Mountain Wheels: High-drama, low-cost Honda Civic Si and Toyota GR86 dial up the fun factor |

Mountain Wheels: High-drama, low-cost Honda Civic Si and Toyota GR86 dial up the fun factor

What Honda Civic Si drivers (and their parents) see when they are out on the road. Luckily, the real-life Civic Si experience is only like this 97% of the time.
Courtesy photo

The easiest way to guarantee the first burst of a season’s worth of deep powder is to talk about sports cars with almost no winter utility in Summit County. So, let’s do this.

In more summery days, I had chances to drive two of the young people’s low-cost lifestyle favorites, the 2022 Honda Civic Si, priced at $28,710, and a 2022 Toyota GR86, priced at $32,658.

Of the pair, I’d give the front-wheel drive Honda the best chance of surviving more than five minutes in the winter, with snow tires and some extremely cautious driving swapped in for the Si’s typical adolescent bravado. The rear-wheel drive Toyota, the new name for the former Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ two-door sports car, I would not really recommend in any part of the country with snow for any time of the year.

As you might remember, I had just that experience in the Toyota’s equally updated Subaru cousin earlier this year, with one fun-filled and higher-power outing bookended by six days of snow storm garage time.

Such is the case with an admittedly action-packed, utterly back-killing, largely track-oriented machine that is now part of Toyota’s GR racing brand, including the much faster, BMW-coproduced Supra and a new, racier version of the Corolla.

The 86 is now the entry-level model, as even the GR Corolla gets a WRX-taunting 300 horsepower, and 86 is a more leisurely 228 horsepower, from a larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder.

It remains a vehicle with a very, very, specialized audience and application, though I must say that an evening I spent running every single ounce of energy it produced on a deserted Conifer-area country road suggested the appeal is very real.

Like the new Nissan Z none of us have ever seen in real life, so far (I’m still waiting), the 86 is most raw with its six-speed manual transmission yet faster overall with a six-speed automatic.

If you’re in the mood for a modernized experience of a Datsun 240Z with the added utility of a very-hard-to-reach rear seat — or maybe just a larger cargo area with those seats dropped — this would be it.

Neither it or the BRZ were intensely redesigned in their new generation, but the extra power is tangible, and if you opt for the seemingly obligatory “Track bRed” color — yep, that’s what it’s called — the whale-tail spoiler, the black wheels and the super-bright LED headlamps all make it a sharp ride.

There is, however, absolutely no pleasant way to get in or out of the car. Mercifully soft-sided Ultrasuede sport seats grab you handily, but the combination of steering wheel, painful console box and cursing left me unsure of the 86’s reach to all but seasoned race drivers.

Meanwhile, the even more lite racer-boy experience of the newer Civic Si struck me as a little more practical. And all of the joy of driving that’s missing from modern ultra-lummox SUVs is expressed here on every outing, with 200 horsepower from a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine, plus of course a six-speed manual.

As a hooning, hill-climbing, corner-sucking, face-ripping, Canadian-made car with an American motor and a transmission from India (who knew?), it’s a perfect platform for that totally responsible 22-year-old driver in your family.

You get blessedly substantial passenger and trunk space, and of course the advantages of Honda’s reliability and its stylish hyper-simplicity. The drive mode button, for instance, is literally the only function element to the entire car that is not wheels, pedals or a tallish aluminum shifter.

You get the feedback of rev-matching and the joy of impressively well-tuned steering and suspension, plus grabby brakes. Unlike that SUV in your driveway, it sticks to corners like glue and you can make the most of the full 200 horsepower, at all times.

As a very small car surrounded by those SUVs and their angry and distracted drivers, not to mention the Subaru cultists who instantly spot the Si’s trunk lid splitter, twin pipes and blacked out grille and mirrors, you’re going to be in trouble, a lot.

Will the unbelievably brutal ride — sporty to a fault — discourage normal drivers, plus the low entry height and the quite robustly bolstered seat edges? Well, yes. It’s also remarkably light on other 2022-era automotive amenities, though the Marshall amplifier-styled setup of pointable air vents is cool. I got 40 MPG all the time, driving like a dummy; the radar-powered front crash warning “brake now” display was almost always on, so I figure I was driving it as designed. If that’s not your bag, the new Civic Type R is on its way. Be very afraid, either way.  

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