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Motoring: Testing out some souped-up coupes

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | August 27th, 2012

Entry-level sporty coupes are very important for manufacturers because they attract younger buyers. The manufacturer hopes that this will get the customer hooked onto their products, which will result in more sales down the road.

The most popular entry-level coupe for the longest time has been the Honda Civic coupe, but in recent years it has lost some of its customers to the Kia Forte Koup.

So which is best?

To find out, I spent a few days with the top-of-the-line version of each one. Yes, the most expensive version of the cheapest coupes might sound like an oxymoron, but read on, this will be insightful.

I got to play with the Honda Civic Si HFP and Kia Forte Koup SX. Both cars have 2.4-litre, fourcylinder engines, both sent power to the front wheels, and both had six-speed manual gearboxes. However, while the Civic Si is only available with the manual gearbox, the Koup can be purchased with an optional six-speed automatic. If you can't drive stick, you will automatically cross the top version of the Civic off your list — Kia has the advantage here.

However, while the 2.4-litre motor in the Koup produces 173 hp, the same displacement motor in the Si HFP produces 201 hp — Honda's got the advantage here. The Honda has a torque advantage also, as it produces 170 lb/ft of it, compared to the Kia's 168 lb/ft.

Not only does the Si HFP seem faster on paper, but on the road it translates that into actual speed. While the Koup SX is no slouch and felt potent through most road scenarios, the Si HFP just felt a lot quicker and aggressive, plus it sounded a lot better, especially when its VTEC (variable valve timing system) motor is fully wound up. You can have a lot of fun with both these cars, but more so in the Si HFP.

It's the same story on twisty roads; both handle well, but the Si HFP just felt more planted and secure through faster sweeping corners. The reason for it is in the last three letters of its name: HFP, which stands for Honda Factory Performance. This is the new inhouse tuning arm of Honda, where they take their current production cars and tweak them to make them perform a little bit better. The first time an HFP badge found its way on a car was last year with the Accord coupe, and now the younger sibling gets it too.

What HFP adds to the regular Civic Si is 18-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Pilot Super Sport performance tires; a beefed-up suspension package; underbody spoilers for the front, side and rear; some HFP badging on the exterior; and HFP floor mats on the inside. All this adds up to make the Si stand out from the crowd.

Kia offers similar enhancements for the Koup, but they have to be purchased separately. Honda allows you to walk into a showroom and buy the done-up car right off the showroom floor. Another advantage for Honda.

As for which looks best, you have to decide that on your own. I think they both look good, though the Koup's interior was slightly nicer. Space-wise, the cars feel pretty much the same.

My biggest complaint about the Civic is that its quality of plastics looks and feels cheaper, and Honda continues to step up in that area.

My biggest complaint about the Koup was with its hydraulic clutch. It lacks feel and is thus very easy to stall this car. I managed to stall it four times in five days, which is especially bad since I hadn't stalled a car in years. The Koup takes a bit more getting used to.

Now we come to the price. The Koup SX with the Luxury package and six-speed manual is yours from $24,695. The Civic Si HFP starts at $28,690. The Kia is cheaper, but when you go to their parts department to add spoilers and beefier springs, both cars end up costing the same.

These cars are so equal, I even averaged the same fuel-economy numbers: 8.5 liters/100km on city and highway driving mix.

To be honest, I liked both cars and if I had to live with one for the rest of the year, I'd be fine with either car.

If I were spending my own money, I'd let you guess which one I'd pick.
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