Honda Civic Si or Civic Type R: Which Should You Buy?09/16/2020
The 2020 Honda Civic Si is an absolute steal at $26,130 out the door, no question. The real question is: Should you spend about $10,000 more on the Civic Type R?
With an extra 31 horsepower, two-mode electronically adjustable shocks, a mechanical limited-slip differential, and Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 2 tires, the Si gives you a lot of performance hardware for shockingly little money. So, too, though, does the Civic Type R. A lot of the specs sound the same—limited slip, adjustable shocks, etc.—but for the big one: 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft. All that comes at a price of $37,950—I lied, it’s more like $11,500 more—so is the Si a budget Type R, or should you keep saving?
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Honda Civic Si vs. Honda Civic Type R
The great thing about the basic Honda Civic is you can feel the car’s inherent sportiness in its bones. Sure, it’s a plain old sedan, coupe, or hatchback at heart, but compared to other compact cars, it drives really nicely. It’s no surprise a handful of speed-focused parts is all it takes to make one into an Si, or that it can further spawn a Type R. Honda’s engineers haven’t forgotten how to build a sports car.
In the Honda pantheon, the Si is about handling and the R is about absolute performance. To see whether the latter is worth the extra money, I took both—the Si representative being our long-term 2020 Civic Si HPT sedan—multiple times to one of the greatest driving roads in the world, Angeles Crest Highway. It doesn’t take much prodding to begin to appreciate what the Si has to offer. You can feel it on a freeway interchange: the deliberate and calculated body control, the traction, the ability to put the power down, the mechanical perfection of the shifter action, and the modularity of the brake pedal. Take it on a good road, and you’re still likely to underestimate it at first. Your brain tells you it isn’t the fastest one, so it can’t be pushed as hard. Your brain is wrong, so let’s get into the litany of reasons to choose the Si.
2020 Honda Civic Si HPT Sedan: Why Tires are Important
Eagle F1 Asymmetric 2s aren’t the highest-performance Eagle Goodyear makes, but they’re more than enough for the Si. You don’t need race-compound tires on a car that weighs 2,900 pounds (200 pounds less than the Type R I drove). These tires will pull serious lateral g’s in a corner for a factory-available setup, and they don’t mind when you put power to them while they’re working. With the limited-slip differential and only 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft on tap, you’re never going to burn the rubber off it once it’s moving. Instead, it digs in and lets you get on the throttle early and power out of a corner without fear of inducing understeer.
Allowing the tires to do their job are those trick adjustable shocks. Their default setting is capable, but if the road is relatively smooth the Sport setting can make a small but noticeable difference. Either way, far more expensive cars from brands that stake their reputation on sportiness don’t have body control like this. The Si leans confidently into turns and isn’t bothered by mid-corner bumps. The real beauty of these dampers is how well they ride in all situations. Around town, they’re sporty and firm but not punishing. Under duress, in their stiffer Sport setting, they’re just sportier and firmer and never uncomfortable. People who think cars have to ride terribly to handle well haven’t driven the right cars.
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2020 Honda Civic Si HPT Sedan: The Handling
Initiating handling maneuvers is handled by a steering system that’s pretty good for one that’s electrically assisted. It’s not the best one on the market, but it’s pretty darn good at the price, being refreshingly light and delicate and avoiding the all too common pitfall of becoming needlessly heavy in Sport mode. I’d like it to have more feedback, but that’s asking a lot from a front-driver that, again, is just 26 grand.
Can’t ask much more from the transmission, either. Honda builds the best front-drive manual transmissions on the American market, full stop. The Si’s is about perfect. The gates are closely spaced, the action slick and clean. You don’t have to think about finding the next gear or missing a shift. Just move the shifter gently in the general direction of the next gear you want, up or down, and it’ll find its way there naturally. You can’t ask for better. I have noticed, though, the infamous second gear grind starting to rear its head. It’s a known issue with these transmissions, unfortunately, and the forums have all kinds of suggestions about alleviating it.
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More unimpeachable are the brakes. Sure, they’re nothing special, but they don’t need to be on a light car. Honda doesn’t even list any kind of brake upgrade on the Si, so it’s nothing more than aggressive pads at the most, and that’s all it really needs unless you’re going to do heavy, frequent track work. The pedal response is linear and provides good feedback, and this featherweight isn’t heavy enough to overheat the brakes hauling ass down a mountain. Fade just isn’t a problem.
Even better, that brake pedal is snugged up next to the gas pedal, making heel-toe downshifting as natural as walking. They’re spaced so well that I can easily pull off a perfect heel-toe even in hiking boots.
2020 Honda Civic Si HPT Sedan: As Good as it Gets
So far, so good in the Si’s favor against its burlier Type R sibling, but then the decision gets hard when you consider the engine. The 31 extra ponies the Si has over the regular Civic are great, but with a chassis this good, you can’t help but want more. And a different power profile; the Si’s is really strong in the midrange, and it feels great blasting onto highways and other places where you wind across the entire tach. Get it out on a mountain road, though, and you begin to notice it goes soft on the top end where you’re operating more of the time. With some cars, you hit the rev limiter and groan, “already?” Not this one. You keep your foot in it, then check the tach, then keep your foot in it some more, then short shift because winding it out isn’t helping much. Although I don’t worship the older, naturally aspirated Civic Si’s the way some of my coworkers do, I appreciate how those cars pulled hard all the way to the fuel cutoff. I also hate the way the stupid Active Sound Control cranks up the drone in Sport mode.
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As we noted in both our first update on the long-termer and here in this story, the Si is a hell of a handler. It’s a fantastic car with which to hone your driving skills. You can safely push it as hard as you want, all the while refining your steering, your braking, and your shifting. You’ll learn more driving this car hard than you will in cars with twice the horsepower. Once you’ve soaked in the lessons, though, you might just find yourself in a power vacuum and look in the direction of the Type R. Another 100 horsepower ain’t nothing to sneeze at, and once you’ve tasted the Type R, you’re always going to feel like the Si’s chassis could easily handle another 100 horses because, well, it can. And wouldn’t it be great to be able to absolutely slingshot out of corners?
It’s a surprisingly difficult call to make, and it comes down to your driving philosophy. (Or your body-style preference, as the Type R is only available as a hatchback.) Me, I’m addicted to speed, and one can easily spend 10 grand or more modifying an Si to be as good as a Type R, so I say just get the best one from the start. That doesn’t mean the Si is bad, though. In fact, the 2020 Honda Civic Si is great. It’s a practical family sedan that drives and handles far better than a car with its price tag has any right to. It doesn’t look ridiculous like the Type R—we don’t get the slightly toned down Sport Line model in America—which makes it even more fun to keep up with German sport sedans that have more horsepower than talent and can’t figure out why they can’t shake a “normal” Civic. Go Si and you’ll certainly be happy, but if and when you outgrow its capabilities, the Type R will be waiting.
Just don’t wait long to grab an Si; it’s on pause for a model year while the all-new 2022 Civic is being prepared for launch.
Read more about our long-term 2020 Honda Civic Si HPT Sedan:
- Update 1: Getting to Know You
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