Finally, after about an hour of crawling toward the starting position in the ninety-degree heat, Forst gets his chance in the Civic. He looks pretty smooth and, unlike some of the other drivers, doesn't take out half the cones on his first go-round. His times, though, are a bit slow. Fourteen seconds off the lead in the first run, a few ticks better in the second. Like any good racer, Forst blames the car. "The Civic pushes like a truck," he grouses. And although the Civic comes with a limited-slip differential, not enough of its 197 hp makes it to the pavement, as the inner wheel squeals out of every turn (with the standard all-season Michelin tires, at least). Maybe this is why Mr. Hatr Lover is sticking to the parking lot.
After some more waiting, Forst gets to take a run in the GTI. His times immediately improve by about two seconds. Then four seconds. More telling is the smile on his face when he finds his way over to our spot in the shade. "There's a clear difference in the handling and feel of the car," he says. "You can feel when the back end is rotating and where it is." Clearly, the VW's fat rear antiroll bar and clever use of ABS to control wheel spin exiting corners -- the big advancements on the sixth-gen model -- are paying off.
However, it's not all grim news for the Civic, which, it must be noted, is about $2500 cheaper than our GTI despite coming equipped with a navigation system. For one, it can be the more engaging of the two cars on the street, where its quick steering and howling 2.0-liter squeeze out more adrenaline than the more relaxed GTI and its lower-revving turbo engine. "The Civic is a fun car to drive -- it just wouldn't be the one I'd bring out here," concludes Forst. The Si also showcases Honda's continuing devotion to, and mastery of, the manual gearbox. The VW's six-speed manual, by comparison, feels a bit rubbery and gives Forst considerable trouble on one run.
At the end of the day, though, the Civic's charm simply cannot overcome the German hatch's unyielding superiority. There's little doubt, in Forst's mind or ours, that the GTI is the better choice for the up-and-coming twenty-year-old, both as comfortable, upscale transportation to work during the week and as a cone-slicing weapon on the weekends.