CANTIL, CA – With the Civic Type-R debuting in the U.S., it may seem like an opportune time for Honda to cancel the Civic Si.

After all, the Si variant has been seen by some as the equivalent of diet soda for American driving enthusiasts, who have been chomping at the bit to get their hands on the cane-sugar real thing, aka the high-performance Type-R Europeans have enjoyed for years.

But after recent drives at Honda’s newly refurbished California proving grounds here and on the street, the Si remains relevant. And it’s by no means muted or sport lite. And, oh yeah, it is more affordable than the just-released $33,900 306-hp Type R.

While it’s true the new ’17 Si has the same horsepower peak as the outgoing generation, 205, it does come sooner, 5,700 rpm vs. 7,000.

But the real news is increased torque and an earlier peak, fixing an oft-heard complaint of the previous-gen Si: weak midrange torque. The outgoing Si was adept at going screaming down a highway full throttle tickling the redline, but passing a slow-moving vehicle on a surface road? Sometimes labored and usually forcing a downshift.

Truth be told, pulling away from a stop reveals still-not-great low-end torque, but you can’t win ’em all.

The ’17 Si has a peak torque rating of 192 lb.-ft. (260 Nm), up 18 lb.-ft. (24 Nm) from the ’15 Si (the car skipped the ’16 model year). That’s also 25-30 lb.-ft. (34-41 Nm) higher than the peak torque achieved in the non-Si Civic’s upper grades.

And peak torque comes 2,300 rpm sooner in the ’17 model than in the outgoing Si, with the 192 lb.-ft. spread over a healthy stretch of 2,100-5,000 rpm.

All this is made possible via the Civic Si’s new engine, a 1.5L direct-injected and turbocharged 4-cyl., replacing a 2.4L naturally aspirated 4-cyl. in the ’15 Si.

The 1.5T is a boosted version of the mill in the non-Si Civic’s EX-T, EX-L and Touring grades and basically the same as the 1.5T in Honda’s new ’17 CR-V CUV. The CR-V and Si’s 1.5T has a lower compression ratio of 10.3:1 vs. the 10.6:1 in the upper-grade Civics.

This, in combination with Honda’s recommendation for premium unleaded in the Si, helps the sport coupe achieve maximum boost pressure of 20.3 psi, higher than Civic EX-T’s 16.5 psi and the CR-V’s 18.5 psi. Fun fact: The Si and CR-V’s turbine impeller has nine blades compared with 11 in the Civic EX-T.

For a maximum enthusiast experience, Honda mates the 1.5T in the Si solely to a 6-speed manual transmission, not a CVT that can slow response time when you want power.

Throws are predictably short, making gear-rowing fun, not labored.

Not as engaging is the light clutch pedal. It’s not as light as the clutches in manual Corollas or Cruzes, which remind this reviewer of the flapper in the Hungry Hungry Hippos board game, but it’s still feels flimsy.

Helping improve handling is the tenth-generation Civic platform. It’s lower and wider than the ninth-gen Civic’s base, making for excellent road-hugging capability.

Dimensionally the ’17 Si coupe and sedan are closest to the Civic’s EX-T models, although unique front and rear styling adds a half- inch (13 mm) of length.

The Si’s low-profile tires drop its height 0.2 ins. (5 mm) from the EX-T’s, and Honda engineers shaved 0.4 and 0.3 ins. (10 and 8 mm), respectively, off the EX-T’s front and rear tracks for the Si.

The 10th-gen Civic’s body has all the material (590 MPa-strength steel floor pan, 1500 MPa hot-stamped-steel A-pillars) and rigidity specs (25% greater torsional rigidity) you’d expect in a modern automobile.

The Si gets all of that, but Honda further bolsters the Si sedan’s body with greater high-strength steel content than the non-Si Civic 4-door, 64% vs. 59% in the ’16 Civic sedan. Coupe high-strength-steel content remains the same at 63%.

Also present are the same aerodynamic improvements the 10th-gen Civic gets, including a flat underbody. Boosting the Si’s slippery-ness even more are front and rear spoilers, as well as lateral strakes to direct airflow around tires. However, Honda doesn’t release coefficient-of-drag figures to gauge how much slippier this car may be compared with the competitive set.

For the likely to-be-driven-hard Si, Honda chassis engineers firm up the Civic EX-T’s MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspensions and add a 2-mode adaptive-damper system integrated into normal and sport drive modes.

The latter, which solidifies the car’s hydraulic dampers to flatten and stabilize the Si’s body during quick steering maneuvers, also raises the rack-and-pinion EPS system’s feedback.

The Si gets larger front and rear disc brakes than the Civic EX-T and unique 18-in. aluminum alloy wheels and standard 234/40R18 all-season tires.

Compared to non-Si Civics, the front suspension has 7% stiffer spring and stabilizer-bar rates and 18% stiffer upper damper mounts. The rear suspension gets a 32% stiffer spring rate and, most notably, high-stiffness upper control arms and solid front- and rear-compliance bushings shared with the new Type-R.