Normally, when a carmaker does a few mid-lifecycle tweaks to keep things fresh, it’s not a big deal. Maybe the looks get a little update, the electronics get brought up to speed, and if you’re lucky, they squeeze out a couple horsepower.
So, when Honda offered us a 2020 Civic Si, we were happy to see it – we love the current-gen Si – but not really expecting much. But hold the phone! Those little things add up to be a big change.
There was some moaning and groaning about the Civics’ exuberant styling when it first came out, but it’s aging nicely, and the 20’s update continues to smooth out the rough edges, with new sleeker-looking multi-element LED headlights and new LED fog lights. There’s also a more prominent “wing” crossbar in the grille. Snazzy.
Around back, there’s a redesigned rear bumper with gloss black trim and body color crossbars. The biggest difference are the new blacked-out 18” alloys, that remind us of the Civic Type R. Overall, this is a handsome sedan, and we like the blend of practicality of a 4-door with the sporty vibes of the Si, and our tester really stood out in Rallye Red.
Inside, the changes are even more subtle – the sport seats get red accents on the seatback and bottom cushions. New red trim brings a little brightness to an otherwise dark interior.
But other than that, the Si really didn’t need anything. Those front seats are sporty and supportive, the chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel frames familiar gauges with a large tach, which changes color in sport mode, and serves up useful info, including turbo-boost. Throw in the digital-readout speedometer, all dead center in your line of sight, and you’re good to go.
Last year, Honda did us a much-appreciated solid with a volume knob to the 7-inch info-tainment touchscreen system, which works perfectly with Apple CarPlay and the WAZE app that we use. It also gives you access to the standard 450-watt, 10-speaker audio system that sounded great.
Below the highly-legible screen is a highly-legible climate control system that’s also a snap to use. Standard heated seats are a nice touch.
Not so nice to the touch is the very stylish shift knob. While the real aluminum looks great, in cold weather it’s freezing to the touch, and in hot weather, you worry that the 6-speed manual pattern will brand itself in your palm like the bad guy in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Handy plug ins for USB are in a layer below the storage cubby, with an easy to feed port in the back. Next to the shifter are controls for the electronic power brake and Sport mode. The sliding cover on the center console is smart, and all the little details strike you as well thought out.
The rear seats are comfortable for adults, and the 4-door makes for much easier access than the Civic Coupe. We also found the trunk spacious, and with a generous pass-through easy fold-down rear seats, you can bring along a surprising amount of gear. Extra set of wheels and tires for some track days, anyone?
The overall impression of the interior is that this was made for people who love to drive, that you’re getting great value for money, and that Honda has just about perfected the affordable vehicle interior. You get why people who buy Honda’s love them and keep them a long time.
The Si Legacy Lives
When we first saw the Si model in the mid 80’s, it meant fuel-injection for the peppy Honda 1.5-liter engines in the Civic and CR-X. While a little over 90 hp doesn’t sound like a lot today, those cars were ultra-light, and with the added fuel injection, they flew. From then on, Si meant something special.
And it still does in today’s Si. Old becomes new, as the Civic is still powered by a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder, but this is a modern engine, especially lovable, thanks to turbo power. The numbers are impressive, with 205 horsepower and 192 lb.-ft of torque coming in at just 2,100. And while we have always enjoyed the power, there was always something that made us wish for a little more.
Well, Honda being the clever engineers that they are, instead gave the Si a 6% shorter final drive ratio that they say, “gives improved acceleration feel.” That is underselling it – it’s amazing what a small tweak like that does.
The engine feels like it comes on boost sooner, with more power and a stronger pull to the redline, and it seems to always be in the boost when you need it. And that makes the joy of the sweet, slick-shifting 6-speed manual even better. (No automatic available for the Si. Ha!) And with a standard limited slip, you get all that power down to the road, too.
You also get to enjoy that power more with Active Sound Control, which pumps some of the engine sound through the speakers. It’s most noticeable when you’re in Sport mode, but it’s actually quite good – throaty and revvy, but never obnoxious.
About that Sport Mode…The Civic Si features adjustable dampers that firm up the suspension and it’s really well done – the ride is supple and controlled in day to day, but push Sport and it firms up to help you tackle your favorite twisty road, autocross or track day.
What’s not to like? The steering. Normally, it’s light, but feelsome, precise. In Sport, it is made so heavy and stiff, that it’s a pain to use. Maybe on a track where you don’t turn the wheel much, but otherwise, we’re not fans. So ultimately, we avoided shifting into Sport mode, but the standard set up is so excellent, we didn’t really miss it.
While Honda has made the Si a notably more exhilarating drive, it also made it a more confident one by making the Honda Sensing suite standard on the Si. It’s a nice bundle, including Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keep Assist and Road Departure Mitigation with Lane Departure Warning, and Auto High Beams as the cherry on top.
Making a re-occurring appearance is Honda’s clever LaneWatch side-view camera, that puts a live video image of the right-hand side of the vehicle as soon as you hit the turn signal. Handy for passing.
You know for all they added, Honda is pretty humble – prices have only gone up $735. Starting at $25,200 and adding in $955, we rang the bell at $26,130. Competitors would have to include the all new Jetta GLI, a terrific sedan, but you’ll pay close to $29,000 for the privilege. A Subie WRX would probably stomp the Si in most performance measures, but it will come in at over $30k as well.
The 201 hp Elantra Sport comes in closer to the Civic at $27,000, but you will have to commit to the excellent but not-a-stick-with-clutch-pedal 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. And for those who are looking at an Si, that could easily be a deal breaker.
We loved our time with the 2020 Civic Si. And big props to Honda for going beyond the call and make impressive improvements in looks, performance, safety, and comfort.
The 2020 Honda Civic Si could easily be the only performance sedan you’ll ever need.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.