Driver's Seat: How to have fun with a Civic

2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe
2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe (Wieck)
Posted: July 19, 2012

2012 Honda Civic Si: A Mini fighter from the Pacific.

Price: $23,145 (no options).

Marketer's pitch: Bigger, badder, better.

Conventional wisdom: It's a Honda. Boring, comfortable, sensible — right?

Reality: Honda knows how to have fun — even with the Civic.

Dear Honda: I am very sorry I panned the new-for-2012 Civic when it came out. You never told me you made such a fun version when I called the Civic EX a comfortable, old shoe.

Thanks for adding some Nike swoosh to the Skecher car.

Yours truly, Mr. Driver's Seat.

Mini fighter: Regular readers of Driver's Seat know I've found no other car quite as all-around fun as the Mini Cooper.

But the Honda Civic Si comes pretty darn close. And though it's not everything the Mini Cooper is, the Civic has plusses in other columns.

On the road: The buzz of the engine conjures up all the tuner cars (modified small performance cars) you hear zipping around the suburbs. Acceleration from the 201-hp 2.4-liter iVtec engine is quick. The Mini makes just 121 in its normally aspirated version, so if flat-out acceleration is what you like, advantage Civic. Or pay even more of a premium for the Cooper S.

All that horsepower doesn't show up in the Civic until 7,000 rpms, so be prepared to hold the accelerator down. But the reward is worth the foot strain.

Twists and turns: The Civic Si suspension is like nothing I've felt before. The car sits low to the ground and seems to delight in cornering on city streets. It handled like a slot car as I tooled around Philadelphia.

But on the old-time winding lanes of Chester County, the fun took a backseat to body lean.

Inside: My first surprise upon sitting down was seeing a third seat belt in the backseat. Of course, people shopping in this realm may not care too much. But on that one day in five years you need to move a fifth person even just a couple miles, you'll be thankful.

And the rear leg room is almost OK. Granted, the person in the middle is stuck behind a big console and perched up high between the other seats, so s/he would not want to go much farther than the aforementioned couple miles.

Outside: For people who really need that extra spot, Honda thoughtfully offers a four-door version.

But the two-door's exterior definitely doesn't look like the average Civic. (My tester came in Rallye Red, so it really didn't look like the average Civic.)

In and out: Going from outside to inside and back is not as difficult as it would first appear. I could even get into the backseat without much strain.

Shifty: The six-speed manual features an attractive and fun-to-handle silver ball for a shifter knob. The gears are close and the shifter makes a pleasant snick-snick sound as you move along.

But the clutch is very American in its long throws. Advantage Mini.

A lumbar obsession: Having tested several Hondas and an Acura, I've found the company to be fixated on the driver's lower back. Every seat has offered too much lumbar support for me and left me with a bit of a strain. Your need for trips to the chiropractor may vary.

Changing lanes: The low-profile side windows make highway driving more adventuresome than it should be, as seeing what beside you is tough.

Carnival dashboard: Somehow the dashboard that I despised almost a year ago in the EX sedan worked perfectly in the Si. The faraway digital readout and colorful, high-tech graphics work well in a fun-to-drive car.

Fuel economy: I observed 28 mpg in all-around driving, most of it on the lead-footed side. And, like the Mini Cooper, it has expensive taste in fuel — premium only.

Where it's built: Alliston, Ontario.

How it's built: And here Honda stomps the Mini, which after 10 years still shows up in the bottom five of reliability lists. Honda always finds it way to the opposite end.

In the end: So it's a fun-to-drive little car with a usable backseat built by one of the most-respected carmakers in the industry? Sounds like a no-brainer.

If you can live with those seats. And that clutch.

Contact Scott Sturgis at 215-854-2558 or ssturgis@phillynews.com.

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