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2022 Honda Civic Si Gearshift

Save The Manuals (? or !)

We Spent the Weekend at Mid-Ohio “Rowing our Own Gears” and Here are our Takeaways

By John Oreovicz

When I learned that I would be driving a new Honda Civic Si to cover the IMSA race weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, I had two thoughts.

 

  • What an appropriate car for the trip! Honda’s roots in Ohio run deep.

 

  • I hope my gear shifting skills aren’t too rusty.

 

Introduced here in 1973, the Honda Civic is a perennial bestseller in America, as well as one of the few new vehicles to still offer a manual transmission. The take rate for shift-it-yourself Civics has dwindled to less than 10 percent, but that’s still impressive when you consider only 1 percent of all new cars sold in the U.S. feature a clutch pedal.

 

As a sports-minded trim level, a six-speed manual is the only gearbox available with the Si package. The soon-to-be-unveiled Civic Type R – much more of a no-compromise performance machine – will also exclusively feature a manual transmission.

 

While intended as a more civilized daily driver than the Type R, the Si still includes a limited slip differential, three adjustable drive modes that tighten up steering and throttle response, tauter springs and summer ultra-high-performance tires as a no-cost option. The 1.5-liter turbocharged engine boasts 200 horsepower, a 20-hp boost on other Civic models. Inside, the Si receives bolstered cloth sports seats, aluminum pedals and an aluminum shift knob that will be instantly familiar to devotees of sporty Honda products.

 

Hitting the Road2022 Honda Civic Si Somewhere in Ohio

With that in mind, I decided the first order of business for my trip to Ohio was to find some enthusiast driving roads. I knew exactly where to look; for years, a popular car magazine has used a 14-mile triangular loop of twisty roads surrounding Hocking Hills State Park, about 50 miles southeast of Columbus, as its favorite destination for testing. It’s a scenic area, with rolling hills, quaint country inns, waterfalls and many miles of hiking trails.

 

Many years ago, I was part of the “Save the Manuals” club, but by the time I parted with my last manual car – a 2004 Acura TSX – I considered it a bit of a nuisance. The 240-mile highway drive from Indianapolis to South Bloomingville, Ohio, gave me the opportunity to assess the Civic Si and reacclimate to rowing my own gears (no stalls or other embarrassing gaffes, thank you very much).

 

In the old days, stick-shift cars accelerated faster and got better fuel economy than an equivalent automatic. But modern technology has made automatic and continuously variable transmissions more efficient than their manual counterparts. Not only that, straight-up manual transmissions are increasingly rare in racing cars, the vast majority of which use semi-automatic gearboxes with sequential- or paddle-shift technology that has become common in many street cars.

 

The argument for the manual transmission is that it’s a more involving experience that puts greater control in the hands (and feet) of the driver. It’s certainly a busier experience that requires a higher level of attention, especially if you take pride in executing smooth starts and stops and upshifts and downshifts. In that regard, the Civic Si is one of the best, with light clutch take-up and precise, short throws between gears.

 

The fun-to-drive aspect of the Si was on vivid display on the Hocking Hills loop, where you can break into a wide grin feeling like you’re hustling down smooth, lightly traveled roads while barely exceeding 55 miles per hour. There’s rarely a need to venture beyond fourth gear, and heel-toe downshifts can be effortlessly executed even without an assist from the standard rev-matching system. But the Si’s 200-horsepower engine also has the torque to pull out of corners without the need to drop to a lower gear.

 

Honda’s Ohio Legacy Began in 1979Honda Heritage Center

About 15 miles from the north end of the loop at Conkle’s Hollow State Nature preserve, U.S. 33 is the main drag up to the heart of Columbus. From there, it’s another 50 miles or so to Marysville, where in 1979, Honda began building motorcycles in America with a team of 64 associates some 60 miles from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Expecting a congratulatory response after sending news that the first CR250 Elsinore had rolled off the production line, the Americans were shocked to receive the brief missive: “Prepare for automotive production.” The first U.S.-built Accord rolled off the line in 1982.

 

Honda’s initial $35 million investment in Ohio has ballooned to more than $11 billion, more than half the $21 billion total it has invested in U.S. manufacturing over the last 40-plus years. All told, Honda built more than a million engines and almost a million cars in the U.S. in 2020, not to mention some 600,000 power equipment products and 1.3 million general purpose engines.

 

The company now employs some 16,000 associates in Ohio, with plants in Marysville (producing the Honda Accord and CR-V and the Acura ILX and TLX) and East Liberty (Honda CR-V, Acura RDX and MDX), an engine factory in Anna, a transmission production center in Russell’s Point and a parts distribution center in Troy.

 

In the same Marysville complex where the NSX supercar is hand-built in a custom facility is the Honda Heritage Center, where Honda’s history in Ohio and the United States is illustrated, explained and displayed. A fine companion to the Honda Collection Hall at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, the Heritage Center includes examples of many key products in Honda’s growth and evolution from an obscure importer of Japanese motorcycles and cars to one of the region’s biggest employers and most important corporate citizens. (NOTE: Due to continuing complications from COVID, the Honda Heritage Center is temporarily closed to visitors and factory tours are currently suspended.)

What Did We Learn?Civic Si On The Border

A week behind the wheel of the Si made me appreciate the understated excellence of the latest generation of the Honda Civic. But it didn’t swing me back onto the “Save The Manuals” bandwagon; six days out of seven, I still prefer the relaxed convenience of an automatic and would opt for the EX or Touring trim if building my own Civic.

 

That said, I’m glad Honda and a few other automotive manufacturers still make a manual gearbox available for enthusiasts and true believers. As the operation of cars and trucks becomes increasingly automated, sometimes it’s nice to take back a greater level of driver control.