Review and photos by Dan Heyman and Brendan McAleer
Take it away, Brendan:
All right everybody, let’s hop in the short-range time machine just to see how ridiculous this comparison would have been fifteen years ago. In one corner we have the Civic SiR, a high-revving, lightweight, low-slung rocket with double-wishbone suspension and a slick gearbox. In the other corner, we’ve got the Kia Sephia. Oh dear. Oh deary me, indeed. Performance? Ride quality? Style? Fit and finish? Don’t ask – that’s not my Forte.
And then we jump ahead six Fast & Furious movies (the preferred unit of time in sport compact circles) and find ourselves with an all new playing field and these two hot little numbers. The Civic has grown, and not necessarily for the better; it certainly took a bit of a kicking after the last redesign for a slightly dumbed-down feeling and a loss of fun-to-drive factor.
Meanwhile, the little Kia is all matured and just home from majoring in German studies. It’s better-looking than it’s ever been, and there’s a new 1.6L turbocharged powerplant under the hood kicking out 201 hp at 6,000 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque from 1,750 rpm. Hang on a second – the Honda’s 2.4L only makes 205 hp at 7,000 rpm and 174 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Folks, we’ve got a race here.
So what’ll it be: will the Honda shoot past when VTEC kicks in, yo? Or has the upstart Kia learned enough Teutonic polish to be able to have the Honda fans clutching their naturally aspirated hearts and whispering sadly, “Danger, danger to manifold!”
Hitting a few deserted back roads on a soaking wet West Coast day, we headed out to see what’s what in the sporty two-door segment these days. A coup for the Kia, or is the Si still king of the import coupes?
“German studies”. Yep. I like that. After all, Kia has a German at the design helm in Peter Schreyer, the man who helped pen the Audi TT, the original Soul and is credited with coming up with the distinctive “Tiger Nose” front end treatment found on everything from the K900 full-size sedan to the Forte you see here.
Trouble is, I’m not so sure it serves this particular Kia all that well. Reduced to provide a cleaner look to the front end – perhaps lowering the drag a little, as well – it looks a little pencil-thin pinched, as if the translation from scale model to finished piece missed a beat somewhere.
It gets completely dwarfed by the gaping lower grille (that’s an SX-specific touch) which does a rather nice job of emulating the Audi design ethos that permeates throughout.
2014 Honda Civic Si vs Kia Forte Koup. Click image to enlarge
Get past that upper grille, however, and the Koup remains a distinctive shape (even if there’s just a little Scion tC in the roofline); the lower creases on the doors are a particularly nice touch and the jeweled foglights do a nice job of lowering the profile, making the Koup appear to hug the tarmac all that much more.
If the Kia specializes in its Germanic undertones and clean, crisp lines, then the Civic Si is decidedly from the Fast & Furious school of design. It’s complex, it’s detailed, it’s brash and it’s just a little confused from time to time.
Take the front fascia, for example. You’ve got chrome, you’ve got black honeycomb and you’ve got body-coloured inserts. And of course, that ever-so-popular “Si” badge glowing proudly from its spot, nestled comfortably at the corner of the headlight. There is so much going on here that it’s almost impossible to keep track of all the cuts, swathes and angles you’re being faced with. What a departure from the oh-so-basic front end of that classic SiR breadbox from 10 years ago.