2006 Honda Civic Si
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Review and photos by Haney Louka

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The current Civic Si is the latest in a long line of high-strung, high-performance Honda pocket rockets that appeal to drivers and their pocketbooks. I had my first experience with this year’s model last October at Shannonville Motorsport Park in Ontario. There, the Civic Si impressed with its power and handling prowess and its uncanny ability to pretend it wasn’t a front-driver.

Now it was time to put the Civic in real-world situations: the mundane routine of commuting to work and driving around in a city with less-than-perfect pavement. The result was, at first, disappointing. Of course, I’ll get to the good stuff – and there’s lots of it – later, but driving the Civic in a relaxed fashion actually took more concentration than I thought necessary.

“I must be getting soft,” I thought to myself as I noted that the Si didn’t behave smoothly in stop-and-go traffic. After a couple of days behind the wheel, though, I was relieved to narrow the problem down not to my lack of appreciation for a finely tuned performance machine, but to the response of the Civic’s electronically controlled throttle.

This has to be one of my top three turnoffs of all time when it comes to enjoying the benefits of a manual gearbox: I took my foot off the gas to coast or change gears, and revs stayed up. That may not sound like a big deal, but what it means is that once the clutch is disengaged the tach needle floats in the same spot for a couple of seconds before settling down toward idle. That made it harder to execute smooth upshifts or match revs on downshifts.

2006 Honda Civic Si
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When I tried to coast, as one often does when loafing along in stop-and-go traffic, again the throttle would remain open, causing the car to maintain its speed briefly before settling down. Again, enough with the whining, right? But imagine yourself getting off the throttle as you approach slower traffic only to find out you’re not actually slowing down. What follows is an intuitive application of the brakes at about the same moment the throttle actually listens to your right foot (or lack thereof) and slows the car down. Not a smooth experience.

A quick search of enthusiast forums on the Internet revealed that I’m not the only one who noticed such a quirk in this otherwise stellar performer: it appears that a service bulletin is available which calls for some reprogramming of the engine control module on earlier models to reduce the symptoms I’ve just described.

Thanks, I feel better; now on to the good stuff.

2006 Honda Civic Si
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At the heart of the Si is a phenomenal naturally-aspirated all-aluminum 2.0-litre dual overhead cam four-cylinder powerhouse that eagerly cranks out 197 horsepower. Like the car itself, it’s the latest generation of high-output four-bangers from the Japanese marque. As expected, this motor’s a revver. 8,000 rpm is where the redline starts, and the car’s power peak is just 200 revs short of that. Even the modest torque peak likes to hang out at high altitudes: 139 lb-ft at 6,200 rpm.

But this one’s different. The car’s progenitors: Acura Integra GS-R, RSX Type S and Honda Civic SiR hatch were known for sacrificing low-end grunt to reap the rewards of serious thrust at high engine speeds. But the new Si impresses with its ability to pull strongly from what most would consider ‘normal’ engine speeds of 2,500 rpm and up. Truth be told, in day-to-day driving, the Si is perfectly happy in the 3,000-5,000 rpm range.

But if you’re in the mood to heat things up a little, the newest high-performance Civic is ready and willing. At 5,800 rpm, the engine’s tone changes from a relatively relaxed one to a motorcycle-like shriek as it suddenly starts clawing its way angrily toward redline. Really, it’s a wonderful thing.

2006 Honda Civic Si
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The secret goes by the trade name i-VTEC; a term used to describe many of Honda’s engines, but this Civic’s engine is designed for extreme performance. You’ve probably heard of VTEC before – variable valve timing and lift electronic control – which allows the lift and duration of both intake and exhaust valves to vary according to engine speed. The ‘i’, for intelligent, adds continuously variable camshaft timing to the mix based on a variety of factors. The camshaft timing can be advanced or retarded through a 50-degree range for optimum engine output and minimal exhaust emissions.

Helping matters is one of the best six-speed sticks ever to be connected to a car’s front wheels. Between this car and the Acura CL Type S, Honda has proven itself to be the benchmark for producers of front-drive gearboxes. Throws are short and impossible to screw up, with the lever almost guiding itself into the right gear. Thank the triple-cone synchronizers in the first two gears and double-cones in the next two for that.

But this certainly isn’t a one-trick pony: it’s a well-rounded, high performance machine that rewards those who look for balance and finesse in the driving experience.

2006 Honda Civic Si
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One of the things separating the Civic from lesser machines is a helical limited-slip differential. Typically the fun in a high-powered front-driver is limited by its inability to effectively get that power to the pavement. Power from the engine will take the path of least resistance to the tires, meaning that if one of them starts spinning, it will attract more power and spin faster until the driver changes steering input and starts the opposite front wheel spinning. A limited slip differential puts an end to this foolish behaviour by transferring equal amounts of torque to both front tires. While cornering, more power is sent to the outside front wheel (the one with more weight-ergo more traction-on it) to allow faster corner exits. It’s good news all around.

Honda continues the practice begun in 2001 of utilizing MacPherson struts for front suspension instead of the wishbone set-up previously offered. Double wishbones in back with high-performance springs, dampers and sway bars make the Si a more sporting machine than its more pedestrian siblings. The 17-inch wheels don’t hurt matters either, further firming up the ride and sharpening steering response.

Also improving steering response relative to the previous-generation Civic is a steering box that’s mounted lower than before, providing a more direct connection between the steering rack and the wheel itself.

Behind the larger wheels reside 11.8-inch vented front discs (with two-piston calipers) and 10.2-inch solid discs in the rear with standard ABS. The brake pedal is appropriately firm.

2006 Honda Civic Si
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The styling differences between the Si and lesser coupes in the Civic line are subtle but effective. Differentiating it are the aforementioned 17-inch wheels, a rear spoiler, and small differences in the headlights, grille, and badging.

The coupe is easier on these eyes than the sedan; however, I’m not a fan of either body style with the steeply raked windshield and short hood. In profile the cars look odd because extending the line of the A-pillar (at the windshield) downward lands it ahead of the front wheels, whereas more conventionally shaped cars have the pillar firmly behind the wheel well. Proportionally, it doesn’t work for me.

Inside, the windshield angle makes for a deep expanse of dash reminiscent of the then-futuristic GM minivans of the late-eighties. Remember the original Trans Sport?

What I do like about the dash is its two-tier design. From the driver’s perspective, the 9,000-rpm tach and odometer display are located within the steering wheel rim. Above the rim, and closer to the driver’s field of view, is the digital speed display flanked by coolant temp and fuel level gauges. Having less information accessed by looking through the steering wheel means that Honda designers could put a smaller-diameter rim in the Civic’s cockpit. Well done.

2006 Honda Civic Si
Click image to enlarge

In a performance car, one might expect the tachometer to be located up near the driver’s view of the road, but not so in the Civic. Instead, Honda’s designers included an LED rev warning light next to the speed display that starts flashing at around 7,500 rpm as the redline nears. Some say it’s gimmicky; I found it to be nifty and quite useful to boot.

The Si’s seats are not standard-issue Civic. All coupes get deeper side bolsters than sedans, and the Si gets more special treatment in the form of stiffer stuffing in the side bolsters and extended bolsters in the lower cushions. It’s a snug fit to be sure, so make sure to try it on before you buy. I found the seats to be extremely supportive and quite comfortable, especially in the corners where lateral support is most important. The fabric is nice, with a suede-like material on the bolsters with soft cloth inserts.

Getting into the back is typically coupe-tight, and only the front passenger seat has a built-in memory designed to return the seat back to its original position after being tilted forward. It would be nice if the driver’s seat did the same, but for some reason that’s not a standard in the industry. Once back there, though, room is reasonable for shorter adults and kids.

The Si’s MSRP is $26,380 plus a $1,225 freight charge for a total as-tested price of $27,605. There are no factory-installed options available; what you get for the base price is all-inclusive. That means no extra charge for a sunroof, side airbags, anti-theft immobilizer, or the 350-watt audio system with wheel-mounted controls. In short, it’s a performance bargain.



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