If the concept of perfection is subjective, how do you improve upon near-perfection? In the case of the 2020 Honda Civic Si, you don’t. Honda wisely left its lower-priced performance temple mostly alone for next year, throwing its congregation of engineers at some other automotive equation it hasn’t solved yet. The Si already possesses sharp looks, vivid handling, and a low price. Why mess with success?
One, because new cars still live and die on the yearly model update. And two, because the 2019 model lacked the basic safety tech now trickling down to this mid-$20K range, things like adaptive cruise and lane departure warning. So that’s what the 2020 Honda Civic Si brings: A few styling tweaks for the sake of change, a standard shield of driver assistance features, and the same superlative handling that makes it arguably the best $26,000 car on sale today.
The 2020 Honda Civic Si Sedan, By the Numbers
- Base Price: $25,930
- Powertrain: Turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder | 6-speed manual | front-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 205 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm
- Torque: 192 pound-feet of torque @ 2,100 rpm
- 0-60 MPH: 6.6 seconds (est)
- EPA Fuel Economy: 26 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, 30 mpg combined
- Curb Weight: 2,906 pounds
- Quick Take: Honda takes zero risks on the refresh of the Civic Si, and that’s all right by us.
In coupe and sedan guise, the 2020 Honda Civic Si separates itself from last year’s car with a subtle facelift that would make Joan Rivers proud. The tweaks include new LED headlamps to replace the halogens and more stylized fog light surrounds below. Customers also get a new 18-inch alloy wheel, and though the rear bumper on the sedan is redesigned slightly, the coupe’s cool, full-width rear light bar better completes the Civic’s future-forward look.
Likewise, visual changes are minimal in the cabin, a smartly finished space that showcases why Honda is the king of practical performance. The updates can be tallied on a few fingers—there’s new red trim on the dash, center console, and seats. But a restrained hand is welcome given the base Civic’s interior is exactly what it needs to be, with everything from controls (including the blessed volume knob) to the multi-level console storage bin laid out with a function-over-form clarity. Glass half empty, it won’t win any design awards, and the all-black color scheme is a miss at a time where heritage patterns like VW’s plaid seats are in vogue again. Give us some of that jazzy Nineties goodness, Honda.
Peel away the Civic Si’s skin and you’ll find the same 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine as before, still making 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. It’s connected to Honda’s fabulously notchy and perfectly-weighted six-speed manual transmission, once again the sole gearbox available. Other mechanical carryovers include the two-mode adaptive suspension and front axle’s helical limited-slip differential, two key party tricks that reveal themselves with delight in the first technical corner. The only true change is a reduced final drive gear ratio to improve highway passing power in sixth at the slight expense of fuel economy.
So what can we say about driving the 2020 Honda Civic Si? There’s simply no need to improve upon perfection. The Si continues to illustrate that a bazillion horsepower aren’t required for a good time. All you need are a solid chassis, decent tires, an appropriate amount of power, and a mall pretzel-cheap starting price. Less than 20 pounds separate the identical-wheelbase coupe and sedan, so four-door shoppers lose pretty much nothing in the handling department.
Flogging it through the twisty mountain roads surrounding Las Vegas, the tenth-gen Civic is light and agile thanks to its adaptive dampers, begging to fly through corners at speeds normally the domain of killer cars twice its price. It’ll leave those laser-guided ICBMs to war over lap time records, though; fun is all this Super Soaker wants to have. Twist the steering wheel and ease on the throttle to swing out the tail for an on-demand, easily-caught moment of giggling lift-off oversteer, and wash, rinse, repeat. At any speed, the manual shifter slots into gear with a pleasingly direct action and closely spaced throws that take some concentration at first.
When not driving like a flat-brimmed vaper bopping to brostep, the Honda Civic Si is still just a Civic. Those well-padded sport seats are comfortable for long trips despite their fairly intrusive, non-adjustable bolsters. Its $25K starting price (plus destination) belies standard niceties like dual-zone climate control, a proximity key, a 10-speaker audio system with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and heated front buckets, all of which round out its performance image. Honda’s sweetening the deal for 2020 by throwing in the Honda Sensing safety suite, bringing must-haves like adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking plus nice-to-haves like lane-keep assist, automatic high beams, and Honda’s passenger-side-view lane change camera.
Everything except the forward collision warning and automatic high beams performed as expected. Even in its shortest setting, the too-sensitive FCW system flashed warnings for slowing traffic far ahead, though thankfully it never tried to brake itself. The automatic high beams were confused by nighttime city driving, cycling on and off mid-block if there weren’t enough streetlights for its liking.
Funny enough, the main knock against the updated 2020 Civic Si is the only mechanical change Honda made: That final drive gear ratio. The previous 4.11:1 setup allowed the Civic Si to hum along at 75 mph in sixth gear with the engine turning below 3,000 rpm, while the new 4.35:1 ratio has it droning around 3,500 rpm. That sounds like a small difference until you’re subjected to it for a few hours straight. The extra passing power is noticeable, but so is the 2-mpg penalty versus the 2019 model. We’re pretty sure Civic Si buyers didn’t mind dropping to 5th or 4th gear for a left lane surge anyway.
So the 2020 Honda Civic Si remains a perennial favorite. But there’s one glaring matter to address: What about the cheaper Civic Sport? For either $22,380 (sedan) or $23,680 (hatchback), that car offers a six-speed manual, a fine engine (158 hp 2.0 four-cylinder in the sedan, 180 hp 1.5 turbo in the hatch), and that rock-solid chassis. It’s not the same brilliant gearbox and the lack of adaptive dampers will be obvious, but the Civic Sport tempts anyone not actively seeking the Si nameplate.
Still, the Honda Civic Si is an icon and a benchmark for a reason. It’s so good that three years into the current generation, it didn’t warrant a more extensive refresh for 2020, and pricier competitors like the Toyota 86 and Volkswagen Golf GTI are still playing catch-up. Meanwhile, cheaper options like the Hyundai Elantra GT N-Line and Veloster Turbo just aren’t quite there yet. Honda’s hands-off approach pays dividends for anyone seeking simple performance, and its trick of melding that ethos with daily-driving comfort and usability is why the 2020 Civic Si is the single best car you can buy for $26,000—hooligan or not.