I should start my review of the Civic Si by saying that the more expensive, more luxurious Acura ILX 2.4 to which this Honda is related is a perfectly fine automobile. The ILX is a Civic Si for grownups who would like to have their stick-shift fun in a middle-management friendly package. And this is fine, except the Civic Si is a better car. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the original is better than the remix, but it is. Climb into the Si’s fabric-upholstered seats (which nearly obviate the need for the ILX’s leather upholstery) and start driving, and you’ll agree with me. The shift action of the six-speed manual transmission is notchier though more accurate (which means it’s basically perfect). The Honda-calibrated 2.4-liter engine has a throatier growl than the ILX’s version when you push it past 4000 rpm and a more demure tone than the Acura powerplant when you don’t. When you’re driving at 80 mph on the highway, the Civic is actually quieter than the ILX thanks to its newly incorporated acoustically insulated glass, among other things. Then there’s the way the Honda looks. The ILX’s quiet confidence is cute, but the Civic Si makes a bold statement without shouting too much. The wheels are hot — polished silver spokes with contrasting inserts of black paint. And the so-called “emergency refresh” for 2013 has vastly improved the car’s overall appearance, from the chrome grille insert to the glossy black rear diffuser. This car’s red paint and spoiler might be a bit much, but it’s nothing a different hue (and perhaps a socket set) couldn’t fix.
I’m tempted to say that the clincher is the price, since Honda charges some $6390 less for its 2.4-liter sedan. Even so, I think the real difference lies in the Si’s handling. Even without the optional summer performance tires, the Si’s steering is better weighted and more communicative. When you nail the throttle at the apex of a corner, the ILX’s front end pushes wide, where the Si knuckles down and sticks. Is the Acura ILX 2.4 a bad car? Not in the slightest; it’s the best model of the ILX, in fact. But some of the sporty soul that you find in the Si has gone missing in the process of making the ILX suitable for grownups. In the end, I don’t mind looking like a boy racer in the Honda Civic Si, because the sportiness factor is superior. (And the savings in the price doesn’t hurt, either.) Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
Wow, it’s amazing what a few subtle changes can do for a platform. The Honda Civic Si shares a lot more parts with the Acura ILX than Acura would like you to know, but the Civic still feels a lot better from behind the wheel. There’s directness with the steering that the ILX lacks and a lot less body roll besides. Honda really knows how to make a normally aspirated performance car. This is an incredibly rewarding package when it’s pushed to the limit. What I’d really like is the ILX’s more anonymous looks with the Si’s sharper suspension, steering, and optional summer tires. Then you’d have the ultimate front-wheel-drive performance sedan. It’s actually kind of disappointing Honda put together a better package with this powertrain and platform than Acura. I can completely understand someone wanting a little bit more grownup version of the Civic Si, but the ILX gets too watered down in the performance department without giving you much in the way of added luxury in compensation (like the Civic’s excellent acoustic insulation, for example). Plus, the price skyrockets when you drop the Acura badge on the hood. The good news is, you can get a better ILX for thousands less at your local Honda dealer. Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Even after its emergency refresh, the Civic is still underwhelming to me. The interior materials look dated, and the incredibly fake “stitching” on the dash is particularly egregious. The reality is that competitors like Ford, Kia and Volkswagen are offering compact cars with interiors that compare closely with the Acura ILX. The Civic’s exterior likewise looks cheaper and tackier than what this segment now expects. The Kia Forte and Volkswagen Jetta in particular look like more premium, grownup cars to me. I know the counter argument to all this is that the Civic still sells incredibly well. My rejoinder is that the marketplace often lags behind reality but always catches up. Just ask Oldsmobile and Pontiac. Obviously, the Honda Civic is still better than that, but it still needs to face reality. Having said all that, Civic Si is still a singular joy to drive. The interplay between the high-revving four-cylinder and six-speed manual is simply perfect. The only company that does it as well is Porsche. The small-diameter steering wheel doesn’t communicate as much information as I’d like but is quick and nicely weighted. David Zenlea, Associate Editor