NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ON – There’s no question the Honda Civic scores well with Canadians – it’s been the best-selling car in this country for 14 consecutive years and appears poised to make it 15 in 2012. Overall, we’ve bought more than 1.6 million Civics since the car was introduced here in 1973.
There is, however, a side to Honda that hasn’t had much play in the marketing plans lately – the brand’s rich racing heritage.
The Honda name is synonymous with corporate concerns for the environment, an emphasis on safety, rock-solid reliability and durability, plus good value. As well, Civic owners who have an enthusiasm for driving will readily tell you their Hondas are also fun to drive.
However, making the link with many decades of motorsport success is something that seems to have been largely left in the shadows.
Reconnecting with racing heritage
Not any more, says Dave Jamieson, Honda Canada’s assistant vice-president who oversees the brand’s sales. You may have noticed the recent TV ads drawing attention to the company’s rich racing roots that started with the company’s founder, motorsports enthusiast Soichiro Honda.
His passion for the sport has been an integral part of the Civic’s DNA through eight generations.
For 2012, the all-new, ninth-generation Civic, built in Alliston, ON, maintains that connection with Honda’s racing roots, but is also making it more visible with a limited edition of its hot Civic Si Coupe.
Hond Factory Performance
Honda engineers have enhanced the Si’s already potent attributes with a special package dubbed the Civic Si HFP (Honda Factory Performance), now on sale at Honda Canada dealers.
The 2012 Si’s 2.4-litre, 16-valve, DOHC, i-VTEC four-cylinder engine has already been upgraded over the 1.8-litre four that’s standard in the regular Civic coupe and sedan. The Si version generates 201 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 170 lb-ft torque at 4,400 revs, compared to the base engine’s output of 140 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 128 lb-ft at 4,300 rpm.
As Civic product planner (and weekend racer) Jonathan Weir noted during a presentation of the HFP to the media here, the Si’s power output is already more than adequate on the track so there was no need to boost straight-line speed.
What racers are more interested in improving is the car’s speed through corners and this is where the HFP package shines, helping put that power to the pavement more effectively.
To help achieve that goal, the HFP package retains the Si suspension’s geometry but lowers the ride height 10 millimetres, adds more negative camber to the front wheel settings, stiffens the dampers and increases the spring rates 40 to 50 percent front and rear.
The helical limited-slip differential and close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox used in the Si is also included in the HFP model.
The suspension bushings remain unchanged. The Si’s 17-inch alloy wheels are replaced with a multi-spoke 18-inch alloy rim fitted with Michelin Pilot Super Sport performance (summer) tires.
Unique styling touches
Exterior changes, in addition to HFP badging, include special front, side and rear underbody spoilers. While primarily cosmetic, the aerodynamic items help increase airflow to the brakes. There are also airflow management devices on the underside of the car.
Inside the cabin, special red carpeted floor mats with the HFP logo are standard, as well as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and specially embroidered sport seats with contrasting red stitching. Other amenities include Honda’s satellite-linked navigation system with bilingual voice recognition, Bluetooth connectivity, SiriusXM satellite radio and a 360-watt premium audio system with six speakers plus a subwoofer.
Pricing for the Civic Si HFP is $28,690, compared to the Si Coupe’s base price of $25,990, and includes the full Honda warranty. The parts included in the package can also be purchased separately from Honda dealers, although the total cost for a do-it-yourself HFP would be about $4,000.
A couple of hours driving some interesting roads in the Niagara area provided a glimpse of the HFP’s road manners. Its handling was crisp, as was the steering, although the level of ride comfort left me wondering if I’d want to endure such stiffness on a daily basis.
Particularly over some bumpy secondary roads, the ride became almost jarring. In contrast though, when the road surface was smoother, the car sailed along with minimal issues.
The 2.4-litre engine is peppy, especially when there’s an opportunity to wind up into its real power band. Doing so, however, does increase the intrusion of engine noise into the cabin, but I doubt the enthusiasts who buy this model will mind.
What will truly give them pleasure is the silky smooth gearbox. Stirring from gear to gear up or down is effortless, with short, precise throws.
Made for the autocross
Where the HFP really shows its mettle is on a track and a couple of special courses were set up at the Niagara Drive Centre to let us see and feel what this car can do.
A low-to-medium-speed slalom course, set up on a taxiway at the Niagara regional airport, provided an opportunity to really check out the handling prowess of the HFP. It demanded quick steering input, a stable chassis and good brakes to complete the loop quickly – and the HFP met all those criteria with ease.
The other layout was more like an autocross circuit, intended to be run at higher speeds. Again, the dynamics of the Si HFP shone brightly, negotiating the weaving path in truly impressive fashion. There is no doubt Weir and his colleagues have achieved their goal of making the Si HFP something special on the track.
As a bonus, Honda Canada arranged for rising SCCA sedan racer Shea Holbrook to show the journalists what the Civic can do in well-skilled hands. (See sidebar.)
Indeed, the Civic Si and the new Si HFP do have racing in their genes – and that fact is going to continue to be given increased prominence, says Jamieson.
The Si HFP is a halo product for the Civic lineup, intended for customers who want to climb to the next level of style and performance, who want their Civic to be something unique, says Jamieson.
This special package is also the latest in a lineup of limited-edition, performance-oriented models being developed by Honda. Jamieson, who worked previously for Ford’s SVT performance group, says Honda’s HFP program will follow a similar path, developing unique products and parts packages. The pilot project was the Accord HFP introduced last year and now the Civic Si version joins the ranks.
Look for more from the HFP skunkworks in the future.