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2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe. (Honda)
2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe. (Honda)

2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe

Civic Si: Gearheads won't like it but ... Add to ...

Yo, gearheads, pay attention! You'll be happy to know that the limited-slip differential remains.

I'm talking to you car nuts for a simple reason: Honda is targeting the 2012 Civic Si Coupe ($25,990) at you. And I know at least some of you, if not many of you, if not most of you, have grown a little weary of what I'll call the "mainstreaming" of the Honda Civic, so you'll want to know more.

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Here goes. In order to fish in a larger pool of "mainstream" or everyday buyers, while at the same time cutting costs, Honda at one point years ago tossed the available limited slip. Oops. I'd call that a mistake for a compact car with sporty pretensions.

Then the limited slip returned with the last remake of the Civic Si - the 2006-2011 sixth-generation version. It had been sorely missed. Thankfully, it's still here on the 2012 Si, standard on both the Si Coupe and Sedan ($25,990). Honestly, no self-respecting, performance-oriented car - even a front-drive, compact one like the best-selling Civic - can hold its head up at the track without a limited slip.

Nitpicking? Am I needlessly, pointlessly, and even cruelly picking at a scab on Honda's notoriously thin skin? Of course. That's what we do here. But I'm not singling out Honda. I like to poke and prod all the auto companies from time to time.

Still, the Civic Si for 2012 is hard to dislike and comes to market with much to love, not least of which is the 2.4-litre i-VTEC engine (201 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque).

A solid four-banger, this powerplant is better than many so-so V-6s - responsive, free-spinning, fuel-efficient (10.0 litres/100 km city/6.4 highway) and pretty clean with its ultra-low-emissions vehicle status (officially a Tier 2 bin 5 emissions rating).

Honda's product types are quick to say the 2012 Si's engine has about 20 per cent more torque than the 2.0-litre (197-hp) four it replaces and they're right. It comes alive sooner, too, with power arriving 1,700 rpm lower on the tach.

I like the light-action clutch, too. It's paired with a smooth-shifting six-speed manual (the only gearbox sold with the Si). All good. So is the note at idle, which is quiet and friendly. Fortunately, the sounds get louder and more entertaining when you hammer the throttle and air out the engine.

But you gearheads know the numbers and when you read 201 hp the first question is, Is that it? And the next one is, No more juice? How about 100 horsepower per litre?

Fair questions to ask about Honda's high-performance Civic, the one with two doors and a limited slip. I mean, Ford makes a very nice, comparably priced Mustang Coupe ($26,999) with a V-6 rated at 305 hp. Ford is chasing gearheads, too, though not so much with the V-6 Mustang. That said, it does pretty well at the track.

Or how about the turbocharged 263-hp Mazdaspeed3 ($29,695)? Sure, it's a four-door hatch, but the performance is stunning at this price. The rear-drive Hyundai Genesis Coupe ($24,899) has a choice of engines, turbocharged four (210 hp) or V-6 (306 hp), and carves up corners pretty well.

If you want a Mini Cooper S ($28,950) it comes in at a somewhat weak 181 hp, though the styling is incredibly distinctive and the handling very tight. The best bang for the buck in this niche may be the Scion tC ($20,850) with a 180-hp engine and plenty of standard features.

Those willing to wait might want to look ahead to the hot-shoe version of the new Ford Focus. It will very likely come in at around 240 hp when it hits showrooms in, say, about a year or so.

You get the picture here. This new Civic Si has plenty of rivals in the sport compact world and some clearly are better for gearheads. The nutshell: the performance side of the Honda story here is not particularly interesting. Acceleration (0-100 km/h in the low 7.0-second range), braking and handling all seem about the same as the old Si.

On the other hand, if you want a driveable, highly functional two-door with just a dash of sportiness, the Civic Si might be your car. Or, as my friends over at Edmunds have suggested, this might be your mom's car. In the cut and thrust of commuting, the Si is a gem, handling roads both good and bad with aplomb.

And you certainly get plenty of stuff for the base price - from the expected air bags, anti-skid control and anti-lock braking, to a power moon roof, air conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control, aluminum shift knob with leather, aluminum pedals and a 360-watt, seven-speaker sound system complete with subwoofer.

The seats are decent if not brilliant in terms of comfort and support and I like the tilting and telescoping steering column. There is a back seat, but forget about it for anyone other than kids, small people or your briefcase. I am no fan of the split instrument panel, but some people like it.

The new LCD multi-information display is useful, allowing you to cycle through screens for information about fuel economy and maintenance. It is nifty enough and useful.

But my bet is that few true gearheads will care.

jcato@globeandmail.com

Tech specs

2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe

Type: Sport compact coupe

Price: $25,990 ($1,395 freight)

Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 201 hp/170 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.0 city/6.4 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Ford Mustang Coupe, Chevrolet Camaro Coupe, Dodge Challenger Coupe, Mazdaspeed3, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Mini Cooper S, Scion tC

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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