Honda dials up some performance for one of its legendary brands
There are few things as certain in life in Canada as cold winters and hot Tim Hortons coffee, but the popularity of the Honda Civic amongst Canadian car buyers certainly comes close.
With more than 1.6 million units sold during a production run that dates back to the 1970s, the Civic has been a runaway success in Canada. Despite a difficult 2011 that saw production hampered for most of the year due a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan – during the release of an all-new model no less – the Civic remained Canada’s best-selling car for the 14th straight year.
With such a sterling sales history behind it – not to mention numerous quality awards – the Civic has become one of Honda Canada’s most important vehicles. The Alliston, Ontario-built Civic is not only a sales leader, but it has also come to epitomize the Honda brand in Canada: safe and reliable backed by legendary build quality.
With the Civic Si HFP, which stands for Honda Factory Performance, the automaker is staying true to all of those ideals while spicing up the mix with some good ol’ fashioned performance fun.
Hoping to capitalize on – or revitalize – the Si’s well-regarded reputation as a performance brand, the Si HFP features several appearance-related modifications along with some upgraded mechanical bits and pieces.
Even up close, it’s a bit hard to distinguish an HFP from a garden variety Si Coupe just by looking at them. The extras added to the HFP – 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber, front, side and rear underbody spoilers and HFP badging – are fairly subtle, but flatter the car’s looks.
The bigger wheels and more aggressive tires are complemented by a re-tuned suspension package that features new springs, dampers and a 10 mm lower ride height. The HFP also features a revised alignment with more negative camber.
Powering the HFP is the same 2.4-litre, 16-valve iVTEC motor found in the Si with identical performance numbers: 201 hp and 170 lb-ft torque. The close-ratio six-speed manual transmission also comes from the Si as does the car’s well-stocked interior (HFP floor mats excluded), which comes with a lengthy list of creature comfort options and gadgetry.
Honda has earmarked only 400 2012 Civic Si HFPs for Canada in two colours (black and white) and more than half of them have been sold. Interestingly, only 500 were set aside for the U.S. where they are being sold as dealer-installed kits.
The HFP may only differ from the Si by a matter of degrees, but those degrees are noticeable especially on the track.
For the most part, however, the HFP is an Si and that’s generally a good thing. The transmission it utilizes is one of the slickest shifting manuals I’ve ever driven, the engine revs strongly to its 7,000 rpm redline, the steering still feels nicely weighted and balanced and the seats/driving position are both first rate.
On the downside, the HFP suffers from the same drawbacks as the Si. The acres of hard plastic that encase the dash still has a low rent feel and looks cheap. I don’t fancy the split dash either or the manner in which it spreads out vital driver information across two different visual planes.
However, everything we fiddled with in the cabin seems to work well and the navi-equipped infotainment system is impressive, although you’re best advised to adjust it when the car is parked.
Honda Canada split the driving activities for the HFP into two sessions – road and track – and the car is quite fun to drive in both, albeit for different reasons.
On the country roads in the Niagara region, the HFP is quite comfortable to mosey along in. The 2.4L four is reasonably quiet during and while the suspension settings are quite firm, the HFP’s ride doesn’t rattle any teeth (or anything on the car for that matter) and isn’t fatiguing in any way.
During the afternoon track session consisting of a couple of autocross courses set up on the Niagara District Airport tarmac, the more aggressive nature of the HFP’s suspension and wheel and tire combo is evident.
When driven hard, the HFP produces a minimal amount of body roll and cornering is reasonably flat for the most part. Turn-in is sharp and the rear end doesn’t dance around too much. Credit goes to Honda’s suspension alterations (and stickier Michelins), which really wring a lot of potential out of the Si’s well-sorted platform.
If Civic Nation was displeased with the redesigned Si, it should embrace this car as it delivers on the performance expectations of the brand. The style enhancements to the car’s exterior compliment its more aggressive personality while managing not to veer into gaudy or ostentatious territory. And, the suspension/ rolling gear improvements have refined its performance dynamics.
That said, what’s not to like?
Well, if we had a wishlist for the 2013 HFP (which could become a reality) it would include more power (a little turbocharging perhaps?) to help it compete with competitors like the Mazdaspeed3 and forthcoming Ford Focus ST, a spruced up interior and more colour options. We’d also like to see more than 400 made available for Canada as well.
The other thing worth mentioning is the price. The 2012 Civic Si HFP doesn’t come cheap; however, Honda has pegged the value of the upgrades to be north of $5,000 and only added an additional $2,700 to the Si’s base MSRP, which brings the price of admission for an HFP to $28,690.
Considering the more powerful Mazdaspeed3 also lurks in this price range and the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ actually cost less (almost $3,000 less in the case of the Scion), Honda might have a hard time persuading consumers to fork over slightly less than three grand extra for a car many may assume is little more than a marketing exercise.
That said, there’s a lot of good in the HFP and, if Honda decides to expand the performance envelope in coming years, the competition will definitely have more cause for concern.
Base Price: $28,690
Engine: 2.4L 16-valve 4-cylinder
Horsepower/Torque: 201 hp/170 lb-ft
Transmission: Close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission (MT)
Fuel Economy Ratings: 10.0/6.4/8.4 L/km (city/highway/combined)