The ascending shift lights dart along the tach, green to yellow to red, before the revs bounce and the 2017 Honda Civic Si stretches its legs in the tawny California desert.

As the center-mounted exhaust bellows a convincing growl and a short throw from third gear easily finds fourth, the new Civic Si makes its most conclusive argument yet: this is a new page for Honda’s accessible entry-performance sedan.

What this Civic Si retains in heritage—namely affordability, precision, and fun—it also leaves behind a noticeably absent VTEC wail and a historically blank canvas for personalization.

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Confidently from Honda, the new Civic Si is a car that’s improved from prior generations. But unlike those earlier versions, the 2017 Honda Civic Si now lives in a long shadow cast by the forthcoming Civic Type R.

Shine a light on the new Civic Si and its newfound younger-sibling complex starts to be revealed. It’s a people-pleaser now, for better or worse.  

2017 Honda Civic Si First Drive

2017 Honda Civic Si First Drive

Out with the old, in with the news

To make the new Civic Si, the 8th generation for the performance name, Honda started with its most advanced chassis, and perhaps most competent. The new Civic bones are nearly flawless in execution; Honda’s even so confident in the setup that they’re offering bodies-in-white to racers. The world is a better place for it.

From there, the new Si was sharpened with a lower, wider, and longer track in both sedan and coupe forms compared to the last generation. The new Si didn’t need tricks to make it stouter; the 10th-generation Civic was already 25 percent stiffer and 68 pounds lighter when it was introduced almost two years ago.

This new Si also benefits from larger brakes, MacPherson struts up front and an independent multi-link setup in back, similar to last time around, but with greater effect this time.

Adding to the party, the Si’s newest trick is adaptive dampers, which utilize a solenoid valve to vary the damping force between “Normal” and “Sport” settings. The Si may very well be the least expensive car on the planet with adaptive dampers, but it’s only sheet music without a piano.

For that, Honda relied on its under-valued, over-performing 1.5-liter turbo-4. Instead of the base 174 horsepower, the Si gets up to 20.3 psi of boost to increase output to 205 hp. That’s a significant bump on paper from the base Civic, but only 4 hp up from the last generation Si that used a long-stroke 2.4-liter inline-4 with VTEC to make 201 hp.

A quick check of the numbers. The 2017 Honda Civic Si’s power-to-weight ratio: 14.1 lb/hp. The last-gen's power-to-weight: 14.9 lb/hp. This new version is indeed better by arithmetic, but only in the way that product planners would appreciate.

Opting for turbos instead of a free-revving VTEC gave the new Si more torque down lower in the rev range and better fuel economy. The 1.5-liter turbo-4’s twist kicks in close to idle—2,100 rpm—and pulls all the way up to 5,000 rpm. Peak hp happens sooner in the rev range too, just 5,700 rpm instead of the prior generation’s peak at 7,000 rpm. Fuel economy rests at an impressive 32 mpg combined.

2017 Honda Civic Si First Drive

2017 Honda Civic Si First Drive

The sum? A 2017 Honda Civic Si that delivers sooner, sharper, without constant attention to staying on the boil—but also without a wail that it’s had for more than a decade.

On the track that’s a win, but only on paper. The new Si is faster, but perhaps not more fun.

Tradition = Better?

Purists take comfort in the Civic Si’s only transmission, a 6-speed manual. The shorter throw from the Civic Sport, forgiving takeup, and comfortable weight will be an old handshake for fans. (It certainly was for me, an old 6th-generation owner.) It's reassuring that Honda still knows how to make a competent and drivable manual.

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The standard helical limited-slip differential and electric steering rack with variable ratios also return together for a third consecutive generation to make for a comfortable, confident set in each corner. But bigger tires over the last generation and stiffer bushings may contribute more to the overall performance.

On the track, during our days under the Mojave sun and at Honda’s new proving grounds, the Civic Si turned lap after lap with cautious optimism. The Si has performance to be found, but only by patient drives. Coaxing speed out of the Si is the way to go, deep stabs at the throttle aren't quickly rewarded.

Honda engineers were frank in their quasi-admission about the Si’s performance credentials: the Si could be a track car, but it’s not designed for that type of duty daily. The Si models we drove were fitted with fade-resistant Honda Racing pads and we were limited to just a few laps at a time.

As the track temps soared, the 2017 Honda Civic Si excelled in straight lines and long sweepers. Traction control kicked in early and often around tighter corners, which can be defeated, but the Si is quickest when its driven to within a hair of those restraints.

To its credit, the Si ran lap after lap that we asked, willing to push and unwilling to give up grip. The chassis is a champion, and it’ll likely show later. The Si likes to devour miles, the Type R will likely devour corners.

At just under $25,000 for an Si coupe, the new Si makes a case as a better Civic considering it comes standard with adaptive dampers, premium audio, better front buckets, 18-inch wheels, and a manual transmission. Compared to even other Civics, the Si is a compelling value.

2017 Honda Civic Si First Drive

2017 Honda Civic Si First Drive

But the white space between the Civic Sport and the Type R is too convenient as the sun set on our desert mission.

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After it was done and the notes were considered, the Civic Si is incrementally better than the one before it. But considered within the family—especially between the rambunctious Type R and over-achieving Civic Sport—by now the Civic Si has shared too many secrets with its siblings. The Civic Sport gets the Si's old hatch body style, the Type R is gifted with VTEC.

Pleasing people is virtuous, but avarice is usually more fun.

Honda provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.