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2006 Honda Civic Si
By James Riswick

Click for detail photo. Since the late 1980s, Honda has tried to balance a delicate tango of performance and luxury amongst its family of affordable sport coupes. Until their mutual demise in 2001, the Honda Prelude and Acura Integra tried not to step on each otherís toes when it came to providing buyers with an affordable, fun to drive coupe. Although the Integra always had more luxury features, when the last Prelude dawned in 1998, it outdid the older Integra in terms of both performance and design.

The two cars that replaced these two Honda dance partners swung the pendulum in the other direction. The excellent Acura RSX Type-S easily outdid the Preludeís spiritual successor, the Honda Civic Si, in almost every way. This was particularly true in the styling department where the Siís bloated hatchback look attracted as many people as a Dick Cheney hunting party. Like in 1998, however, the tide has probably swung back to Honda with the launch of a new Civic Si that deftly takes over for the dearly departed Prelude and most likely tops the RSX Type-S.

Based on the radically designed new Honda Civic that has garnered awards throughout North America, the Si distinguishes itself with racier colors, sport seats, the requisite deck wing, a 6-speed manual transmission and a 197-horsepower i-VTEC engine that zings up to a redline of 8,000 rpm. Although still a very peaky powerplant with only 139 lb-ft of torque, the Siís inline-4 lives to be revved hard and feels like it has tapped into a hidden bag of power when flung past 6,000 rpm. Car and Driver got a 0 to 60 mph time of 6.7 seconds, which is on par with the Volkswagen GTI but still four tenths of a second slower than the RSX Type-S.

Where the Si truly shines, however, is with its unflappable chassis and handling abilities that are more neutral and impervious to understeer than just about any other front-wheel drive vehicle. Coupled to the standard limited-slip differential, the Si does exactly what the driver expects from it, providing steering feedback on par with sports cars costing twice as much. Considering the mark-ups still slapped on the MINI Cooper S, the Civic Si truly is the most driving fun you can get for $21,000.

Inside, Honda decided to liven things up with a controversial, yet definitely innovative design. While the tach and other analog gauges are viewed normally through the steering wheel, the digital speedometer is placed separately just below the extremely raked windshield (which is so large, it requires minivan-like diverging wipers). All other controls are angled toward the driver, and the chunky three-spoke steering wheel houses stereo, audio and optional voice-command buttons that come with the excellent Honda navigation system (definitely worth the extra two grand). The only gripe is that the shifter (borrowed from the Acura TSX and Honda S2000) is placed too far from the driver Ė it should have swapped positions with the less frequently used e-brake.

Aside from that, I personally like the design considering how dull Honda interiors have been since the 1992-1996 Prelude died. You should check out the European Civicís interior, though, which in comparison to its American brother resembles the interior trappings of some sort of Romulan space craft.

The Civic Si is an excellent blend of unflappable handling prowess, a strong engine and good looks at a price that starts at just $20,540. As long as you can live without leather, the user-friendly hatch and 0.4 seconds of quickness to 60 mph, you probably wonít choose an RSX over the more fun, significantly cheaper Civic Si (not to mention the Acura doesnít offer the navigation system).

Sadly, this will probably be the last year the dance between Honda and Acura coupes will occur, since it is widely speculated that the Integra/RSX line will finally be retired in Ď07. Thatís a pity because it has always been such a lively soiree.

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Pictures of the Honda Civic Si
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Posted March 17, 2006
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