From the outset, the front-wheel-drive 2017 Honda Civic Si and Honda Civic Type R models seem to follow the same basic premise. Both are performance variants of the standard 10th-generation Civic, which means they both have more powerful single turbo inline-four engines, six-speed manual transmissions, and limited-slip differentials. The only seemingly obvious difference between the two is that the Si can only be had in coupe and sedan body styles, while the Type R is only available as a hatchback.
Now and Then
If you consider how the sport compact market has grown and changed over the last three decades, however, the need for the two distinct models becomes clear. As the sport compact movement grew in size and scope through the 1980s and 1990s, the definition of what an ideal sport compact performance machine is has evolved. To some, both then and now, a perfect sport compact is a two-door rear-wheel-drive coupe, like a Nissan Z, an all-wheel-drive sedan, like a Subaru WRX, or a mid-engined sports car like a Toyota MR2. To others, a front-engined, front-wheel-drive machine— like a tuned Civic—is best. But we can agree, all are ripe for aftermarket brands like NRG Innovations, GReddy Performance, SPEC, and AEM Electronics.
Practicality or Big Power Gains
Since all of these layouts appeal to different buyers, each type of platform has developed its own distinct following. Among enthusiast car buyers for each layout type, there are those who value practicality over huge power and those who want uncompromised performance above all else. To meet the needs of both customers in search of sporty daily drivers and harder-core enthusiasts wanting no compromises with their performance machines, manufacturers started to produce middle- and top-level performance variants. The Subaru WRX and WRX STI, Ford Focus ST and Focus RS, and Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R are all examples of this practice.
Honda Civic Si and Type R – Appeal to Different Crowds
In the context of the Honda Civic Si and Honda Civic Type R, just look at their power outputs, and the difference and intent of each become very clear. The $23,900 Si has a 1.5L engine that puts out 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque, which is healthy for any front-wheel drive sport compact. In contrast, though, the Si seems underpowered compared to the $33,900 Type R’s 2.0L powerplant, which makes 306 hp and 295 lb-ft. The Honda Civic Si is essentially a lightly modified standard Civic coupe or sedan. But it has more horsepower, a manual transmission, a sportier suspension, bigger brakes, sport seats, and grippier tires, which creates the difference in output. It’s designed to be a more sports-purposes daily driver that’s also more fun to run on the backroads.
Speed or Sensibility
Quite the opposite, the heavily modified Honda Civic Type R is more about speed than sensibility. It has very highly-bolstered seats, which are perfect around fast corners but not very comfortable for daily use, a firmer suspension that produces better road holding and feedback but also a harsher ride, and aerodynamic pieces aimed at producing noticeable levels of downforce. The Type R is essentially a back road and track-day machine that can also—albeit less comfortably—be driven regularly on high-traffic public roads.
In the end, the Type R, like all top-of-the-line sport compact performance variants, is designed to be the ultimate tuner ride right off of the showroom floor. But that doesn’t mean that the Civic Si isn’t also a competent machine. It all comes down to your car’s intended purpose. If you want a sport compact with plenty of go, an Si is seriously worth considering. But if impressive lap times and the ultimate Civic are what you are after, the Type R is the one to get.