The 2020 Honda Civic Si: The best $26,000 you'll spend on a new car
Kurt is a freelance automotive and motorsports photographer, and reasonably quick test driver.
Packing a zippy little turbocharged engine, a smooth six speed manual transmission, and a pleasantly dialed-in suspension, the Civic Si should get more attention. The Si might be quickly overlooked by enthusiasts, now that the Type-R is available in the US, but that might be a mistake. To see how the Si stacks up, I had to check it out.
(Some Transparency: Honda wanted me to give the updated Civic Si a shakedown, so during a recent trip to Los Angeles, they had this Rallye Red one ready with a full tank of fuel when I arrived at LAX, and told me to throw it around a bit.)
Honda has been building the Civic Si since 1984 as a sportier variant of their popular compact model, and the 2020 model is part of its 10th generation. The first Si models in the 1980s were hatchbacks, but over the years Honda has built versions of it in coupe, hatchback, and sedan forms.
For 2020 Honda gave the Civic Si a shorter final drive ratio to its 6-speed manual transmission, new LED headlights, red stitching in the seats, and a couple more standard features in Honda's safety suite, known as the Honda Sensing package. With all these updates, the base price only jumped $700 versus the 2019 model. My Rally Red test car had an MSRP of $26,130 after adding the stickier summer tires and destination charge.
Honda names the Hyundai Elantra Sport, Kia Forte GT, and Volkswagen Jetta GLI as competition to the Civic Si, and this 2020 sedan I tested is a great first enthusiast car for a driver that wants fun, practicality, and a hint of style without taking out a massive loan.
Powering the 2020 Honda Civic Si is a higher-powered version of the 1.5-liter turbo four you get in other Civic models, pumping out 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque, with a 6,500 RPM redline. Helping get that boosted power to the pavement is a fantastic six-speed manual transmission hooked up to a limited-slip differential.
At a base price $25,000, the Si coupe is less expensive than the VW Jetta GLI, while not surprisingly a couple thousand more than the Hyundai and Kia. Honda throws in a ton of standard features that are either optional or unavailable on the competition, while also being the second most powerful in this class, behind the VW.
The Good Things
Honda has been banging out great gearboxes for ages, and the 6-speed ‘box in the 2020 Civic Si is exceptional. Throws are perfectly sharp, ratios are short, and any throw has a pleasant little click as you snap off a gear. I dig the look of the titanium and leather with red stitching on the gearshift too. The exterior is sporty and slightly more subtle than the angry face and hundred vents you see on the Civic Type-R.
Value is strong with the Civic Si, and the 2020 model comes jam-packed with goodies inside. Heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a power moonroof come standard. When it comes to using those features, Honda continues to bang out the most wisely placed touch points and buttons. I love how intuitive everything is to use inside the cabin. Those new red-stitched seats are comfortable and perfectly bolstered to keep you in place on the fun routes without being too intrusive when you're covering a couple hundred miles on the highway.
High-revving VTEC engines were famous in earlier versions of the Si that required you to send the needle screaming around the tachometer to get any power out of it, with that “wait until the VTEC kicks in” sensation at high RPMs. This new turbo engine is a little easier to exploit once you exceed 2,500 RPM, giving you some enjoyable mid-range torque. Below that point, the Si’s 1.5-liter is a little on the weak side, but I do love the flexible range and a smooth surge once you get into some boost.
Not Too Lovely
My test car was equipped with the optional Goodyear high-performance summer rubber wrapped around the new matte black 18-inch wheels. The 235/40/18 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires aren’t terrible, but they aren’t great. A bit on the loud side, and for Y-rated rubber they aren’t as grippy in the corners as I’d like. I’m not suggesting everyone has to opt for a Michelin option, but I wish Honda slapped a set of Pilot Sport 4S tires on the Si.
Honda’s standard infotainment UI isn’t eye candy nor the simplest to use, but most of us are going to take advantage of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto instead, which is standard on the Civic Si. Enough complaining from owners of 2017 and 2018 Civics warranted a return of a physical volume knob on the audio head unit in 2019, accompanied by easier buttons on the steering wheel, and I still can’t understand why Honda ditched the knob in the first place.
Clutch feel is not the usual perfectly intuitive and positive sensation I'm used to with Honda's cars. The throw is long, the bite point isn't immediately clear, and there's a certain springiness that I don't love at all. But in all honesty, if these are my only gripes, it should be clear that the 2020 Civic Si is really good.
For Day-To-Day Driving
Running errands and making your daily work commute is easily more fun in the Civic Si. In a world filled with boring, soft, and far from nimble crossovers, the Si is a refreshing way to put a smile on your face during any little stint behind the wheel.
Quick downshifts with a flick of the short-throw shifter and a bump in boost to make a pass are addictive. That zippy 1.5-liter 205-horsepower turbo engine is surprisingly responsive in the mid-range, and it’s diminutive displacement aids good fuel economy. EPA MPG estimates are 26 city 36 highway, and 30 combined, and I got 31.1 throughout my time testing the Civic Si.
Blind spot indicators are normal on just about any car these days, but Honda has a cool little camera in the passenger side mirror which turns on its view on the head unit whenever you flick the right turn indicator. Pretty neat way to give you extra piece of mind that there might be someone in your blind spot. Satellite navigation isn't available as an option, but I was perfectly happy roaming around Los Angeles using Waze through Apple CarPlay, and my guess is Honda assumes most owners will hook up their mobile phone and use and app hooked up through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to handle that need.
If you're taking a road trip, you'll be pleased to know the Si’s trunk gobbles up two roller bags and two backpacks, while leaving plenty of room for the bags you may accumulate after a trek to the shops.
On The Twisty Roads
Having an adaptive suspension in a Civic Si is brilliant, especially when you typically need to spend way more money to get that sort of performance feature in a car. I love that Honda rolled the dice, and threw this setup on the car as a standard feature. In the normal mode, the Si easily bites into tighter bends with the easiest of steering and a smooth application of the throttle, and you don't really need to hit the "Sport" mode button to quicken up throttle response and tighten up the adaptive suspension, but go for it if it makes you happy. The Civic Si isn’t going to blow the doors off of anything, but that doesn’t matter. Each time I’d mash the gas while exiting a corner, the turbo would spool up, send the car ahead, and give me an evil grin.
In faster corners, the helical limited-slip differential does fine work of tightening up any hint of understeer in a way most front-wheel-drive cars beg for, and you almost forget the Si is driven by the front axle. I kept punching around some windy roads just outside of Los Angeles, and was surprised how quickly I could tackle sweepers in the Si. You'll notice only the slightest hint of body roll in a longer sweeper, but it's predictable and the car never feels unsettled.
That fixed rear wing doesn’t provide any noticeable downforce, but it looks the part for the Si. Same goes for that massive trapezoidal center exhaust tip.
The Bottom Line
The Civic Si will remind you of the good choice you made to buy it each time you take it for a spin. I’ve driven the newer Type-R a bit recently, and yes it’s a badass hatchback with a ton of power matched with an impressive Nurburgring lap time. The Type-R’s $35,000 MSRP really turns into over $40,000 when dealers slap their bullshit market adjustment on it, and the Si is plenty of fun for far less cash.
I’ll happily throw $26,000 at the Honda Civic Si, and enjoy each and every drive I take while knowing I’ve saved a truckload of money.