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2013 Honda Civic Si: Back in the race

by: AMERICAN HONDA MOTOR CO. INC. - The revised 2013 Honda Civic looks and drives much better than last year's version, especially the sporty Si model.The 2013 Honda Civic is an all-too-rare apology from a major automotive manufacturer. The revised 2012 version of the popular compact underwhelmed reviewers and consumers alike. Faced with stiff competition from both domestic and foreign manufacturers, Honda somehow responded with an inferior product. Last year's Civic looked virtually the same as the previous generation but felt cheaper on the inside and was noisier on the road.

To its credit. Honda took the criticisms seriously and immediately redesigned the Civic. Improvements are everywhere. The exterior styling is crisper and the interior materials in are vastly improved. The front suspension has been retuned for a better ride and additional sound deadening material added to reduce road noise. The result is a car that both looks and drives much better than before.

It's too bad other manufacturers never admit their mistakes. Think of how much better you'd feel if prompt apologies had been made for the AMC Gremlin, Chevy Vega, Ford Pinto and all of Detroit's downsized big cars in the late 1970s. Feel free to add to this list as you see fit.

One thing Honda has not done, however, is simplify the baffling number of available models. From base to loaded, they are labeled LX, LZ PZEV, EX, EX PZEV, EX-L PZEV, EX-L, LX, LX PZEV, HF, HF PZEV, EX PZEV, EX, EX-L PZEV, EX-L, Hybrid, Hybrid PZEV, and Si. We're not going to try to explain all the difference at this time. Visit Honda's website for the tour.

Our test Civic was the Si, which has long been the performance oriented model. It is only available as both a coupe and sedan equipped with a 201 horsepower 2.4-liter inline four cylinder engine, six speed manual transmission, and a wealth of special interior appointments, including cloth bucket sport seats, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and metal pedals. Last year, this package only partly compensated for the deficiencies. This year, they enhance the improvements.

While not a full-fledged sports coupe, the Si is still a lot of fun to drive. The engine revs easily and the six-speed manual was one of the best we've ever tested. The clutch was light and the shift lever glided gently between gears, encouraging spirited driving. The bucket seats were supportive enough for hard cornering, while the brakes worked well in hard stops.

Honda designates the engine the i-VTEC, which stands for "Intelligent Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control." That means the valve timing changes as the revs increase, allowing for a smooth idle at low speeds, more power at high speeds, and better overall mileage. Although the EPA average of 25 mpg might seem disappointing for such a small car, it's actually pretty good when you consider how zippy it is.

Our test car also looked sharp. It came with optional wheels and low profile tires that accentuated the crisper styling. Although only slightly tweeked from last year's model, the tweeks were apparently done in all the right places. The integrated split rear spoiler was a nice touch, too.

Which is not to say the revised Civic is perfect. The back seat is cramped and hard to reach in the coupe version. The lack of a more practical hatchback version is disappointing. And the double-decker dash carried over from earlier generations is still annoying. It has a digital speedometer and other displays on the narrow upper level, and a large analog-style tachomoter on the taller lower level. The layout simply doesn't make much sense, even though the emphasis on the tach is more suitable for the Si model that the other versions.

All things considered, though, Honda should be thanked for acknowledging the shortcomings in its newest Civic and moving so quickly to correct many of them. They place the Civic back in competition in the hotly contested compact car market.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2013 Civic Si.

• Manufacturer: Honda.

• Class: Compact.

• Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

• Styles: Two door coupe and four door sedan.

• Engines: 1.8-liter inline 4 (140 hp, 128 lbs-ft); natural gas-powered 1.8-liter inline 4 (110 hp, 106 lbs-ft); hybrid 1.5-liter inline 4 and electric motor (110 hp, 127 lbs-ft); 2.4-liter inline 4 (201 hp, 170 lbs-ft).

• Transmission: Five-speed manual; six-speed manual; five-speed automatic; Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

• EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 28/39/32 (1.8/auto); 28/36/28 (1.8/5-speed manual); 29/41/33 (HF version); 27/38/31 (NG version); 44/44/44 (hybrid version); 22/31/25 (2.4/6-speed manual).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $18,000 ($24,805 as tested).