Automotive enthusiasts who grew up in the 80s and 90s might remember a certain motoring phenomenon that got everyone talking at the time – the Honda Civic SiR. Offered at a considerably more expensive price than other compact sedans in the market, the Civic SiR and its beefy 1.6-liter engine with 160 hp and 111 lb-ft of torque quickly garnered a cult-like following, proving that the market for high-performance sedans existed. Niche, maybe, but it was there. You’ll still hear whispers of the Honda Civic SiR in motoring circles once in a while nowadays, reinforcing its legacy as a local automotive legend.
After decades of not having a legitimate affordable performance version of a compact sedan locally, Honda decided to answer the prayers of Honda fanatics all over the country by releasing the Honda Civic RS Turbo, a 1.5-liter turbocharged variant to the standard 1.8-liter naturally aspirated engine Honda Civic that we’ve had for years. It was welcomed. It was applauded. It sold pretty well. And the fanboys lived happily ever after, secure with their 7-second 0-100 km/h machine.
That is, until Kia entered the picture, now under the leadership of Ayala’s AC Automotive. It’s safe to say that the Kia Forte remained under the radar for quite some time, overshadowed by its contemporaries the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, and of course, the Honda Civic. As a result, not a lot of people even know that a high-performance variant exists. And it’s time that changed, because the Kia Forte GT is an absolute force to be reckoned with.
Comparing the two seems inevitable. Both are high-performance compact sedans that breach the 150hp mark, and both are priced similarly, with the Kia Forte GT at PhP 1,650,000 and the Honda Civic RS Turbo at PhP 1,608,000. So how do they compare? Let’s start from the outside.
Right from the get-go, these similarly positioned cars reveal very different exterior styling philosophies. The Honda Civic RS Turbo evokes images of the future, with angular lines and a space-age treatment on small details like on the head and tail lights. Large 18-inch wheels accentuate its almost mecha anime-inspired looks even further, and an aggressive front end seals the deal. The Kia Forte GT, on the other hand, is a picture of subtlety. In fact, if not for the small sporty touches like red accents on the front grille and rear bumper, or black detailing on the small ducktail spoiler, you’d never think that the Kia Forte GT held unseen performance promises beneath its conservative exterior. As if driving the point even further home, the Kia Forte GT’s 17-inch alloys are also more subdued than the Civic’s larger wheels. Where the Honda Civic RS Turbo is the “flashier” of the two, the Kia Forte GT is for those who don’t need to show others what their car can do – they just know. And that’s enough. Different strokes for different folks!
The styling philosophies of each respective car extends to the interior as well. The Honda Civic’s cockpit feels like, well, an actual cockpit. With its low-slung seating position, fully digital instrument cluster, generous use of brushed aluminum, high gear shifter, and bright red push button start/stop, the Civic RS Turbo’s interior makes you feel like contacting Houston of liftoff clearance before launch. Oh, and Honda won’t let you forget about its “sporty” sensibilities either, with red stitching to be found on the seats, gear selector, and steering wheel. Likewise, even brighter red stitching is to be found on the Kia Forte GT in exactly the same places, which are the only places it allows itself to be loud. Everything else is standard compact sedan fair, executed with top-notch quality. No gimmicks here, and the flat bottom steering wheel is an additional nice touch. The Kia Forte GT’s instrument cluster is traditionally analog, and its infotainment system uses slightly more refined software, but there are similarities as well. Both feature chrome pedals, tactile knobs for air-conditioning and volume, and both blast tunes from six speakers. Again, it’s purely a matter of taste, as each interior is excellently executed, with premium materials and top-notch build quality.
Convenience and safety features-wise, both are extremely similar, with differences to be found only when you start digging deeper. Both feature 6 airbags, ABS, traction control, hill start assist, and tilt/telescopic steering wheel adjustments. When nitpicking, the Honda Civic RS Turbo comes out ahead with LED foglamps, and 3-point seatbelts for all passengers at the rear, as opposed to the Kia Forte GT using a lap belt for the middle passenger. The Kia Forte GT does make up for it with front and rear parking sensors, 8-way power adjustable seats for the driver (the Civic has 6-way power seats), and 2-way adjustable power seats for the passenger (the Civic uses manual adjustment). Lastly, the Kia Forte GT has rear vents for climate control.
Now with all that out of the way, we’re down to the part that everyone will want to know about: how do they drive? Let’s start with their specifications on paper. The Honda Civic RS Turbo is powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 173 bhp and 162 lb-ft of torque mated to a continuously variable transmission. The Kia Forte GT is powered by a slightly larger 1.6-liter turbocharged engine producing 201 bhp and 195 lb-ft of torque mated to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. We managed to achieve 7.5 seconds on a 0-100 run with the Honda Civic RS Turbo, and 6.8 seconds for the Kia Forte GT. Otherwise, they’re similarly specced mechanically. While considered to be a spiritual successor to the Honda Civic SiR, the Honda Civic RS Turbo offers a more supple and refined ride of the two, more geared towards comfort. Despite the “un-sporty” CVT, the Honda Civic RS Turbo provides some ample pull when floored, while at the same time offering smooth and responsive acceleration when gently prodded. The Kia Forte GT, while far from offering an unrefined drive from the two, is easily more eager to please when pushed to the limit. Its sport-tuned exhaust is absolutely wonderful to experience each time you give the gas a little bit more go than you should. We’ve had some issues with dual clutch transmissions in the past, but the one that comes with the Kia Forte GT is one of the nicest and smooth shifting examples we’ve encountered. The Kia Forte GT’s suspension is also more firmly set up, meaning its ride won’t be as bump-free as the Civic’s, though will respond more eagerly to tight turns around corners at speed. In the end, it boils down once again to personal preference. While these two cars may seem similar on paper and execution, real-world drives result in stark contrasts. Those of you looking to make a handsome statement, with the grunt, comfort and polish to back it up, the Civic RS Turbo is the one for you. The Kia Forte GT on the other hand, belies its conservative exterior styling and reveals an incredibly raw and rewarding drive, with an equally rewarding exhaust note. If you’re looking for a sleeper car, this is the closest you’ll get to one in stock form.
Specification – 2020 Kia Forte GT
Engine: Inline-4, 1591 cc, dohc 16V, Direct Injection Intercooled
Turbo, 7-speed DCT
Max power: 201 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Max torque: 195 lb-ft @ 1500-4500 rpm
0-100 km/h (0-62mph): 6.8 sec.
Top Speed: 232 km/h
Fuel Mileage: 9 km/L Overall
Price as tested: PhP 1,650,000.00
C! RATING 9.5/10
+Nimble handling, strong dynamic performance, splendid exhaust note.
-Wish it had 18-inch alloys to match.
Specification – 2020 Honda Civic RS Turbo
Engine: Inline-4, 1498 cc, dohc 16V, Direct Injection Intercooled Turbo, CVT
Max power: 173 bhp @ 5500 rpm
Max torque: 162 lb-ft @ 1700-5000 rpm
0-100 km/h (0-62mph): 7.5 sec.
Top Speed: 220 km/h
Fuel Mileage: 8.3 km/L Overall
Price as tested: PhP 1,608,000
C! RATING 9.0/10
+Ensconced cockpit, styling hasn’t aged since launch, surprisingly comfortable despite its performance-oriented characteristics
-Can’t help but feel that the CVT is holding it back from its true potential, infotainment system is clunky