The Daily Drivers | By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek, Times Staff Writers

The Daily Drivers: The 2011 Honda Civic Si Coupe is a winner for budget-minded enthusiast

This Honda Civic Si had an uphill battle with us from the start. We drove it in the same week in which we also had the Audi R8 Spyder. Most cars wouldn't have a chance after driving what we thought was a perfect machine. But this little Civic pleasantly surprised us. Sure, it's no supercar, but we were sorry to see this peppy performer go.

Appearance: Compared with a regular Civic, the Si has a bit more pizzazz, thanks to a rear spoiler that looks like it belongs on the car and isn't some after-market slap-on. The special Si badging and 17-inch alloy wheels also make it stand out from the standard Civic, which is getting a design update later this year. The front end also sets an aggressive tone, with its angular cut, bold grille and fog lights.

Performance: The Si is more about fun than horsepower (197), with a precise 6-speed manual transmission that we both found one of the best we've experienced. The shifter location and angle on the console are just right. The clutch is as effortless as the shifter. Sorry folks, no automatic transmission available in the Si. Lyra found the steering a bit jumpy, especially on quick takeoffs, but we liked the lightweight car's tight handling. The stiffer sport suspension is great for spirited cornering, but not so much for bumpy roads; it's a worthy trade-off. The high-revving Si redlines at 8,000 RPMs, which doesn't make for the most quiet interior. Fuel mileage is good, but not great, at an estimated 21 mpg city and 29 highway. (Honda recommends premium gas for this 2-liter 4 cylinder.)

Interior: Honda does a lot with a little, giving it a sporty look. The comfortable, well-bolstered textured-fabric seats feature red stitching and the Si logo. The pedals are drilled aluminum. The tach dominates the curved, two-tier instrument panel, which has a digital speedo at steering-wheel level. Lyra had trouble setting the wheel to be able to see both at the same time. The intuitive console buttons are plasticky but solid. Peter had enough headroom up front. Surprisingly, two adults can sit comfortably in the rear as long as they don't expect expansive legroom, but getting in and out of the coupe might be a challenge. There are a lot of handy storage nooks, including a slip-stop nook for cell phones and covered cup holders. The sunroof and light-taupe roof liner brighten the cabin. The trunk is ample for a small car, and the rear seats fold down for more storage space.

Our 3 favorites

Peter Couture

Shifting: The close-ratio 6-speed manual is quick, light and smooth.

Fun factor: The Si proves you don't need a lot of horsepower or a turbocharger.

Alloy wheels: The standard design wouldn't look out of place on a more expensive car.

Lyra Solochek

Ride: Zippy around corners, peppy on takeoffs. Never dull.

Sporty: The rear spoiler and the chrome exhaust tip add to the cool factor.

Seats: The front sport seats hug you as you whip through turns.

The bottom line: Take what already is one of the most popular compact cars, add a pinch of style and performance, and you have a recipe for fun. The Honda Civic Si lets the budget-minded enthusiast have it both ways.

2011 Honda Civic Si Coupe

Price: $22,205 start, $24,205 as tested

Powertrain: 2-liter inline 4 K20Z3 DOHC, 6-speed manual transmission, FWD

Horsepower: 197 at 7,800 rpm

Torque: 139 pound-

feet at 6,100 rpm

Seats: 5

Curb weight: 2,895 pounds

Dimensions

in inches:

Wheelbase, 104.3

Length, 175.5

Width, 68.9

Fuel economy:

21 miles per gallon city, 29 mpg highway

Fuel type:

Premium unleaded

Safety features: ACE body structure, ABS, daylight running lights, air bags and curtains, vehicle stability assist with traction control

Options worth considering: Navigation system, moonroof

Website:

automobiles.honda.com/

civic-si-coupe/

The Daily Drivers: The 2011 Honda Civic Si Coupe is a winner for budget-minded enthusiast 03/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 11, 2011 3:30am]

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