Press the fast-forward pedal on Honda’s Civic Si and the soundtrack amps up and the view through the windscreen accelerates towards you.
Twist the leather-wrapped “controller” and your sight picture pivots fluidly as the scenery flashes past in a seamless streaming of images without lingering in your peripheral vision.
Wow, you think, this is cool, maybe even more fun than an actual video game.
Now 197 horsepower may sound a little tame when the cover stories of automotive buff books revel in the shock and awe delivered by tire-smoking 500-hp-plus street cars, but in reality it is more than enough to get your adrenalin injectors squirting that good stuff into your system.
You can’t, of course, experience all the street punk of the good-citizen Civic family has to offer without signing up for a lapping day at the track. But as far as I know – and certainly if you’re somewhat circumspect about it – there’s nothing wrong with winding this neat little coupe’s rev-loving engine out to more than 8,000 rpm while, say, safely merging with freeway speed traffic.
Or playing with the gearbox. Purely for the joy of heel-and-toe downshifting, snapping quick upshifts and enjoying the responsiveness of the steering and the tautness of its suspension – all the while staying under the radar on a twisty bit of back road.
In some cars, and BMW still does it best, you don’t have to go fast to simply enjoy the pleasure of controlling a nicely put-together piece of automotive machinery. And the $25,888 Si is among a handful that fall into this category at the lower end of the price scale – among them Hyundai’s Genesis 2.0T, VW’s Golf GTi, Nissan’s Sentra Spec V, Mini Cooper S, Mazdaspeed3, Subaru WRX, Volvo C30, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart and, least expensive of all, Kia’s Koup.
The Si’s got some history behind it, too. The first Si was based on the third-generation Civic of the early 1980s, powered by a 1.5-litre four producing 91 hp. Five generations have followed, with power climbing to 108 hp, 125 hp and 160 hp before almost hitting the magic 200-hp mark with the eighth-generation-based versions that arrived for the 2006 model year.
The Si received a mid-cycle remake for 2009, comprising the usual minor styling tweaks front and rear and some equipment changes, which means very little has changed for 2010.
But to refresh the memory of those who might be looking for a sporty little coupe that’s got style, a decent level of equipment and more than enough power and handling to be entertaining, here’s a look at what the Civic Si has to offer.
The coupes are, of course, essentially two-door versions of the standard Civic with the requisite restyling of the bodywork. The result, however, is a not-particularly-inspired form that eschews a more useful hatch in favour of a roomy-enough 327-litre trunk, but with a non-folding rear seatback. Si models are dressed up with a rear deck spoiler with LED taillights, plus fog lamps.
The fast sweep of the roofline over the rear-seat area limits headroom to barely livable levels, but two can be carried back there, for short trips anyway. Getting in and out is something of a chore.
The two-tiered dash layout remains unchanged in the coupe, but you do get sporty seats with enough density in their bolster foam to keep you in place should you indulge in the generation of a little lateral acceleration g-force. They’re neatly stitched, too. And you also get an alloy shift knob and a more accomplished 360-watt audio system.
Getting into the front seats can be a little awkward for the short-legged who have the seats well forward, as the swept-back roofline gets in the way. But once driver and passenger are aboard, they’ll have little to complain about as the audio and climate control systems are fine and highway noise levels low enough.
What gives the Si the biggest bark in the Civic pack is its 2.0- litre i-VETEC, twin-cam four-cylinder engine that happily spins to over 8,000 rpm while making its 197 hp and produces 139 lb-ft of torque at 6,100 rpm.
Yes, the latter number does mean you need to make plenty of use of the six-speed manual gearbox’s ratios and your right foot to generate serious acceleration. Fortunately this is fun as the gear selection process is quick and accurate. When you’re just puttering around, however, the fact the revs hang up between shifts is a minor irritant.
Despite the bigger engine, fuel economy is still low, with ratings of 10.2 L/100 km city and 6.8 highway.
The Si gets its good handling from a four-millimetre-lower ride height, a sports-tuned MacPherson strut front end and a unique to the coupe reactive-link double-wishbone rear setup, with disc brakes all round. Tires always make a huge handling difference and the Si’s 215/45 R17s, pointed by an electric variable assist steering system, sharpen up front-end response nicely.
It’s a pleasant car to just steer through a country road’s curves with a delightful singing engine note providing accompaniment. That it also works as a daily commuter is a bonus.