipped with grippy (Goodyear Eagle GT) summer tires. The moment of turn in is a wonderful experience, especially as the car rotates itself through the corner and accelerates on down the roadway.

The Civic Si also comes with a Sport mode. Press a button on the center console and those adaptive shocks firm, and throttle and steering response quickens.

Such performance is matched by the styling of the Civic Si coupe with its enlarged front air intakes and “solid wing” fascia and its raised rear spoiler and a couple of delightful details, the lower rear fascia with its central exhaust outlet and the monobrow tail lamp. It also has a sunroof.

Inside, the Si has nicely bolstered cloth seats with red stitching (heated up front, and with height adjustment for the driver), faux-carbon dash trim and metal pedals. Standard features include a driver information display that allows you to select the details you want to see — including turbo boost and lap times, as well as a 450-watt, 10-speaker premium audio with satellite radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, but not navigation, we suppose because you can simply use the nav technology on your smartphone.

Stability and traction control and multi-angle rearview camera with right-side turn monitor are standard safety features.

You get all of that for $24,100. And while the Civic Si isn’t expensive to purchase, neither does it figure to be expensive to operate. The fuel-economy ratings are 28 city, 38 highway, although we averaged slightly better than 40 mph during our week with the car. And it was a week in which we made excellent use of the car’s powertrain and suspension, including some wonderfully empty hilly and winding roads.

Si is shorthand for “Sport injection.” With the 2017 Civic Si, Honda has not only injected Sport into its newest-generation entry-level compact platform, but has injected a nice historical homage as well.

2017 Honda Civis Si
Vehicle type: 5-passenger coupe, front-wheel drive
Base price: $24,100 Price as tested: $24,975
Engine: Turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder, 205-horsepower @ 5,700 rpm, 192 pound-feet of torque @ 2,100 – 5,000 rpm Transmission: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches Overall length/width: 177.4 inches / 70.8 inches
Curb weight: 2,880 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 28 city / 38 highway / 32 combined
Assembled in: Allison, Ontario, Canada

Gallery photos by American Honda Motor Co.

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