If the trim levels of the Honda Civic could be compared to early-'00s hip-hop artists, then the legendary Type R would be the chart-topping Ja Rule, while the Si was the up-and-coming Ludacris. If you were, say, a Hollywood casting director looking to fill a starring role in the automotive world's most popular film franchise, Ja Rule was your first call—just like how the JDM EK9 Civic Type R was what we Honda gearheads wanted back then, even if the EM1 Civic Si was what we had.
But times change, and while chart toppers still set the bar and command respect, there have been plenty of times second choices have proven their mettle. Just look at everything enthusiasts have accomplished with the Civic Si, or which aforementioned rapper has gone on to become synonymous with The Fast and the Furious.
Since the inception of the original EK9 in '97, Honda has dangled its supremely powerful, race-bred homologation special in front of U.S. enthusiasts' eyes while denying our access to them. But while they did that, enthusiasts on our shores pushed every imaginable boundary of performance with Si and "lesser"-model Civics, often applying the methods of Type R tuners abroad to their own chassis.
Now that the Civic Type R is finally available in U.S. showrooms (after 10 generations), enthusiasts are getting their shot at the hallowed CTR in all its lightweight, reinforced, 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, turbocharged glory, provided they're willing to shell out for its $34K sticker, wait for dealer availability, or pay insane early release gouged prices. For many enthusiasts, there is a much more practical performance option with some benefits all its own: the 10th-gen Civic Si.
The FK8 Type R is so far only offered as a five-door hatchback, comes equipped with solid six-speed manual, and in our testing can see the quarter-mile in 14.0 seconds at 102.5 mph. The Si, however, is available as either a sedan (FC1) or coupe (FC3), shares its basic sheetmetal with the Type R, can be purchased with the same six-speed, is powered by a turbocharged 1.5L L15B7 engine outputting 205 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque, and in our tests did the quarter in 15.2 seconds at 92.6 mph. Its starting MSRP is a full $10,000 less than the Type R, and you'll have a much easier time of actually finding one. Not a bad starting point, right?
Nick Zambrano thought so, too. He bought this '18 Civic Si last June with the mission to improve its performance to Type R-besting levels for less than its $10K price disparity. Within a week of having purchased his car, Nick added a Hondata FlashPro tuning/datalogging interface and reflashed his factory engine management software with Hondata's off-the-shelf base map. The result? A confident 205 whp and 226 lb-ft of torque at its hubs, at about 17 psi (as measured by Church Automotive Tuning's Dynapak), and consistent 14.6-second quarter-mile e.t.'s. with no other modifications.
After adding just a few basic bolt-ons, switching from gasoline to E85, and re-tuning with Church's Daniel Butler, Nick's mild-mannered 1.5L belted out a whopping 322 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque at 26 psi of boost. And with the switch to low-key M&H slicks on the front wheels, the Si laid down a 12.927-second pass at 104.55 mph—all with zero weight reduction, zero fuel system upgrades, and even while blowing through the factory exhaust. The first to land in the 12s, but there was more ins story.
Just after Nick's Si was shot for this story, it went even faster, clocking a 12.07 @115mph! But it didn't stop there. With the addition of a 27Won drop-in turbo upgrade, a Seibon carbon fiber hood to drop some weight, a new set of Eibach springs and what felt like endless dyno runs by Daniel Butler on the dyno to find the perfect settings for Hondata's FlashPro, this sedan also became the first 10th gen. to eclipse the 11-second barrier with an 11.868 @117mph.
But is that where it ends for the Si's 1.5L engine? Not a chance. The fuel system on Nick's car is just about maxed out, but PRL Motorsports' Pat Linn estimates the L15B7 could hold about 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque on stock internals with appropriate upgrades and tuning. Nick also has the option to either build its internals or swap to any multitude of reasonably priced, larger K-series replacements; however, he's already beat a stock Type R on the dragstrip and has his eyes set on the road course next. After all, the CTR was built for all-around performance, evident in its FWD-record-breaking 7:43.8 lap around Germany's Nurburgring. On Nick's agenda is to cut some weight and challenge a stock Civic Type R on popular road courses in Southern California like Streets of Willow. It's definitely a lofty goal. Some might even call it ludicrous. But to the experienced community of U.S. Civic owners, it will just be business as usual for the Si.