Not long ago, a comparison between a Honda coupe and a Kia would have been no contest, with Honda the easy victor. Then again, the Honda also wouldn't have actually been competing with Kia, since the Korean automaker is a relative newcomer.
That all changed with the Kia Forte Koup, which debuted for 2010. And like the Forte compact sedan on which it's based, the Koup been giving rivals a run for their money ever since.
Both refreshed this year
For 2014, both the Kia Forte Koup and Honda Civic Coupe have upped their game. The Kia returns with more power, an optional new turbocharged engine, and a spate of interior features that would put some luxury cars to shame. The 2-door Honda Civic comes armed with a new CVT automatic transmission, enhanced technology, and interior and exterior styling tweaks to keep it looking fresh.
Both coupes boast a sportier, more youthful take on their sedan counterparts while still offering good fuel economy, sub-$20,000 starting prices, and the ability (at least in theory) to carry up to 5 passengers. Yet for all their similarities, the 2014 Honda Civic Coupe and 2014 Kia Forte Koup are distinctly different from each other, especially when dressed to the max.
Which is the right model for you?
With top-line versions of a 2014 Kia Forte Koup SX and a 2014 Honda Civic Coupe EX-L Navi in our test garage, the time was ripe for a quick comparison. Here's what we found.
The numbers game
* In terms of power output, the 2014 Kia Forte Koup comes out ahead. With 173 horsepower, even the Kia's base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine has 30 more ponies than that of the Civic's 1.8-liter 4-cylinder. In sportier SX trim, the Koup puts out an even more impressive 201 horsepower. To get that kind of rush from a Civic, you'd have to step up to an Si.
* On fuel efficiency, though, the 2014 Honda Civic coupe is the victor. The 2014 Civic with the standard 1.8-liter and CVT auto transmission earns EPA ratings of 30 city/39 highway mpg. The best the 2014 Forte Koup can muster is 25/34 mpg with its 2.0-liter. The smaller but more powerful turbocharged 1.6-liter used in the Koup SX, meanwhile, drops to 22/30 mpg.
* Price-wise, the 2014 Civic coupe and 2014 Kia Forte Koup start within a few hundred dollars of each other, with the Civic bowing under $19,000 and the Koup a few hundred above that. And don't forget: By using the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price, you can see what others in your area are paying for specific models of each. For the loaded models we tested, the Honda had a price tag just under $25,000, while the Kia came in about a thousand above that. In terms of resale value, the Honda Civic has an edge over the Kia Forte.
Features for the money
Even a base version of either of these cars won't leave you feeling like a pauper. With standard features such as rear-view camera, Bluetooth wireless communication, USB audio input and cruise control, both models come nicely equipped out the gate.
The Honda Civic coupe is notable for its exclusive LaneWatch blind-spot system, standard on EX trims and above. Using a camera mounted underneath the right mirror housing, the system displays a live image on the center screen of what is happing to the right rear of the vehicle. It can be set to display automatically when you engage the turn signal, or can be activated with the touch of a button. We also like the expanded-view left-hand mirror, which gives a wider view to the other side of the vehicle. For 2014, Honda has also revamped its navigation/infotainment system, replacing the dated unit that was surrounded by small buttons with a sleek all-touch model. The new 7-inch display responds quickly to touch, but I wish there were a couple of "hard" buttons or knobs to control common functions such as volume. Thankfully, steering wheel-mounted controls rectify some of this frustration.
For the Kia Forte Koup, in its best-dressed form it easily overtakes the Civic -- and just about every other compact car. In terms of available feature content, Kia continues to pack an impressive array for the price. Among the standouts in our test vehicle:
* Heated and cooled driver's seat/heated front passenger seat
* Dual-zone climate control
* Auto-dimming mirror with HomeLink garage door opener
* Heated steering wheel
* Self-leveling, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights.
* Power-folding outside mirrors.
* And we can't forget Kia's exceptional warranty, which covers 10 years/100,000 miles for powertrain
Different road manners
Back-to-back drives in each of these coupes also tell a different story. Not surprisingly, the 2014 Kia Forte Koup SX is the faster of the two, thanks to its nearly 60 horsepower advantage. Getting onto the freeway one morning, I was surprised when the Kia chirped its tires. Turbo lag is pretty much a non-issue, and the Kia's 6-speed automatic transmission is snappy.
Yet the Honda Civic coupe doesn't feel hampered by its modest power output. The car uses its 143 horsepower well, and in Sport mode feels especially zippy. Most commendable about the Civic, though, is its new continuously variable transmission (CVT). This type of automatic doesn't have traditional gears, but this one is tuned so well that you'll think it did. It's among the best CVTs I've experienced.
Handling or comfort?
Of course, most of driving entails more than just getting up to speed, and here the Civic and Forte coupes are also a breed apart. For better or worse, the Forte Koup suspension -- especially in the sportier SX trim -- feels far stiffer than that of the Civic coupe. This equates to more confidence when flinging the car around corners but less comfort overall, especially when the road turns rough.
The Civic, on the other hand, has a suspension that is more comfortable in everyday driving and markedly better at absorbing potholes and other road imperfections. It may not feel as flingable in corners, but is sure seems more livable on the highway and around town.
Both of these coupes are commendable in their own right, but each is unique unto itself. The bottom line? If you want a sporty coupe that is filled with features, boasts a great warranty and has frisky -- though rather stiff -- driving manners, the Kia Forte Koup checks all those boxes. If you instead put a priority on ride comfort, stellar fuel economy and a rock-solid history of resale value and reliability, the Honda Civic coupe is sure to impress.
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