Imagine Jon Bon Jovi in comfy trousers crooning with a cocktail bar ensemble. That's the Honda Civic Si Hatch. It's built in Britain alongside the Type R which wears tight leather pants and screams punk rock. The Si is a toned down and mellowed-out version with softer suspension and more sedate performance.
While most of our Honda product hails from Thailand, this Civic hatch comes from Britain, so it has some nice styling touches that make it stand out from the Thai-built sedans.
However, at $29,990, it's more than $5000 above the corresponding Civic sedan and several thousand more than comparative Japanese and Korean five-door hatches.
It aligns more closely in price with Euro-made hatches such as the Ford Focus, Peugeot 308 and Renault Megane. Value is aided by features such as climate control airconditioning, Bluetooth, rain-sensing wipers, fog lights and rear parking sensors, plus Honda's traditionally good resale value, reliability and build quality.
Honda was the first to use variable valve technology in its engines which converts it from a mellow kitten at low revs to a screaming wildcat at high revs. While this 1.8-litre engine is hardly a wildcat, it does work much better at high revs.
The i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine is mated to a five-speed auto or six-speed manual gearbox which earn their keep by maintaining optimum revs to get the most out of the 103kW peak power and 174Nm torque.
The Si hatch now comes with Bluetooth which is quick and easy to connect and reliably pairs every time, even with my iPhone 4 which can be difficult to pair with many car Bluetooth systems. Unfortunately the Bluetooth connection doesn't include music streaming, but there are AUX/USB connectors and a convenient 12V outlet in the centre console.
I owned a 1979 Honda Accord hatch which seemed smaller than this Civic. Apart from growing in size, the Civic hatch has also leapt ahead with modern styling inside and out.
The design also has a racing influence with a mesh grille replacing the clear plastic grille, a race-style petrol cap, integrated tailpipes like the Type R and Flash Gordon door handles including hidden door handles on the rear door.
On the tailgate there is a stylish spoiler in the middle of the glass. Inside, there are drilled pedals, sporty steering wheel, a big red start button like S2000 and a futuristic dashboard with controls that are easy to understand.
There are six airbags, ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability and a tyre-pressure warning system earning it five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests. However, it fails on the visibility stakes with the stylish rear spoiler splitting the rear window and creating a blind spot.
The rear three-quarter view is also limited by a thick C pillar and the driver's door mirror doesn't fold out far enough to view the next lane, although there is a convex end to the mirror which I find confusing because it is distorted.
Although it comes with rain-sensing wipers, there is no wiper on the rear and the top half definitely needs it as water pools there. A roof-mounted wiper would fix that.
It might look like a Type R, but this is a sheep in wolf's clothing. You have to vigorously stir the gearbox to get good motivation and the shifter feels notchy and frail. At least the clutch is also light so it's good for city driving with lots of cog-swapping. Handling is capable and consistent, never messy or fussy. Just point and go.
There is a lot to like about this Civic. It feels classy inside, if a little noisy on the highway. Honda has also given quite a bit of thought to the package with some useful touches such as the 12V outlet in the cargo area, wide-opening rear doors and clever, flat-folding 60-40 split rear seats.
There is plenty of room in the back for three adults and the centre rear seat has a lap-sash belt, but there is a bump in the seat which makes it uncomfortable.
Niggles include the driver's door mirror, temporary spare and tailgate vision. But the biggest bugbear is the futuristic split instrument panel with the all-important speedo at the top obscured by the top of the steering wheel.
Not everyone will experience this, but I like the steering wheel high and close and in that position I simply couldn't see how fast I was driving.
Like Jon Bon Jovi, the Honda Civic Si should appeal to those who like their adult-oriented rock in a more palatable form. It looks like a Type R, but it's actually a hatch for everyday use.
Honda Civic Si Hatch
Price: $29,990 ($32,290 auto)
Warranty: 3 year/100,000km; 6 year rust
Resale: 53% after 3 years
Engine: 1.8-litre i-VTEC, 4-cylinder, 103kW/174Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual (5-speed auto), front-wheel drive
Economy: 6.9L/100km (7.2 auto)
CO2: 163g/km (172 auto)
Dimensions: 4270mm (L), 1765mm (W), 1460mm (H),
Kerb weight: 1285kg, (1320kg auto)
Tyres: 225/45 R17, temporary spare