[cars name="Hyundai"] thinks it has a new value-champ among hot imports with its new Genesis Coupe 2.0T. It’s hard to argue with 210 hp, rear-wheel drive, and sexy styling for only $22,750. But the Genesis isn’t sold in a vacuum, so we needed to see how it stacked up against some serious competition.
As it turns out, we had another vehicle in our possession that matched the Hyundai’s cheap-and-fast qualifications -a 2010 Si. Of course, with front-wheel drive, a small naturally aspirated engine, and practically invisible styling, it would be little more than a punching bag for the Hyundai, right?
Well, hold on a second. Long-in-the-tooth and lacking in glitz though it may be, the Civic Si remains an icon of the sport-compact world, and commands a huge following. And at a mere $22,765 starting price, it has essentially the same price as the Genesis. Plus, it remains a blast to drive. With all that in mind, we set out to determine which of these cars best satisfies the import performance car buyer on a budget.
If you want a car that grabs attention, then stop reading right now and go buy the Hyundai. As we noted in our initial review, the Genesis offers style comparable to a $40,000 Infiniti G37. The flared fenders, dual exhaust, and 19-inch rims (18-inch wheels are standard) all indicate that this is a fast, rear-wheel-drive machine with sporting intentions. No doubt about it: this is the highest-style Hyundai to date.
The Civic, on the other hand, is a Civic. You probably saw (and didn’t notice) six of them on your commute to work this morning. Even our test car’s bright red paint and plus-size spoiler couldn’t overcome the sheer ubiquity of the design. Some of us actually prefer this subtlety, especially when we’re driving in a way that might interest local law enforcement. However, we can’t imagine many typical import buyers (young, male, desperately wanting attention) choosing restrained and quiet over voluptuous and expensive-looking.
When choosing between the Genesis and Civic interior, one has a choice of either form or function. The Genesis, like its sedan cousin, features very handsome, upscale interior design. The attractive center console, contoured bucket seats with red inserts, and aluminum pedals show little relation to Hyundai’s more utilitarian offerings. Our up-level Track model also came with goodies such as Bluetooth and keyless ignition. While everything looked good, we were less impressed with the way it all felt. The dash, armrests, and even the leather-wrapped steering wheel all felt rock hard.
Drivers were more split on the Civic’s interior aesthetics. Some love the futuristic gauges and dash. Others found it tacky and cheap, an impression furthered by its similarity to the cabin in our Four Seasons . And yet, we preferred it to the Genesis’ cabin for its excellent — and classically Honda — functionality. Though most surfaces are hard and plastic, everything the driver normally touches, especially the small-radius steering wheel, is wrapped in leather or soft cloth. The digital gauges are easy to read, and the low dash and expansive windshield provide excellent forward visibility. We also loved the snug, amply bolstered seats. Our only complaint was with the outdated optional navigation system, and the slow radio controls that come with it.
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.
Honda Civic Si
Base price: $22,765
Price as-tested: $24,815
Engine: 2.0L I-4, 197 hp, 139 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Base price: $22,000
Price as-tested: $27,625
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged I-4, 210 hp, 223 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Honda Civic Si
0-60 mph: 6.7 seconds
0-100 mph: 16.8 seconds
1/4 mile: 15.2 seconds @ 95 mph
Hyundai Genesis 2.0T
0-60 mph: 7.0 seconds
0-100 mph: 17.7 seconds
1/4 mile: 15.4 seconds @ 93 mph
* Test numbers from previous Automobile Magazine tests.