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2009 Honda Civic Si sedan has a sporty side

Sunday, February 8, 2009

(Photo)
The Associated Press
The 2009 Civic Si sedan carries a city/highway rating of 21/29 miles per gallon and has more cargo space and second-row legroom than a Civic Si coupe.
What's better than a sporty coupe that gets decent mileage? A sporty sedan by the same name.

Honda's 197-horsepower 2009 Civic Si sedan carries a city/highway rating of 21/29 miles per gallon and has more cargo space and second-row legroom than a Civic Si coupe.

Yet the same fun driving experience is there in the sedan because it has the same sporty suspension and the same two-liter, double overhead cam, four-cylinder engine that's in the coupe. The powerplant has at least 57 more horses than mainstream Civic sedans.

Best of all, with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $22,775, the Si sedan is just $200 more than the slightly smaller-sized Si coupe.

Competitors in the small sporty sedan segment include the 2009 Nissan Sentra SE-R which starts at $21,355 and has a 177-horsepower four cylinder, and the Sentra SE-R Spec V which starts at $21,855 and has a 200-horsepower four cylinder. The 2009 Volkswagen GTI also is a spirited small car in five-door hatchback form with a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $24,530 and a 200-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder.

Don't look for leather-trimmed seats and other luxury touches in the Civic Si sedan. From the deeply sculpted front seats dressed in hold-me-in-place cloth upholstery to the quick-response steering, this is a car that's ready for a speedy sprint any time.

Drivers and passengers sit low to the pavement. Inside the test car, I found myself looking up at the license plate on a Lincoln Navigator in front of me.

True, drivers don't get a lot of long looks down the highway with other vehicles in the way. But drivers of the sedan don't have to sit behind others for long.

Downshift the six-speed manual transmission -- the only tranny available on the sporty Si -- and feel the torque jettison the car forward.

Engine torque is higher in the Si models than in other Civic sedans -- peaking at 139 foot-pounds at 6,100 rpm compared with 128 foot-pounds at a lower 4,300 rpm. Drivers hear a lot of engine revs as they run the tachometer needle up. Redline in the Si is what you'd expect in a sports car -- 8,000 rpm.

In fact, the sedan has so much get up and go, engineers saw fit to install a limited slip differential as standard equipment to help manage the power. The Si models are the only Civics with this special, helical-type differential that helps maintain traction.

But don't confuse power with a raucous, unmanageable car ride.

A top attribute of the Si sedan is how easily it modulates the power via the pleasing short shift throws of the transmission and the high-revving, four-cylinder engine. Plus, the powerplant is tuned for responsiveness.

Combine this easy-to-control power with a balanced car body that's buttoned down, not willowy, and predictable front-wheel drive behavior and the Civic Si can manage mountain twisties with a finesse that belies its affordable price.

The test car was nimble everywhere -- tight parking spots and quick passes around double-parked vehicles. Even in emergency maneuvers, it maintained its poise, though at just under 3,000 pounds, it also felt light.

No wonder. The Si has more horsepower than some larger, heavier vehicles, such as the base 2009 Dodge Charger with V-6.

Just be aware that the best tire grip in the Si comes with the 17-inch high-performance tires, which were on the test car. While they look great on alloy wheels, they conveyed lots of road noise all the time. They also aren't the choice for driving on ice and snow.

The ride always felt firm because of the damped and tightly controlled suspension, which uses MacPherson struts in front and a multilink rear. Passengers feel a steady amount of vibrations.

It can be a bit of a chore for some passengers to lower themselves into the front seats as they need to slide over rather firm bolsters. Some also may need to use the door sill to help raise themselves up out of the front seats as they exit.

Honda requires premium gasoline for the Civic Si so the price for a 13.2-gallon fill-up is more than in a regular Civic.

Fit and finish on the test car were excellent, and the 34.6 inches of rear-seat legroom was appreciated by my passengers. This is more than the 30.3 inches in the back seat of an Si coupe.

Rear passengers also get two inches more headroom in the sedan than they do in the coupe, and trunk space of 12 cubic feet is the same as in other Civic sedans.

All safety equipment is standard in the sporty Civic Si, and both two- and four-door Civics received the top, five-out-of-five-stars rating in federal government frontal and side crash testing.

Consumer Reports for years has listed Honda Civics as a recommended buy. The sporty Si coupe has an average reliability rating, but there's no separate listing for the Si sedan.


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