Despite the "T" badge on the Genesis' trunk, the 2.0-liter engine in the Hyundai doesn't drip with the muscle you think of when you hear the word "turbo." The turbocharger is relatively slow to call up boost and begins to choke well before redline is reached. The result is a limited rev range, and the Hyundai engine feels quite coarse as the rpms rise. It's much happier loafing around town at low revs and part-throttle.
In contrast, the naturally aspirated Honda spins eagerly all the way to its 8000-rpm redline. The i-VTEC 2.0-liter produces 13 hp and a considerable 84 lb-ft less than the Hyundai's turbocharged mill, but that doesn't make the Civic a slouch. In fact, once you're moving, the Honda feels substantially quicker. The data seems to bear this out. Though we were unable to get back-to-back acceleration figures on these cars, our past testing indicates the Civic is faster in all respects, both launching to 60 mph and clearing the quarter mile 0.3 seconds faster than the Genesis. Behind the wheel, we fell in love with the Civic's responsiveness -- and superb acoustics -- at the top end of the tach. The Civic's six-speed shifter is also smooth and quick in contrast to a notchy and removed Hyundai stick.
With rear-wheel drive, the Genesis holds a natural advantage in the handling department. However, the Civic Si proves to be more enjoyable to drive. This Honda is perhaps one of the best handling front-wheel-drive cars, aided by crisp, precise steering. The suspension is firm without being uncomfortable, turn-in is instantaneous, and turning the wheel inspires confidence. On poorly paved public roads, the Hyundai's track pack suspension proves simply too harsh to be enjoyable. If it were our choice, we'd save the money and pass on the track package for a more livable ride. Steering in the Genesis also disappoints, feeling more like a sporty family sedan than a true performance car.
Had we taken these cars to a track, it's possible the Genesis' rear-wheel drive, power advantage, and hyper-stiff suspension may have proven their worth. But these small performance cars aren't about weekend racing, they're about meshing performance with practicality. Despite packing front-wheel drive and a low-torque engine, Honda's Civic Si remains one of the best budget performance cars. The Civic Si possesses a rare character that's happy to run at the limit for lengthy periods, but doesn't make any concessions to the plebian Civic it's based on. It's a car that's a blast to flog on any road, and yet it still maintains civil manners for daily driving.