The 2006 Honda Civic Si is a relieving return to form for the once-loved model. Now in its eighth generation, the Civic range has consistently been synonymous with good value and general ease of use. But as the line's sporty flagship, the previous Si hatchback was a disappointment to those who remembered the earlier Si versions of Civic coupes, hatchbacks, and the CRX.
Again a coupe, the 2006 Honda Civic Si is in an entirely different league from its predecessor in terms of dynamics, value, and--most crucially--driving enjoyment. Honda's usual engine wizardry has the 2006 Si knocking on the door of the 100-horsepower/liter-specific output figure achieved by its flashier sibling, the Acura RSX Type-S, but at an entry price some $3,000 lower. With a list price of $20,540, including a $550 destination charge, the Si we drove did not offer navigation, satellite radio, or much else on the interior tech side, but these options are available at some of the most reasonable prices in the industry.
Upside: Our 2006 Honda Civic Si coupe may be lacking in cabin amenities, but stripped-down simplicity with a focus on performance is what the Civic Si has always been about. The money has been spent wisely in this latest Si, and the driving reflects it. The comfortable and supportive sport seats are manually adjusted, and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes manually so that finding a good driving position is easy. The shifter, back to its conventional location after sprouting from the dashboard in the last Si, falls nicely to hand and controls six well-spaced ratios.
We find the shift action itself a tad rubbery, but the throws are short and encourage full use of the rev-happy motor. From the same 2.0-liter displacement of the RSX, the 2006 Honda Civic Si churns out 197 horsepower at 7,800rpm, 200 short of the 8,000rpm redline. Maximum torque is a more modest 139 pound-feet but comes on slightly earlier, at 6,200rpm. The key is the i-VTEC system, which combines variable-timing control, as well as variable valve timing and lift, to maximize power and efficiency throughout the rev range. In practice, keeping the engine revving high is enjoyable but not as necessary to maintaining speed, as the peaky power figures suggest.
Handling is similarly enjoyable, with a limited-slip differential splitting power to the front wheels according to available traction, greatly improving cornering response. Midturn throttle corrections are handled effectively, and steering under throttle is a less daunting proposition than it can be with lesser front-drive platforms.
Standard interior features on the 2006 Honda Civic Si include an XM satellite-ready 350-watt audio system with six speakers and a subwoofer; an auxiliary audio-input jack; a 12-volt power outlet; a power moonroof; cruise control; and the same deeply dished leather-wrapped steering wheel we saw in the Civic Hybrid, with controls for audio and cruise. The dashboard layout is like that of other Civics as well: a low, sweeping design with a high-mounted digital miles-per-hour readout flanked by analog secondary gauges. The large analog tachometer is front and center in the Si's lower gauge cluster, its 8,000rpm redline encouraging frequent visits.
Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution make stopping a drama-free affair. We noticed no fade during spirited driving on lightly trafficked two-lanes. The power-assisted steering is nicely tuned, and the controls work well together to bring the 2006 Honda Civic Si back to its rightful place among the most fun-to-drive front-drivers.
On the safety side, the 2006 Honda Civic Si offers standard front and side air bags, active head restraints, side-impact door beams, and front and rear crumple zones. The Civic Si gets five-star front crash-test ratings but is currently unrated for side impact, according to the NHTSA.
Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 23mpg in the city and 32mpg on the highway. Emissions ratings meet LEV-2 standards, and no scheduled engine tune-ups are required for 100,000 miles.
Downside: Our main nit to pick with the 2006 Honda Civic Si is the aforementioned shift action. Lacking the sort of notchy feel so lauded in the Mazda Miata and others, the Si's shifter gets the job done but doesn't click into gear as decisively as it could. The Acura RSX Type-S also uses the six-speed manual but delivers more confident engagement.
As with the Acura RSX, the rear seats of the 2006 Honda Civic Si are all but useless for anyone but small children. The seat backs split 60/40 and fold down to increase cargo area, but their utility is questionable, given this model's target audience.
This is not necessarily a negative, but requiring some getting used to is the hand-brake configuration, which feels fragile at first but is merely hinged in such a way that setting it requires less upward force. Its curved-path design could in fact solve one of our complaints with the Audi A4/S4: that its parking brake can't be set with the armrest down.
Outlook: The Civic Si is ready to reclaim its former glory as the go-to value play in the small-sports-coupe arena. Improved in every facet upon its admittedly bland last iteration, the base 2006 Honda Civic Si bears a sticker price of less than $20,000 (without destination charge), houses a very advanced, small-displacement front-drive power train, and produces once-familiar smiles from behind the wheel. Frugal Honda loyalists can now happily upgrade from their beloved 1999-2000 Civic Si coupes and step into an Si that goes back to its roots to become the best one yet.
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