Hondas (and Acuras) of all varieties have been popular in autocross and amateur racing for decades. It’s not unusual to hear a small four-cylinder revving and revving, hitting the VTEC cam profile, and revving some more at any event you attend. Older Civics and Integras have become so popular that NASA’s Honda Challenge racing series has experienced a resurgence in recent years. But how do new Hondas handle racetrack use? To find out, Honda sent me a 2020 Civic Si “HPT” coupe, which I immediately took to Summit Point Motorsports Park.
What Is It?
The 2020 Honda Civic Si coupe is part of the tenth generation of Honda’s ever-popular Civic compact car. First launched for the 2016 model year, the Si sits above the more plebeian LX and EX Civics and below the “they finally brought it here” kinda-bonkers Civic Type-R. Honda has offered the Si trim of Civic for decades, and it’s always represented the flirty-sporty-fun version of the model. This 2020 Civic Si coupe is no exception, with a tweaked version of the L15 four-cylinder found in the Civic EX, producing 205 horsepower (up from 175 in Civic EX) and 192 lb-ft of torque. The Civic Si comes exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission, and puts power down to the front wheels through a standard helical limited-slip differential. Every Civic Si also features different spring rates and stiffer sway bars alongside adjustable shock absorbers, a big deal for a relatively-affordable performance car. My Civic Si was the “HPT,” which stands for High-Performance Tire and includes a set of Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires in lieu of standard all-season rubber.
While Honda offers the Si on both Civic sedan and coupe, this is the final model year for the coupe. Citing low sales figures year-over-year, Honda does not plan to sell the Civic coupe after 2020. The Si trim is also on hold for the upcoming 2021 model year, though Honda claims it will return for the eleventh-generation Civic, which will bow for 2022.
So, I tested a body style and drivetrain that are soon to be unavailable. In any case, the Civic Si can still be purchased new and will be available pre-owned as well, given the first tenth-gen Si models were sold in 2017. MSRP of my 2020 Civic Si coupe was just above $26,000 (seriously, about $100 above), and given the performance bits mentioned above, it’s a lot of brand-new car for the money.
Track Time in the 2020 Honda Civic Si
I brought the Civic Si, with Honda’s blessing, to Summit Point Motorsports Park to attend a “trackcross” hosted by Get Fast Events. Trackcross is an event hosted like an autocross, in which drivers run from one set of timing lights to another, pushing for lowest time. Instead of autocross, held in a parking lot, trackcross puts the autocross format on a portion of a road racing circuit. In this case, we got to drive on half of Summit Point’s Shenandoah circuit, with non-timed practice runs held on the other half.
My initial impression of the Civic Si as a track car was not super positive. I barely fit in the coupe – the seat doesn’t adjust low enough – and truly do not fit with a helmet on. I struggled for smoothness with the light, devoid-of-all-feel clutch pedal. “Disabling” the VSA (Honda’s term for traction control) still left it enabled to a degree, and the car cut power mid-corner and on every small bump of Shenandoah’s carousel.
Pulling back in to the paddock after a few practice runs, I pulled my phone out and set to Googling. Some fancy Konami-code-esque button presses and footwork allowed me to disable the VSA entirely, leaving only a perpetually-blinking dashboard light as any indicator the system even existed. I figured out an okay-not-great seating position and figured I’d deal with the clutch as I lined back up for more practice.
With VSA disabled, I was able to toss the Civic Si into the carousel and have it pull me through easily. “Hey, this is actually fun, I’m into it,” I thought. The Si’s L15 engine is not as exciting as the VTEC screamers of days past, but felt strong for the most part. Honda claims the L15 makes peak torque from 2,000 to 5,000 RPM, which is where it felt strongest. Though the engine produces its peak 205 horsepower around 5,700 rpm, it was less enthusiastic about being revved that high.
Moving over to the timed portion of the event, I lined up with others and was able to test-sit in a Civic Si sedan that another participant had brought. Huzzah, I fit! The roofline of the sedan is far more accommodating to tall drivers, helmeted or not.
The timed course saw us make a slow, hard 180° turn before accelerating through a fast, sweeping left-hander. I took the hard turn in second gear and felt the limited-slip differential do its thing. Putting power down was easy. I ran second out, put the Civic in third and kept my foot buried in the floor. With one steering input, I clipped the apex of the left-hander and tracked out. Here, the Si’s chassis tuning and adaptive shocks worked to keep the car predictable but fast, and the car more or less drifted its way to the right side of the straight. It felt good – very good.
Throughout the day, braking was consistent and the pedal provided fine feel. Steering effort was on the lighter side, and the wheel firmed up if I asked for a mixture of wheel angle and heavy acceleration, likely a side effect of front-wheel drive and the differential working to keep power down.
Cut To The Feeling
I enjoyed my track time – and street time – in the 2020 Civic Si… enough. On paper, it’s one hell of a value given the hardware bolted to it and the $26k-or-so MSRP. Owners do very well with the tenth-generation Civic Si at SCCA autocross – it fits in G Stock – and the car has been campaigned in both amateur and professional racing series with success.
In practice, the Civic Si is also technically pretty good. Looking past the seating position (the coupe is dying anyway, and I fit in the sedan) and the clutch action (own it long enough and you’ll get used to it), it is a solidly good dual-purpose car for street driving and whatever level of motorsport your wallet can handle.
But I do want to bring up feeling, which is entirely subjective but factors into our buying decisions more than any of us would admit. The Civic Si was good on paper and good on track, but as a stock-from-Honda car, it didn’t leave me very excited. “Peak Si” for me was a while ago, with the “EM1” 2000 Civic Si. It was visually tidy and aurally dramatic. This 2020 feels just the opposite – wild styling, with a driving experience missing the visceral character that came in the older cars.
I’m sure I’d feel differently with the requisite intake, exhaust, and tune. I know I’d feel differently if this were a gutted, caged race car from HPD. Perhaps the best way to think of the 2020 Civic Si is that of a starting point, a solid platform for any owner and their motorsport of choice.