Honda Civic Si Factory Race Car Review: Exciting and Terrifying

Hi Victoria, I have a question.

“So, you drive a lot of expensive, historic cars for work, do you ever get nervous about crashing them?”

This was a question a friend of mine recently asked me, and I wasn’t quite sure how to answer it. Of course, the answer is no, right? The answer has Not to be. I couldn’t do this job if I hadn’t developed the confidence to drive cars well, and I have a strong record of safe driving. I just get in the cars and go do my thing; I find familiarity with the basic mechanics of how it responds, how they hit the brakes, how the turn feels, and once I have a rhythm developed, I think more deeply about what the car evokes, how it makes me feel, Where does that trust lie? This is how I can write a review. If I was nervous, it wouldn’t be compelling writing.

And yet here I am, sitting in the pits at Nashville Superspeedway in a Nomex race suit, looking out the windshield of the TCR-ready Honda Civic Si, able to feel every pulse of my heart in my ear canals. This car is not like the other cars, and yes, I am nervous.

Honda Civic Si HPD TCR Specs

Price: $55,000
Powertrain: 1.5-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder | 6 speed manual | front-wheel drive
Horsepower: 200 to 6000rpm
Torque: 192 pound-feet at 1,800 rpm
Empty weight: 2,600 pounds
Quick shot: This thing is much faster than me, I can tell you that.

The car that made me nervous

This started out as a new 2022 Honda Civic Si, a car I’ve previously reviewed and loved. The Civic Si was one of my first reviews, and it ended up being the perfect vehicle to test, given my well-established love of the Honda Civic and general leaning toward Japanese tuner cars. He didn’t need to imagine an ideal buyer or wealth role-play to visualize the target market; I got in, I drove it, I loved it, and I wrote it right on the page because am the target market. It’s also a forgiving front-wheel drive sports sedan that allowed me to drive hard without fear of oversteer retaliation because it’s did you mean to give confidence to a twentysomething like me. Poor Honda press car really got a workout when I got it.

But the car I’m driving here isn’t just a Civic Si anymore; this is the version of the Honda Performance Development program for TCR homologation: touring car racing. Gone are the soundproofing, the thermal insulation, the interior amenities like a full dash or speakers or infotainment screens, catalytic converters, exhaust mufflers, the sunroof, the streetcar’s summer Goodyears, and three-point seat belts; Adding to the package are a fuel cell, FIA-spec roll cage, Motec engine and fuel management, Bilstein coil-overs, huge six-piston Wilwood brakes, bucket seats, genuine R-composite Hoosiers and five-point harnesses. In theory, it makes around the same 200 hp as the road car’s 1.5-liter turbocharged inline four, and that power is delivered through the same six-speed manual gearbox.

Even though the formula used to create the HPD Civic Si only consists of basic addition and subtraction, the entire equation changes dramatically. Road cars are usually tamed before they hit the streets; a bit of understeer is dialed in, some jitter is removed, and the whole package can still be quite fun, but they’re tuned for smoother handling. That way, the 20-somethings who buy them stay out of the hedges and stay on the tarmac, while building their confidence to drive well. (There are exceptions, of course.)

The HPD Civic has none of that gentle nature because gentleness is slow.

See a professional at work


To start the day, I take a ride with a professional driver who really knows how to drive a race car. I carefully analyze his cornering speeds and driving lines, trying desperately over two laps to study his technique in some vain hope of absorbing his ability by osmosis. I keep doing this reasonably well until we hit eight years old, which makes me fear God; it’s a downhill off-camber right-hand turn with runoff that comes up extremely fast on grass only, and comes immediately after the backstretch where we’re going 90+ mph. Rational thought has fled.

The entire corner has the demeanor and forgiveness of an Old Testament God dealing with Sodom and Gomorrah. She handles it deftly, hitting the outside exit with the driver’s-side wheels, and we continue at about 60 mph. However, from the passenger seat, turn eight feels like the first roller-coaster hill from the lead car. I’m anxiously staring over the edge at what feels like an insurmountable drop, waiting for the physics to kick in and adrenaline flood my nervous system.

The rest of the laps are blurrier from there; analysis and adrenaline don’t really mix well. We’re definitely approaching 110 down the backstretch as the 1.5 turbo fills the cabin with deafening noise, but the hormones saturating every nook and cranny of my gray matter have papered over the intense sensations of speed. I just watch in disconnected wonder as we slam the front tires (still on the throttle!) off the banked front straightaway and back onto the infield section, without so much as an errant movement of his hands on the wheel. Okay, I’ll do it when it’s my turn, I guess.

My turn

After a brief interlude driving the new Honda CR-V [Ed. note: Review forthcoming! –CT], it’s my turn in the HPD Civic. I put on a surprisingly flattering Nomex race suit, and the Honda team makes sure he’s strapped in enough in the driver’s seat. Another one of the professional drivers Honda has brought jumps into the passenger bucket to help guide me through the course (and ideally keep me from trashing the car); we are not timed, and there is no race. And yet, my pulse has become a remarkable physical attribute. You could very easily not take this car above freeway speeds, braking hundreds of feet before the next few corners call for it. This might just be a quick little check mark on my bucket list – drive a race car, done! – but I also know that’s not what I’m here for, and my heart rate knows it too. What kind of self-respecting automotive journalist is strapped into a five-point harness on a closed race track and doesn’t feel a bit of death throes?

As we pull out of the pits, my co-driver reminds me to check the brakes to make sure they’re still biting after a long day of lapping at Superspeedway. Yes, it’s not a bad idea; Quick tap as I head into pit lane, and yes indeed they are still working. The Nashville pits lead directly into the first roval section of the course, which is made up of two back-to-back hairpin turns and two 90-degree turns. Easy.

The tires are already up to temperature from that long day of laps so I just dive in, braking late and trying to see how close I can get to the limit of grip. Turn two hits, a very even hairpin with great sight lines, and I’m heading for what I hope is the limit. I’m not even close. Street tire compounds are roughly linear, in my experience; a set of Potenza 200 treads have 50% more grip than a set of Kumhos 300 treads, which have 50% more grip than Dunlop 400 treads, and so on. R-Compound tires do not obey the same laws of physics. Hoosiers don’t even seem remotely close to breaking a sweat, even after undergoing a heat cycle all day. I spend the rest of my lap reflecting on the incredible advances in tire technology.

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After my out lap I start to push harder and finally get the front tires to rub with understeer in turn three; Finally, he found the limit. There is absolutely no indication that I have passed the limit until the car is heading straight and my hands are at a 90 degree angle, at least for me. The bucket seat and five-point adjustment keep me firmly in place, and the car is absolutely communicative, but everything happens. so fast that I feel like I have a ten second delay between the physical sensation and the mental processing.

I head into turn four, foot flat on the canvas, trying to look ahead of my line. Keeping your eyes on where you want to go, not where you are, is the most basic performance driving technique. And yet, the Honda has so much grip that I’m going 70 mph in a right turn and feel like my eyeballs can’t saccade fast enough to keep up. Suddenly I’m on the backstretch, put fourth gear at 90 mph and oh hey, turn eight is coming up fast and wow made Does that elevation drop get even more biblical now that I’m driving? But I can tell where the braking zone is from the rubber left on the track, and I saw the Honda pro demo driver handle this before like she was going for a latte. Do it, Tori.

I slam on the brakes at what feels like the last possible moment, my stomach dropping as the ground drops, and I yank the steering wheel to the right. The car slides around the corner with ease. I push him to the curb, more to feel fresh than to maximize my line, but to know Could have gone 15 mph faster.

On my second and final lap, as I transition from turn five to turn six, the rear end comes off as I excitedly flip the wheel from right to left. It’s not enough to put me in danger, but it’s enough to remind me that race cars will kill you if you’re not fluent. “Sorry,” I shout to my co-pilot over the noise of the wrecked cabin; he waves at me to say “go ahead”, and I do.

I’m not trying to go into turn eight 15 mph faster.

The revision

So how was it? Big question. As a woman who likes fast cars, it was one of the best things I’ve ever driven. A Lamborghini wishes it could instill the same adrenaline. I have been daydreaming about the experience continuously since it happened.

As a reviewer? Well, I mean, it’s very fast. For $55,000 if you don’t need a VIN, it looks like an absolutely stolen car; the engine and six-speed transmission are fantastic, the handling is superb, and the roll cage alone would be a $10,000 proposition if you tried to cram one into a street-ready Civic Si. I still can’t tell you if it’s real Quick although, because me i’m still slow, and this car taught me that very vividly. When fear kicks in and your eyeballs can’t keep up with cornering speeds, it’s kind of hard to be a critic.

For what it’s worth, though, I still loved every damn second of it.


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