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Executive Wheels: Great Stuff in the Mid-Range

ColoradoBiz Car Review of: 2017 Kia Forte SX; 2018 Hyundai Sonata Sport; 2017 Honda Civic SI HTP


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I put these three vehicles together because, basically, they are very similar: Priced about the same, targeted to pretty much the same demographic (smaller regular cars), felt very alike behind the wheel, and are relatively close on fuel efficiency.

THE HONDA CIVIC SI

The very first impression I had of this car was not good, but that was only because of the color, which Honda calls Energy Green Pearl, but what looked exactly like that creamsicle on the ice cream man’s cart that only the nerdiest kid you knew would ever order. Maybe that kid grew up to buy a car of this color, but I doubt it. Bright, bright creamy green that I thought all week would just melt and drip all over the street. Other than that, I liked this car, except for the fact that it is a coupe and I don’t like two-door cars.

Equipped with a 1.5-liter, turbo-charged four banger putting out some 205 horsepower, this car is very fast if you want it to be, and it handles well to go along with that speed – the 6-speed manual transmission is smooth and responsive, with a great feel clutch, and it’s just fun to drive. And surprisingly, you get this performance in a car rated by the EPA at 28 mpg city/38 mpg highway/32 mpg combined, which is astounding with this performance.

The only negative to all this was the model I drove had a note on its sticker that the “unique high-performance tires on this vehicle are not designed for winter driving,” and these “tires on this vehicle will wear more rapidly than normal passenger car tires.” The snow I encountered gave me little confidence.

The Honda Civic SI is a small car, but sporty inside and out, and very, very quick. There were a few things I didn’t like: First, the cup holders are like caverns, and just getting your drink out of there is a chore; second, the trunk is very small, so be warned; the back seat is small, almost an afterthought; and the spoiler on the trunk lid – I guess they have to put one on a sporty car even if it is just for show – did little more than spoil the rear view. The best thing: when you turn on the right turn signal a camera displays a rear view of the right lane in the mirror.

This is the sporty Civic model from Honda, and it has all of the necessary high-tech bells and whistles, of course, for communications, entertainment and safety. The base price – and this is relatively loaded – is $24,100, and all they added was a $875 destination charge, for a bottom line of $24,975. But then, you’d need winter tires. Pretty fun car – but get a different color.

RATING: THREE AND THREE-QUARTERS WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR).


HYUNDAI SONATA SPORT 2.0T

I’ve always liked Hyundai, not the least because when they came to America in the very late 1980s they made claims they couldn’t uphold (“As good as a Honda, for less!”), retreated briefly to actually follow through on their promises, then added that 10-year warranty (limited to drivetrain) to sweeten the deal. The warranty remains. Over the years Hyundai bailed out, by buying, its Korean competitor Kia, and Kia has taken off as a great brand – sometimes to the detriment of Hyundai itself. This Sonata redeems Hyundai. It is just about the most thoughtful, well-built, well-executed midsized sedan on the market today, on a par with Toyota or Honda but for a better price and better warranty.

Imagine that.

The Sonata was the first Hyundai success in America, coming to these shores with the 1989 model and now, through seven generations, taking its place among the most venerable vehicles on the road. This 7th generation launched with the 2015 model year, but Hyundai has, for 2018, refreshed it with a bolder look and other enhancements that are just downright great. Since it is made in the USA, in Montgomery, Ala., we can take extra solace that it is an American car, providing American jobs.

I use engines as the basis for how many trims there on a vehicle, so there are essentially three here: the base model, the SE, starting at $22,050, features a 2.4-liter four-banger putting out some 185 horsepower; then they go to a Sport package with the first of two turbos, the lower one a 178-hp 2.0-liter, then this one which is a 245 hp 2.0-liter turbo, with a base price of $27,600. If you go all the way to the high-end Limited – where they pack in the leather and extras, the engine is the same and the base price is $32,450. With sales since the overall industry slump in 2009 topping out in the USA of over 200k units a year, Sonata sunk last year to just 141,803 U.S. units, which is surprising, and it explains the 2018 “freshening.” If you’re in the market for a mid-sized sedan, put this one on the test-drive list; I’m fairly confident that more than half out of ten who test drive the Sonata vs. Nissan, Honda and Toyota will choose the Sonata.

The Sonata I drove was pretty well loaded – I wrote in my notes it’s “a luxury car for under $30k” – with all of the safety, entertainment and communications technology even a millennial would crave. But what’s better is that all of this stuff – plus the usual climate and radio controls – is very easy to use, not distractive to driving, and so intuitive that anyone could find what they want in a heartbeat. My note to myself said “Everything in its place, and a place for everything.” I can harp enough – everything, and I mean every luxury item you could imagine, is here, easy to use, and a pleasure. This is one fine car.

It is also very quick, handles magnificently, and is quite fuel efficient – 23 mpg city/32 mpg highway/26 combined – and has a large trunk. The base price, as I said, is $27,600, and all they added on is $125 for floor mats and a destination charge for a bottom line of $28,810. This is a smart, attractive, well-built, fun car and I recommend it highly.

RATING 4 WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)


2017 KIA FORTE SX 5 DR

Kia, in the Hyundai family of Korean cars, rarely disappoints, and here is no exception. Great car. Maybe the most fun car to drive in this class. Kia makes way too many models and trims, and with the Forte it borders on the absurd. There’s the Forte line, of compact sedans, and then this Forte5 hatchback offerings, and they feature them on their website in separate ”vehicle” areas, I suppose just to make the offerings seem like more than there is. Regardless, the Forte is an able compact, with nice features. I’m not too big a fan of hatchbacks, because I like a trunk unless it’s a SUV, but this Forte5 SX, top-of-the-line, is very fun to drive. I drove it all over town, and on the highway, and found it zippy, easy to maneuver (the handling is sports-car like), very easy to park, and just about the greatest commuter car I could think of. The one they sent me featured a 1.6-liter turbo 4, putting out some 201 hp, and it is very quick, the clutch is smooth, and the 6-speed manual extremely easy to use. For the record, this powerplant is efficient too: rated 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway/25 combined; pretty good with this kind of performance.

The base price here is $26,000. They added the superfluous $125 for carpeted floor mats, and $895 in destination charges, for a bottom line of $27,020. That’s not bad – very competitive, in fact – for a car with leather trimmed seats, a power sunroof, fog lights and auto on/off Xenon projection headlights, Bluetooth and power/acc jacks – oh, and the 10-year/100k miles powertrain and 5-year/60K basic warranties.

A few things I loved: When you hit the key fob to lock the car rather than an annoying beep the mirrors just fold in; nice. I drove the car in heavy snow and it performed beautifully; one of the best front-wheel-drives in the snow, in fact. Quick heated seats – and, I presume, the cooled seats would work just as well. Very good vision with the outside mirrors and rear-view mirror. Intelligent cubbies with all of the necessary hookups for smart phones.

The bottom line is that if I was looking a for a commuter car, this would definitely be on my list.

RATING THREE AND THREE QUARTERS WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)

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Jeff Rundles

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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