Both are sporty Civics, but that’s where the similarities end
Well, that was a fun week. It started in our long-term Honda Civic Type R, and ended in the Civic Si sedan we pitted against the Hyundai Elantra Sport. Yes, they’re both turbocharged, manual-shifted, sporty Civics, but the driving experience of each is radically different. No surprise, the CTR is superior dynamically, but the Si has its own distinct character—depending on what you’re after, the hyper hatchback isn’t necessarily better. Here’s what I found driving the Civic Type R and Civic Si back-to-back.
The first inches I drove in the Si caught me off guard—its clutch is feather-light compared to the CTR. Both make it easy to tell how the plates are meshing, but the Si’s clutch is more progressive and engages sooner off the floor (potentially chalked to an additional 16,000 or so miles (25,750 km) on our Type R). Their difference in weighting is most notable. It might make the Type R feel sportier, but it’s easier to pull away smoothly in the Si.
The Civic Si’s shifter feels nice—until it’s compared to the CTR’s. Aside from sporadic grinding (due to our long-termer’s age and hard life), it works like a manual shifter should: firm action, precise movement, and tight in the gates. The Si’s throws are longer, and in gates there’s a slight rubbery feel, but requires less effort to toss. The CTR’s (defeatable) auto rev-matching executes downshifts with ninja accuracy, but saps a bit of involvement from the experience. The Si doesn’t have that, although its duller gas pedal and between-gear rev hang make snappy downshifts trickier.
Suspension of disbelief
The Si’s suspension allows roll and a bit of float; on decompressions its shocks extend and hang for a moment. Still, it feels appropriately tight and communicative. The CTR’s ride is on a different level. It’s super tight, and permits next to no body roll. A great deal of road texture is passed through its chassis, yet the ride is never harsh or brittle, only ever crashy over big imperfections at speed. Even in +R mode it remains livable. Comparing Sport mode to Sport mode though, the Si is—for better or worse—undeniably plusher.
Both of these cars are a joy to steer. Each reacts immediately off-center and weights up as lock increases, however the Si’s greater body roll accentuates the sensation of turning. My impression is that changes in steering heft between the CTR’s Comfort, Sport, and +R drive modes aren’t as pronounced as between the Si’s Normal and Sport modes. That said, even in Sport the Si’s steering weight is about at the level of the CTR’s Comfort mode.
Turbo just kicked in, yo!
Call me a luddite, but it’s still hard for me to accept these cars’ lack of screaming, naturally aspirated engines like the old days. The turbocharger in each makes its presence known, more so in the Si. There’s a noticeable power increase above 3,000 rpm, and a slight fall-off at the top of the tach. Regrettably, the Si’s engine feels like a warmed-over version of a normal Civic’s: fine, but not particularly characterful. Conversely, the Type R’s engine has pizzazz. It feels punchier, and its turbo is excellently paired with VTEC for stronger delivery at the top. Thanks to their standard mechanical limited-slip differentials, both cars manage front-drive foibles well.
Understeer for fun?
Flinging the CTR through corners reveals a stunning degree of balance and grip. This composure is mightily impressive, but does it make the car too serious? In the softer-sprung and less-planted Si, understeer is a factor I found myself working to control—enjoyably so. Leaning on the limited slip differential to hook up and pull me through a corner added a degree of involvement the CTR doesn’t present. The Type R also has an LSD between the front wheels, but its action is hidden behind the car’s terrific poise. Pick your poison, I guess.