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Old 11-08-2019, 07:46 AM   #8
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First drive review: 2020 Honda Civic Si brings performance to the masses

The 2020 Honda Civic Si twists and turns through Texas hill country outside of Austin with quiet, responsible competence. Its little turbo-4 doesnít scream for attention or lay down chunks of rubber, and its softly tuned suspension doesnít threaten the chiropractor budget. In fact, itís equally at home during the commute from downtown to out here, but its responses in the twistiest stretches reveal a performance credibility that fades into the background the vast majority of the time.

Honda calls the Civic Si the brandís gateway to performance, but itís the mildest of gateways. It feels more like the Civic family sedan than a tire-scrabbling competitor for, say, the Subaru WRX, and there's a lot of room between it and the Civic Type R.

Example: The Siís 1.5-liter turbo-4 slots into that bastion of fun, the Honda CR-V. Its clutch pedal is very light, and the ride quality is so forgiving that it seems more attuned to Uber duty than autocross runs, especially in sedan form (I doubt rideshare passengers would want to get into the back of the other option, the two-door coupe).

However, even when the road straightens out the Si drops hints that Honda engineers had performance in mind when developing it. The clutch may be light, but this car comes only with a manual transmission, and Hondaís manual shift action is among the best in the industry thanks short, positive throws.

It also rides on adjustable dampers, a rather costly feature for a car priced in the mid-$20,000 range. Click it into Sport mode and throttle response quickens ever so slightly and the two-way adjustable dampers provide a bit more welcome agility in these undulating hills, though the car still leans noticeably in corners. Sport mode does cause some minor bouncing motions on uneven freeway surfaces, but the ride never approaches firm.

Even more grown up
Honda released the Civic Si as a 2016 model, and the company has given it a minor update for 2020. The most obvious changes are on the outside, where it wears LED headlights and taillights for the first time, new front air intakes, and black wheels.

Inside, it now sports red trim on the dash and seats, a volume knob for the radio (yay!), and a new active sound control system.

The most important change is the addition of active safety features. They include forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, and road-departure mitigation. Itís a rather responsible set of features for a rather responsible entry performance car.

The 2020 Civic Si has just one performance upgrade: a 6-percent lower final drive ratio of 4.35:1 versus 4.105:1 makes it easier for the 1.5-liter turbo-4 tap into its 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. Itís only 1.5 liters, but 20.3 psi of max turbo boost helps it create decent power.

Good bones
Given its mild manners, the Civic Si seems out of place on a racetrack, especially a Formula 1-approved venue like Circuit of the Americas. Honda had to prepare these cars for track duty by installing accessory performance brake pads from Honda Performance Development and ticking the only option box on the order sheet: $200 for a set of Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires.

The family-car traits surface on COTAís 3.4-mile road courseóa little too much body lean, the light clutch, modest poweróbut the Civic Siís performance cred starts to shine through as the laps pile up. The well-spaced shift gates make it easy to find each gear and the instrument cluster flashes a pair of red lines as well as a series of sequential lights to announce when itís time to shift near the 6,500 rpm redline.

Light and direct, the steering satisfies and the car turns in dutifully. The standard front limited-slip differential puts the power to the asphalt upon corner exit rather than losing it as wheel spin. Despite a new active sound control system, that power arrives as a droning whine that I wouldnít want to live with every day, but the little turbo-4 creates enough oomph to post a 0-60-mph time in the low 6s.
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