Honda's latest hot Civic Si coupe is equipped with a bigger engine that makes more power and torque but arguably delivers a little less of the direct adrenaline injection provided by the old version's high revs as they raced up the scale to 8,000 rpm before you needed to make the next shift.
The new Si engine – with displacement boosted from 2.0 litres to 2.4 litres – develops 201 hp at 7,000 rpm compared with 197 hp at 7,800 rpm. But the new engine develops 170 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm compared to the old motor's anemic 139 lb-ft, which it had to be wound up to a heady 6,100 rpm to produce.
The new numbers translate into not only improved acceleration, and more grunt for exiting corners and passing, but (with one super-annoying caveat) improved overall drivability thanks to greater around-town flexibility as well as improved fuel economy. And many will rightly view these as the positives they are.
But the rev-happy enthusiasts among us will view what's happened to the new-for 2012-Si as similar to what Honda did with the original S2000 sports car. It was introduced for the 2000 model year with a 2.0-litre twin-cam four that made 240 hp and revved like a superbike engine to more than 9,000 rpm. But with only 153 lb-ft of torque available at a sky-high 7,500rpm, if you wanted to make it go fast on a twisty road, or work your way through traffic, you had to make full use of the six-speed gearbox to keep the revs up in their useful range.
A few years later, apparently in response to North American market sensitivities, it took the motor out to nearer 2.2 litres, from which it produced the same power but was redlined at just 7,800 rpm and 167 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm. With the variable valve timing revised to get into torque-making-mode about 3,000 rpm sooner and gear ratios lowered, the end result, according to Honda, was a quicker 0-100 km/h time with the bigger motor, and less need to swap cogs in day-to-day driving.
Drivers who are enthusiastic about high-performance cars generally split into two camps, those who like motors that make torque and those entranced by engines that make power by revving to screamingly high numbers. Personally, I like to play with a motorcycle-like rpm scale that keeps me entertained flicking through the gears while tap-dancing on all three pedals and you get to do this a little less in the new Si.
Which shouldn't leave you with the impression the 2.4-litre, double-overhead-cam, 16-valve, variable valve timing four in the Si is a low-revving "slogger." It howls – the sound is really neat – up to its redline like you'd expect a small Honda four to, it's just that it now stops at just over 7,000 rpm, not a raspier- and nastier-sounding 8,000 rpm-plus.
On the positive side, in pure acceleration terms, the 2012 Si is a little quicker than the old one according to numbers gathered at the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada test sessions held as part of its Canadian Car of The Year competition.
Going back to 2006, when it was named winner of the Best New Sports Car category, testers found the 197-hp Si averaged 7.8 seconds in 0-100 km/h acceleration and took 5.3 seconds to get from 100 km/h to 120 km/h, indicative of highway merging or passing. The 2012 Si, which was entered in but didn't win this year's competition, completed the 0-100 km/h sprint in 7.4 seconds and the 80 km/h to 120km/h dash in 4.8 seconds, indicative of that more abundant mid-range torque.
And it also manages to be a worthwhile degree more fuel-efficient with fuel economy ratings of 10.0 litres/100 km city and 6.4 highway compared to 10.2 city/6.8 highway for the smaller-engined previous generation. I averaged 8.6 litres/100 km during the test period.
This larger-displacement engine also provides better around-town drivability, but also has a trait that negates taking any real pleasure from this. When you change gears – only a six-speed manual is available, that shifts through a neat and tight pattern with a metal-topped lever – after running the revs up to say 3,500 rpm, they remain buzzing at that speed for an inordinate amount of time.
You won't notice this if you're banging up through the gears like a race driver but you will – and likely become quite annoyed by the process – the other 99 percent of the time you're using the gearbox. It's an emissions-related bit of engine management programming, but surely renowned engine expert Honda could have come up with a better solution.
This generation Si comes with a shorter wheelbase, a stiffer structure, bigger front brakes and the requisite higher-rate springs, firmer damping and less yielding bushings. The electric power steering remains a little light in feel, but the front end is willing to turn-in adroitly and it's great fun to pound around a coned autocross-style course.
The Si's styling is more than a little reminiscent of the previous generation but sharpened up a bit here and there, although not very dramatic to my eye. And inside it doesn't look particularly sporty, although the seats offer good support and have Si logos embroidered on them in red with matching stitching, also found on the small-diameter wheel and the gear lever. There are also pierced alloy pedals, and usual features you'd expect to come with a $25,990 price tag.
Typically of coupes, getting into the back seat requires a contortion or two, but finally squeezing in there doesn't provide any relief as even the stature-challenged amongst us will find their chins on their chest while their head is tucked under and likely banging off the backlight glass.
So basically, that missing 1,000 or so engine rpm aside, the new Civic Si coupe is everything the old one was, plus a bit more. A quick and competent car for weekend warriors to enjoy, that's civilized enough for them to commute in during the rest of the week.
2012 Honda Civic Si
Type: Compact sports coupe
Base Price: $25,990; as tested, $27,385
Engine: 2.4-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 201 hp/170 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litters/100 km): 10.0 city/ 6.4 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda CR-Z, Kia Koup or Veloster, Mini Cooper S, Fiat 500 Abarth and a number of hot compact hatchbacks