You’ve got to appreciate Honda’s tenacity. As other automakers bow to market pressures and shelve their manual transmissions seemingly for good – or, at best, relegate them exclusively to budget entry-level models – the 2019 Honda Civic Si keeps appearing in listicles as one of the last and most-affordable cars on the market available solely in row-your-own mode. It’s a great mix of practicality and fun, one of those rare cars that, at least in sedan guise, you can love and not worry about having to sell if, say, you decide to start or grow a family.
The Civic Si’s exterior has a lot going on, and many aspects of it – such as the centre-mounted tailpipe and faux air vents – look like they’re trying harder than they need to. The interior’s interpretation of the Si’s character is far more successful. The carbon-fibre-style inserts and red highlights set the right tone, and the well-positioned, flashy aluminum pedals are a treat at this price point.
Automatic emergency calling is built into Honda’s infotainment system, so that’s a positive. But a lot of the safety systems that are standard or low-cost across the rest of the Civic lineup – and that you’d therefore assume would be standard on the Si – are in fact not present. This includes forward collision warning and collision mitigation, automatic high-beams, road-departure mitigation, lane-keep assist, and lane-departure warning. There is that right-side camera that activates with the turn signal, but I don’t find it very helpful. And while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the Civic well for crashworthiness, it’s downright disparaging of its headlights across the board.
A manual transmission is inherently less practical in a traffic-heavy city environment, but it’s not as though people who buy this car don’t know what they’re getting themselves into in that regard. And life with it is made a little easier with a button that toggles brake hold, a simple but rare and thoughtful feature when driving with three pedals. When engaged, the brake hold function does exactly what it’s advertised to do – keep the brakes clamped after bringing the car to a stop without having to keep one’s foot on the brake pedal. The feature is available on many Honda models, manual or otherwise, but is particularly handy alongside a manual transmission.
What’s a less immediately obvious downside is the Si’s trunk. Capable of holding just 379 L of cargo, it’s almost 50 L less than most other Civic models and less than much of its competition.
User Friendliness: 7.5/10
Well, there’s a volume knob, so that’s a good start. (Yes, Honda fixed this years ago. Yes, we’re all supposed to have moved on by now.) A lot of the infotainment system’s functionality is through the touchscreen, though, and a lot of repeat digital button pressing – there’s no way to tune radio stations directly that aren’t in the presets, so you’re left to tap-tap-tap – floating your hand all the while because there’s nowhere to lean a finger for support. On the other hand, the usability of the gauge cluster is excellent. The large and highly visible digital speedometer, and the tachometer that loops around it, put front and centre the information that this car’s drivers will look for most.
On this car, there’s no customizing: You take it or leave it as it’s listed. Still, for the price, what it comes with is pretty good. On the upside, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are equipped, as are heated front sport seats and heated outboard rear seats, heated outboard mirrors, a power moonroof, a 10-speaker sound system with a subwoofer (which had a light rattle in this test unit), and a wireless charging pad. What’s missing: a heated steering wheel and adaptive cruise control.
This is the same 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder engine used in Touring versions of the Civic sedan and coupe, as well as the CR-V, Accord, and Civic hatchback models, albeit amped up to match the Si spirit. Some owners were having stalling issues with the engine until a fix was issued for this model year. In this application, 205 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque are wrung out of it, the latter being fully available between 2,100 and 5,000 rpm. Where it’s happiest is at roughly the 3,000 rpm mark; nudge it up that way and give it a good bit of juice, and it launches like a rocket. Good times.
The sport seats that are standard in the Si are excellent. The material has a premium feel to it, and the bottom cushion is pleasantly roomy (though drivers with more petite builds may find them a bit wide). The back row isn’t as cushy, but the heated outboard seats go a long way in quelling complaints. The pedals are nicely even, and the steering wheel has plenty of room for adjustment. This is clearly as driver-centric as it ought to be.
Driving Feel: 8.5/10
Shifting this six-speed manual is a joy. The action is snappy and satisfying. Between the limited-slip differential, thicker stabilizer bars, and electronic adaptive dampers that firm up at a press of the Sport button, the Si’s handling is responsive and in line with the pleasantly sharp steering. Its ride is on the harsh side, but it’s certainly within the bounds of acceptability for the price point. My ridiculous quibble: I’ve never until now cared about a car having an electronic parking brake. If there’s any car on the planet I want to be able to do handbrake turns with on a moment’s notice, it’s this one.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
This car isn’t as terrible on gas as one might assume. The Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) official fuel consumption ratings are 8.4 L/100 km in the city, 6.2 on the highway, and 7.4 combined. Most Civic models land in the 6.9 to 7.5 L/100 km range combined, and the Jetta GLI with the manual transmission lands at 8.5 L/100 km – albeit with more power. The 7.7 L/100 km I averaged across my week seems more than reasonable given how unkind I was being to it.
It may have its faults, particularly around a lack of safety technologies, but the Civic Si is just about the most reasonably priced bundle of fun you can buy right now. The Volkswagen Jetta GLI looks like the closest competitor to the Civic Si Sedan on today’s market, and its staid looks might send more people in this direction.
Who knows how much longer cars like this will be around. If you’re looking to love the car you drive, this one makes it easy. And it’s built by your neighbours in Alliston, Ont., which makes the decision to purchase one even sweeter.
|Peak Horsepower||205 hp @ 5,700 rpm|
|Peak Torque||192 lb-ft @ 2,100–5,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||8.4/6.2/7.4 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||379 L|
|Model Tested||2019 Honda Civic Si Sedan|
|Price as Tested||$30,845|