Just test drove the SI - impressions and comparisons to 5th Gen Prelude

davemarco

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Hi all - long time lurker, first time poster here. I've been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to test drive the 10th Gen SI since it was announced last year, and yesterday, I finally got my chance. I've been rocking a combo of a 2007 Nissan Sentra for daily commuting, and a 2001 Honda Prelude (5th Gen) for weekend fun. My primary goal in test driving to was to compare the SI's performance to my Prelude's for driving fun, and to evaluate it's comfort/convenience against my Sentra's for commuting.

With this in mind, I hopped in the Prelude and took a spirited, 30 minute jaunt over to the Honda dealer to see how the SI stacks up.

Power

As I pulled out of the dealership in Sport Mode, I immediately noticed how much more low and mid range power the 1.5L Turbo in the new SI has. When I'm in my Prelude, I have to accelerate full throttle in first to really pull away from a dead stop with any haste (VTEC doesn't kick in until ~6500 RPM). Not so with the new SI. The car began picking up speed fairly quickly from a dead stop, and once the boost kicked in (~3500 RPM), the car really started to move. It put a huge smile on my face to feel so much power so early in the band. It didn't necessarily push me back in my seat like the 2017 WRX did, but the SI did feel much lighter than that car when accelerating. As someone who enjoys spirited driving on the street, but has no desire to track the car, I felt like the power was "enough".

The one big negative that did bug me a lot was the turbo lag. While cruising along in the SI, I suddenly stomped down on the accelerator. With my Prelude, this would have resulted in a jarring, neck snapping sudden acceleration -- not because of any great power in the Prelude, but because of its instant throttle response. I can rapidly tap the Prelude's gas pedal and be treated to a rapid staccato of tiny accelerations. In the SI, stomping on the accelerator got me zero response -- nothing. As I held the petal down in disbelief, the boost slowly built up over 2-3 seconds, and then the car suddenly and quickly began accelerating forward.

I believe that over in the tuning boards here, this was identified as an artificial boost lag known as Boost Target Dampening -- a system where the turbo artificially spools up at a constant rate until it meets a target pressure set by the throttle position. I never knew how terrible this feeling was. It occurred not just when stomping down while cruising at low RPM's; the same lag was there when suddenly downshifting and attempting to accelerate as well. It was pronounced enough that I could see it becoming a safety issue in certain circumstances. I will say upfront that this is my only major gripe about the car, but it was bad enough to make me second guess my decision to buy. I know that KTuner and Hondata have begun releasing fixes for this, but from what I've read, the general consensus is that these fixes make the car jarring to drive in traffic. I will be eagerly monitoring those threads for updates on this.

Handling and Feel

With its incredibly low stance (even stock), stiff suspension, and hydraulic power steering, I expected the Prelude to win this one handily. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this was not the case. Just to be clear, even in Sport Mode, the electronic power steering in the SI is still far less communicative than the old-school system in the Prelude. What really impressed me about the SI though, was how little body roll there was in tight turns. In the Prelude, I experience a modest amount of roll -- this causes me to generally adhere to the old slow in/fast out philosophy. While in SI's Sport Mode, I decided to throw this caution to the wind. During my test drive, I attacked several blind hairpins at way faster speeds than I should've (per my comfort with my Prelude's suspension). The results were shocking -- the SI refused to roll at all. I began to get more and more aggressive, and it proceeded to cling to every line with a neutral death grip. I never once felt that I was at the limits of grip (likely aided by the summer performance tires as well). I would say that the money that Honda invested in upgrading the suspension really paid off here. I would go so far as to say that this was the most impressive thing about the car for me.

The actual comfort level of the suspension was also surprisingly high. While I'm sure that it comes at a trade-off to road feedback, the ride was way smoother than the Prelude. I would say that it could definitely replace my Sentra as a daily driver, though I do imagine that on some of my short, spirited weekend jaunts, I would miss the exciting feeling that comes from the super stiff, "connected to the road" feeling of the Prelude's suspension. I just won't miss the skull jarring feeling of going over broken pavement and potholes in that car. ;)

The stance of the car is (as expected) somewhat higher than the Prelude. Short of the BRZ/86, I have never driven a car in which you sit as low as you do in the Prelude stock. If I get an SI, I will likely have my eye on those HFP lowering springs that I've been reading about.

With regards to the Si's shifter, I will be blunt -- the shift action is extremely smooth, with no trace of friction or "notchy-ness". That said, I despise the actual shift knob itself. This thing is tiny - and I mean TINY. It's like it was designed by a toddler. Instead of gripping the shifter and energetically ripping shifts like I do in my Prelude, I felt like I had to delicately hold the tiny globe in the SI between three fingers and gently lean it back and forth. Not a fan at all.

I also just want to briefly touch on the clutch. I know that most reviewers mentioned this, but I was still shocked by how light it was. I always felt that my Prelude's clutch had a "medium" level stiffness to it, but that it wasn't particularly stiff. After test driving the SI, shifting while driving home in the Prelude felt like I was performing leg presses in deep quick sand. Personally, I really liked the lighter feel of the SI's clutch, and could see it making it a breeze to drive the car in heavy stop and go traffic.

Fit and Finish

Love it or hate it, we've all been through this by now. The Prelude was nice for its day, but the interior is now extremely dated. The SI's interior is surprisingly nice. I actually find that I really like the tablet-esque touch screen head unit. The red dash is also surprisingly nice. I'm generally a big fan of analog gauges (love the white gauges on the new 2018 WRX), but the electronic dash readout on the SI was surprisingly big and easy to read. It also seems to refresh fairly quickly.

The actual dash materials were much nicer than I had expected. The carbon-fiber trim, which I had expected to look like gaudy, shiny plastic (like on some of the more recent WRX models) was surprisingly muted and nice. It had a decidedly matte appearance, and did not look gaudy at all.

I will say that I am not a fan of the cheap look to the "leather-wrapped" steering wheel. The Prelude, like many late 90's/early 2000's era cars of it's class, came with a very nice, dark leather wrapped steering wheel. By comparison, the leather-wrapped steering wheel on the SI (and some other new cars of it's class) looks more like gray plastic to me.

The "premium" stereo came through loud and clear with no detectable distortion even at high volume. That said, the sound was very flat, with almost no bass whatsoever. It's acceptable enough not to disqualify the car, but I will definitely be looking into upgrades in the future should I get it. For comparison -- the Harmon Kardon system in the Limited WRX, while by no means a powerhouse, sounded much punchier and stronger with both systems set to a neutral EQ.

The seats were a huge high point for me in the SI. I was surprised by how well bolstered they were - very comfortable with great support. That said, I'm 5'5" and ~147 lbs, so I could imagine that a plus-sized individual might have some difficulty fitting comfortably.

Conclusion

Overall, I was very impressed with the car. It checks way more boxes than I thought it would -- particularly in light of its very affordable price tag. I could pay a couple thousand more for a Base WRX, but with none of the technology and creature comforts that I need in a car that doubles as a daily commuter. The price for a comparably specc-ed WRX? ~$31,000 - and that's at invoice pricing!

The power and handling in the SI were very nice - it won't be winning any races against it's closest competitors (WRX, GTI, etc.), but for those out there that prefer to enjoy some spirited weekend driving (dive-bombing some off ramps and powering around some back roads) it won't disappoint.

I would say that if a tuning option is made available that removes that artificial lag in a way that is not too jarring (responsiveness should still be proportionate to the throttle input), then this car will be the perfect little sport coupe for the weekend enthusiast. Until then, I will be patiently waiting for a good deal on a white or black coupe in the Upstate NY area. :thumbsup:





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zx2down

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I really like them, and I'm hoping to find a green coupe, but I'm fully expecting to need a tune to feel like it's at the performance level I'd like.
 

Blacklude4

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. My primary goal in test driving to was to compare the SI's performance to my Prelude's for driving fun, and to evaluate it's comfort/convenience against my Sentra's for commuting.
Thanks for the write up- much appreciated as the SI is in the running to replace my weekend 4th gen prelude.
 

joe007

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Thanks for comparison, I need to test drive one myself to see this artificial boost lag for myself. So if you're cruising around at 2K RPM and then downshift + floor it, the RPMs shoot up but there's no power for a few seconds?
 

erbee

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Turbo lag is dangerous for quick lane change in traffic . So easy to get rear ended.
 

dmitri

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Thanks for comparison, I need to test drive one myself to see this artificial boost lag for myself. So if you're cruising around at 2K RPM and then downshift + floor it, the RPMs shoot up but there's no power for a few seconds?
Yeah it almost feels like there might have been something wrong with that particular car...? So many other reviews say the opposite... o_O
 
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davemarco

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Yeah it almost feels like there might have been something wrong with that particular car...? So many other reviews say the opposite... o_O
I think that this video does a decent job of portraying both the spirited acceleration when boost is built, and what happens when you floor it and you get nothing until boost builds.

 

dmitri

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Huh...! I see. Thank you.

:hmm:

Definitely something to (try and) get used to -- and, see if I can get a feel for how bad the difference (from the TSX) is during my upcoming test drive, which will hopefully happen within the next two weeks. Ability to get an immediate throttle-to-movement translation is definitely one of the biggest attraction points of a manual car; this stuff is making it sound like it feels, at least under these particular conditions, similar to driving an automatic. Which is not a good thing.

So far I'm hoping that the rest of the expected improvements over my current car will outweigh this particular drawback by a large enough margin, so that it doesn't bother me as much and it'll be thus easier to get used to it over time.
 
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davemarco

davemarco

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Thanks for comparison, I need to test drive one myself to see this artificial boost lag for myself. So if you're cruising around at 2K RPM and then downshift + floor it, the RPMs shoot up but there's no power for a few seconds?
I would describe the turbo lag effect as being more like cruising around at 20 mph in 5th gear, and then suddenly flooring it. The pedal is all the way down, but since it's in a gear that's much too high for the speed that you're traveling, you get neither revs nor acceleration. The only difference is that with the turbo lag, since you're not in a gear that's too high, you don't get that vibrational effect that you get when "lugging". You just feel nothing for the first couple of seconds, and then the car begin accelerating faster and faster.
 

coopermidnight

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Damn. Hope I can get a good feel for the lag on the test drive and it doesn't end up being too bad. I love everything about the car for the most part, but this is starting to sound like a significant negative.
 
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davemarco

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Damn. Hope I can get a good feel for the lag on the test drive and it doesn't end up being too bad. I love everything about the car for the most part, but this is starting to sound like a significant negative.
I think that it bothers me more thinking about it now. I recall that during the test drive, I generally had a pretty big smile on my face the whole time. I would say try a few quick downshifts in combo with sudden acceleration on your test drive and see if you ever get this effect. I think that I was cruising in 3rd at around 30 when I tried this -- maybe I needed to treat this more like a VTEC car and downshift to second to quickly build revs? Hopefully I'll be able to find a different dealer to take a second test drive so that I can test this out again.
 
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davemarco

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I thought that's what the guy in the YouTube clip tried...?
You're right, I missed that in his video. I think that the issue is that boost target dampening forces boost to increase at a constant rate, regardless of the throttle position or gear. I believe that @VitViper is the expert in this area, but my understanding is that based on the stock implementation, you'll always have to wait a second or two before it begins to pick up. The real question is, even with dampening on, why isn't there a much more aggressive ramp up in sport mode? Strange that it spools so slowly.
 

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Turbo lag is dangerous for quick lane change in traffic . So easy to get rear ended.
It's no more dangerous than any other 1.5L petro engine. Plus quick lane change is probably more dangerous than slow lane change most of the time anyway.
 

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