Some cars are just good—not the kind of good that impresses a large audience simply by virtue of its badge or the expensive toys and electronics it comes with, but the kind of good meant to cater to a car enthusiast whose tastes are slowly disappearing from the market. The 2020 Honda Civic Si is one of those cars.
And even with a few tweaks for the new model year, the Si keeps its character right where it’s always been.
(Full disclosure: Honda provided lodging, a couple of meals, and access to Circuit of The Americas in Austin in order to throw around the new Civic Si.)
But it can be easy to forget that in the midst of the crossover and SUV takeover, where automakers like Ford are killing their small cars and enthusiast hatches in North America in an attempt to better appeal to the masses, that affordable cars for enthusiasts do still matter enough to some companies to keep making them—even if, like the Si, they’re the same affordable enthusiast cars we’ve always known instead of brand-new ideas to fawn over.
The 2020 Honda Civic Si came out earlier this year with a base MSRP of $25,000 for both body styles, the coupe and sedan. If you want a Civic hatchback with a performance badge, you’ll have to step up to the Type R or be satisfied with the much milder Sport hatch.
The base MSRP is a bump of $700 over the last model year, and the more expensive 2020 model comes with a few new features while keeping the same mechanical setup we’re used to: A six-speed manual transmission and 1.5-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that’s rated at 205 HP and 192 lb-ft of torque.
Big updates for the Si are a bunch of new safety features, since the 2020 model gets both the automaker’s Honda Sensing safety suite as standard and new headlights. The safety suite comes with driver-assistance features like collision-mitigation braking, wheel and brake adjustments for lane or road departure, adaptive cruise control, and traffic-sign recognition, while the headlights have been updated from halogens to LEDs.
LEDs sound like an improvement over halogens, at the surface level. But just like the 2019 Si, the 2020 car got the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s lowest of four safety ratings: poor. The big difference is in what each headlight set was docked for—poor driver visibility on the 2019 model, and excessive glare when facing other cars this model year.
So, basically, if you’re debating whether to buy the 2019 or 2020 Civic Si, you’re also choosing whom to put at a visibility disadvantage.
The 2020 car also has a shorter final-drive ratio by 6 percent, according to Honda, for “improved acceleration,” and it dropped in EPA-estimated fuel economy by a decent amount—compared to 32 mpg combined in 2019, the 2020 car only gets an estimated 30 mpg combined.
There are also some styling tweaks inside and outside of both the coupe and sedan for 2020, like new red patterns on the seats compared to a more black interior during the last model year, as well as darker standard wheels.
The new Civic Si also gets “active sound control,” which is a fancy way of saying it pumps engine noise in through the speakers. That might be the last thing anyone wanted, but hey, this is car manufacturing, not democracy.
Driving the new Si is a blast, when you’re not annoyed about being in fifth gear instead of third because the placing is so close together. Each shift is as smooth as the clutch pedal, which is so user friendly that a cat could probably work it.
There are no weird catch points, and the pedal is just noticeable enough without feeling heavy. It’s effortless, even in city traffic and even in your first whirl in the car. The impression that the Si gives off is almost Miata like: Honda has this car down, to the point that nothing in particular stands out as good or bad—just that the car itself, overall, is good. First gear feels jumpy and almost too short, but you can get used to anything after driving it a bit.
The Si also isn’t just a car someone could force themselves to live with as a daily driver if they really wanted it. It’s an actually good daily driver, with a lot of room inside and a comfortable ride on the highway for a $25,000 car with manual seat adjustments and cloth seats.
It’s also more muted in styling—and tasteful, to a lot of people—than the more powerful and more expensive Type R hatchback, which comes with a claimed 306 HP and styling some might equate to a transformer.
The new, 18-inch matte-black wheels also don’t prompt you to notice them immediately like the former gunmetal ones did, but once you do, they look great.
Basically, the new Si isn’t over the top, but it is a looker once you bother to look.
Inside, the new Si is tailored toward the driver but comfortable from both front seats, given that it expectedly handles road curving and elevation well no matter how hard you drive. It also has a vivid dash display that’s diluted from the passenger seat, and it always makes sure a driver knows when the redline is approaching courtesy of beeps.
The safety features in the Si also want you as the driver to know when to BRAKE BRAKE BRAKE, even if you don’t find the need to stomp the brake pedal nearly as imminent as the car does. It gets annoying, but safety features on a car are a plus when you might need them—even if they do get exhausting at times when you don’t. And being there when you need them is the whole point.
Plus, the Honda Civic Si is just fun, from the effortless shifts to the fact that you’re sitting in traffic in a car with sporty badges and a silly wing on the back of it. That’s what it’s been known for, and that’s what it still is—even in an age when most buyers aren’t rushing to dealer lots with “small car” and “manual transmission” on their wishlist, especially in the mid-$20,000 price range.
The Civic Si is fun for the sake of fun, which plenty of cars aren’t anymore.
Because of that, we’re lucky to have good cars like the Si around, even if the new one might blind us while driving toward it at night. All it takes is a few minutes in the car to remember that.