What was tested? 2008 Honda Civic Si Sedan with Navigation, XM Satellite Radio and high performance tires ($23,260).
Price as tested: $23,260
Pros: It feels like a sports car but doesn't come with the drawbacks. Plus, with the Honda name and a rabid following, it should have decent resale value.
Cons: Its not-so-low price and tacky interior will make you want to consider its competitors.
Hot rodding is almost as old as the car itself.
In the old days, young drivers would buy a cheap American car -- usually a Ford -- and customize it to look better and drive faster. They would lower the suspension, chop the roof and remove the hood, fenders and bumpers to save weight. And, of course, they'd modify the engine to make more power.
Hot rodders are still around today. They just buy Honda Civics instead of '32 Fords.
In fact, these modern-day speedsters have become so mainstream that Honda makes a factory-built hot rod called the Civic Si. It doesn't look anything like the old hot rods, but the spirit is exactly the same: a small, customizable, lightweight car with a suspension that's tuned for better handling and an engine that's tweaked for more power.
The result is a car that's extremely rewarding to drive, far more so than the everyday Civic. While the ordinary Civic is fairly fun to drive -- especially compared to white-bread compacts like the Toyota Corolla -- the Si version cranks up the thrill knob past 10.
All that fun starts with the engine. It winds up to 8,000 RPM, at which point it sounds like a hellish dentist's drill grinding through concrete. It's wonderful!
The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine doesn't make monster power -- it peaks at 197 horses and a measly 139 foot-pounds of torque -- but that doesn't matter because its toggle-switch transmission and diamond-hard suspension let you wring out every last drop of performance. And it does this while every driver within two miles thinks they're being chased by an evil dentist, which makes it even better.
Its six-speed manual transmission is a thing of beauty. Unlike most manuals, which make you suspect your hand is connected to the drivetrain by a long and twisted chain of rubber bands, this one makes you feel instantly connected to the car. As soon as your fingertips touch the shifter it feels like the gearbox has become a prosthetic extension of your body.
Likewise, the tires, steering and suspension make you feel totally connected to the road. Every little bump is telegraphed into your underpants, which is awful if you want comfort but heavenly if you want to feel at one with your machine.
The whole experience is wonderfully similar to a sports car, but it doesn't come with the drawbacks of a true sports car. It has four seats, for example. And a big trunk. It even can come with four doors.
Now, if you're a driving enthusiast who thinks this car is perfect, rest assured it's not.
It feels like a sports car but doesn't come with the drawbacks. Plus, with the Honda name and a rabid following, it should have decent resale value.
For one thing, the interior is downright tacky. There's no other way to put it. It has cheap feeling and looking materials throughout the cabin and has gauges that are supposed to look futuristic. Instead, they just look garish.
For another, it can get quite expensive. While a regular Civic starts around $15,000, the Si version I drove had a starting price of more than $23,000. If you opt for the special-edition MUGEN Si, it will put a $30,000 hole in your wallet. And, no matter how special it is, $30,000 is too much to pay for a Civic.