Civic Si: A Welcome Improvement

Likewise, the Civic Si, one of the first "hot hatches," has been fighting for its life as other automakers have improved their sport compacts' low-rev acceleration through the use of direct injection and/or turbocharging. Since it first incorporated variable valve timing — another major innovation from Honda — the Si has required high engine speeds to tap into its power band. The new engine's greater displacement is a welcome improvement, as it boosts the torque output to 170 pounds-feet at 4,300 rpm from the 2.0-liter's 139 pounds-feet at 6,100 rpm. The power peak adds 4 hp to 201 hp, but it's come down to 7,000 rpm from 7,800 rpm.

The 2012 Si launches with more authority, even spinning its wheels if you let it. The short-throw shifter is far more satisfying than the standard five-speed stick, operating six forward gears with close ratios optimized for the new engine. Even though the Si's output is greater, some competing sport compacts — the Volkswagen GTI, Mini Cooper S, Mazdaspeed3 and Subaru Impreza WRX — produce torque that's greater and/or at substantially lower rpm. Because most of these competitors are heavier, by as much as 400 pounds, it's not a perfect comparison, and the payoff for the Si is better mileage: Its 22/31 mpg beats the GTI by 1 mpg city and the Mazdaspeed3 and WRX by as much as 6 mpg on the highway.

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