Our long-term Honda Civic is getting much more use this summer as competitors flow into our test fleet. While a few may have grumbled about us pitting the redesigned 2013 Civic against the outgoing and outdated 2013 Toyota Corolla, they shouldn't have much to complain about with us pitting it against the even more thoroughly overhauled 2014 Kia Forte.
However, there was a bit of a disparity this time around too. Our Forte test car was a fully loaded EX trim with a 173-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The base Forte comes with a 148-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder that is more comparable to the Civic's 140-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder, the car's only engine apart from the hybrid and Si versions.
If the engine wasn't a big enough difference, the nearly $6,000 bump in the Forte's MSRP and all the associated goodies arguably didn't make for a fair fight. Would the results of driving the two be as one-sided as the numbers implied? Editors David Thomas and Joe Wiesenfelder took the two on a loop of city, suburban and highway driving to find out.
Interior quality: Forte
David Thomas: Going from the top-end Forte EX to the base Civic LX was pretty shocking in terms of everything the Forte was sporting, including the nice leather seats and gadgets. But the Civic didn't feel cheap in comparison. I liked the sporty cockpit design of the Forte too.
Joe Wiesenfelder: I'm favoring the Forte. The 2013 Civic's interior is definitely improved over the 2012, and it's elevated overall by the bright displays, but the Forte's interior quality is evenly high in all directions. I compensated for the additional features; we've seen more modest versions of the Forte, too, and it's damn nice.
JW: Forte has this one in the bag. Between the stout engine and six-speed automatic, it has acceleration to spare, and the transmission is nice and responsive.
DT: There were only a few times I thought the Forte actually "blew away" the Civic, but it was clearly faster in most situations.
DT: The Forte didn't wow me in the braking department, but it is nearly impossible for me to say the Civic was significantly superior. This is a hard one to call.
JW: Though this is a clear improvement over the previous-generation Forte, I agree the matchup here is pretty close. The only difference I felt was under heavy braking where the Forte retained better pedal feel and linearity than the Civic, possibly because of our Civic's rear drum brakes. A Civic EX might fare better with its four-wheel discs, which are standard on the Forte.
JW: This is another example of vast improvement over the Forte's previous generation, but it's not quite enough to overtake the Civic. Its road holding and controllability are good, but more refinement is needed, and its steering doesn't compare to the Civic's. The user-selectable power assist is cute, but it doesn't translate to the Civic's spot-on assist and feedback at virtually any speed.
DT: I was utterly confounded by the Forte's selectable steering modes. The most confidence-inspiring in tight turns was the Comfort setting, while Sport didn't add anything to the handling dynamics. Overall, the poor steering feedback on any of the settings had me choosing the more predictable Civic.
DT: One thing I noticed immediately in the Forte was just how quiet the cabin was. The door shut with a nice thud that felt more solid than the respectably solid thunk of the Civic. On the road the Civic — even though quieter than the 2012 — let a lot more noise seep in, especially at higher speeds.
JW: Forte has this one. Even though its engine is a little raspy at high revs, it seldom intrudes — sort of the opposite of the smooth-revving but audible Civic. I noticed the tires singing pretty loudly, but it was only on certain surfaces and was probably more noticeable because the noise signature was inoffensive overall.
JW: The Civic's ride quality is emerging as its leading downside. Even the Corolla felt more comfortable! The suspension is expertly designed and capable, but its firmness wears on me — and this is with our car's 15-inch wheels and tall sidewalls. I found the Forte more livable, even with its 17-inch wheels.
DT: I drove my parents in the Forte the following weekend, and they were impressed that a compact Kia had such a smooth ride. Compared to the Civic there was no question it won out.
Whether you look at EPA ratings or the trip computers from our route, the Civic bests this higher-powered Forte significantly. The Civic is rated at 28/39/32 mpg city/highway/combined while the 2.0 Forte is rated 24/36/28 mpg. The less powerful Forte is only marginally better at 25/36/29 mpg.
During our drive, the Civic's trip computer read 35.5 mpg while the Forte displayed 32.6 mpg. The difference is smaller than the EPA suggests. Combined EPA mileage is 14% better for the Civic, and in our driving we saw only 9% better. But since both were showing returns between combined and highway ratings — which are closer to 8% better for the Civic — the results seem quite accurate.
*We filled up both cars at the same gas station at the same time and reset trip computers before this test. Weather was mild.
JW: This is a highly subjective aspect. For me, the Forte was more comfortable. More than anything, it's about the Civic's lumbar support: There's too much, and you can't back it off.
DT: If they were base model to base model it might be a hard choice, but if we're comparing the cars as-tested, the heated and cooled driver's seat in the Forte has to win out even if comfort wasn't its strong suit.
DT: Here's where $6,000 in extras pay off. The Forte had a full navigation system with large digital screen, voice-activated music search and an upgraded stereo. I didn't find the sound quality that terrific though, but it is still a step over the Civic's four-speaker set-up.
JW: This is the unfair part of the fight. Of course the Forte was better. As for the stereo, I'd have to test a base Forte to know for sure, but it's hard to imagine it's as bad as the Civic's. ...
The Forte wins seven out of the nine categories with its upgraded engine and features to go along with a higher price tag. Although we're thinking with a 30% edge in price the Forte should easily win.