In the following comparison test for the very first time we are going to attempt to please the wants and needs of both human owner and canine backseat companion. Since James and his dog Roxy rarely agree on which direction they should go on their walks, will they be able to agree when comparing three quick, relatively frugal and very fun to drive manual transmission equipped cars that can be had for just around $25,000 plus or minus a few bags of kibble. And even though Roxy still has trouble manipulating a clutch pedal she secretly does like that her owner finds driving a manual transmission car so much more fun. Apparently when he’s happy he sometimes leaves the treat cabinet door ajar and she helps herself.
The vehicles tested include the 2015 Honda Civic Si in both coupe and sedan form (the sedan is admittedly far more practical and just as fun), a five door hatchback 2015 Mazda3s Grand Touring and a 2015 Kia Forte Koup SX Turbo. The Civic Si sedan stickered for $23,290 with sticky summer tires, the 2015 Mazda3s Grand Touring came nicely loaded at $25,545 and the Forte Koup SX which also came with features you couldn’t find on either of its competitors stickered for a budget friendly $24,485. A more basic Forte Koup Turbo with the manual transmission starts just over $21,000 but Roxy and James couldn’t live without live without a moonroof, navigation, leather, heated and ventilated front seats, HID headlamps and a kitchen sink to keep dirty paws clean. (Note: We were kidding about the sink part.)
Now let’s get one thing straight here you bi-peds (beings that walk on two legs), when it comes to cars I am testing out for my owner these are my main concerns. The ease of entering/exiting the back seat (sitting up front could kill me in an airbag deployment), overall rear seat comfort, outward visibility, exterior styling (I do have dog friends and if they see me riding around in something dorky looking they can be vicious) and finally quality of the audio system. Yes, humans, I am a canine audiophile who loves music. Truly it does soothe this savage beast.
So first let’s talk about my disappointments, what made me whimper and whine more than when my owner is ten minutes late with my dinner. Speaking of which, it’s almost 10 minutes to 5 pm but I still have my job to do so I will allow him a reprieve. I usually love Kia vehicles from the square budget dog transporter called the Soul to the sexy Optima sedan all the way through to their SUV Sorento and I even found myself loving the captain’s chairs in the minivan Sedona. And don’t get me started on their homage to canine comfort named after dogs—the K900. What do all of these models have in common? Easy back seat access and kick-ass optional audio systems.
You really can’t beat the K900’s Lexicon 17-speaker 900 watt surround sound system even at the top of the line Kia’s price. That sound system brought me to such a serene state I almost forgot what I was and began purring like a cat. I also feel that every other Kia equipped with the Infinity audio upgrade package is a music lover’s dream. Right now I am forcing my owner to play the new Nick Jonas record on repeat. Not because he is all that talented, I just saw those pictures of him shirtless with his butt crack showing on the internet. Hey, watch your kids and your dog when they use the computer. But seriously, Nick even sounds good with the help of Kia’s superior audio offerings which were curiously absent from the two door Koup.
Now, as far as interiors go, the supple leather in the Mazda3s Grand Touring hatch was the most comfortable for me and the easiest to clean for my owner. The Civic Si only comes with cloth upholstery so he had to be very careful to make sure the back seat cover stayed put which was hard considering how he drove the thing. But both the Civic Si and Mazda3 had back doors just for me.
The Forte Koup had no door for me. Sure, the seat slid forward a bit but what does Kia think I am a contortionist? If so I could have made quite a living at a canine carnival freak show so instead I steadfastly refused to get in the vehicle each time my owner tried to drive it with me in back. I made him lift me just to punish him for to embarrassment. Which one of us wound up more embarrassed is up for conjecture. Moral of the story, I hate coupes. And Koups. So while I may have preferred the Mazda3’s Bose audio, the standard audio system in the Civic Si is not bad so I am letting my owner call this one. Didn’t see that coming, did you? (1st Place (Tie): 2015 Mazda3s Grand Touring and 2015 Honda Civic Si Sedan, Last Place: 2015 Kia Forte Koup SX Turbo)
The control of a perfectly judged gearlever and clutch pedal can turn an ordinary drive into an extraordinary one. And these three are all so easy to use I promise you will never curse yourself for buying one when you get stuck in LA traffic. Trust me, all three were tested in LA traffic as Roxy and I live in Southern California. So unless you like to text your friends while drinking a Venti Soy Latte while smoking a cigarette and checking your hair in the rear view mirror there is no reason you can’t own one of these smile-makers.
Can you tell I love a car with a great manual gearbox? There is a sense of control and of being one with a car when you are truly able to make all of the shifting decisions for yourself. Yes, I am an out and proud gay man and I love playing with sticks. Stick shifts. Manual transmissions, I mean. Anyway, while I found the Mazda3’s gearbox to be amazingly light and enjoyable to manipulate (Fellow Contributor Sam Gomez would have a field day with this but I am not as good with the art of double entendre), it was in the Civic Si where I discovered a stick that was smooth and precise with a perfectly sized gearlever which made its use a truly orgasmic experience. I think that last part was a single entendre.
The power from the 2.4 liter 205 horsepower VTEC 4-cylinder in the Civic Si thrives on revs but both the shift action from the gearbox and the throaty engine growl make trips to redline enjoyable. No, redline is not a gay bar but it does sound like a good name for one. Both the steering and handling feel in the Civic Si is perfectly engineered to ensure the utmost in driver enjoyment and control. The Kia Forte Koup SX may have been a more forgiving car to drive but it was nowhere near as rewarding.
The Mazda3s Grand Touring we tested was a five door hatch and visually was my favorite looking vehicle on test and its 2.5 liter 184 horsepower 4-cylinder offered a nice blend of power and fuel economy with 38 miles per gallon on the highway easily achievable thanks to SkyActiv technology. The Mazda also had the best interior of the bunch with supple leather, a great sound system, a heads up display and an array of safety features standard that you usually find only on luxury models (radar cruise control, blind spot assist, auto high beams, cross traffic alert, lane departure warning just to name a few). But still, I left my heart in that Honda Civic Si sedan. Which was orange. (1st Place: 2015 Honda Civic Si, 2nd Place: 2015 Mazda3s Grand Touring, 3rd Place: 2015 Kia Forte Koup SX Turbo)
And the Winner according to Roxy and James is…the 2015 Honda Civic Si Sedan!
Well, we might not pick our 2015 Honda Civic Si sedan in orange but keep in mind it is available in a very handsome red to match the interior seats, black, white, silver and a nice slate gray as well. Roxy didn’t care about the Civic Si sedan’s color, she is a dog so she is color blind. Or perhaps she became blind after staring directly at the orange paint we can’t be sure. But we are sure someone out there really loves orange Starbursts and Honda captured that color nicely with our test Civic Si.
In a very, very close second is the amazingly luxurious, solidly built, fun to drive 2015 Mazda3s Grand Touring which has a manual transmission clearly descended from the great and mighty Miata. Frankly, we find the Mazda3 is a terrific drive with either the 2.5 liter 185 horsepower 4-cylinder in our tester as well as with the smaller, more rev happy 2.0 liter 155 horsepower unit in less expensive I models. So test drive both and if you are on a budget don’t worry you will feel shafted buying a 3 with the smaller engine. Although we loved the Bose audio system in the 3, however, a $3,000 price difference could not be justified to give the win to the 3 over the Civic Si which frankly is a homespun bargain.
Even though it came in third, the 2015 Kia Forte Koup SX managed to carve out its own unique niche for itself as the most relaxed and smoothestdriving car of the group. The 6-speed gearboxes shift action was smooth as butter and the clutch more forgiving than Hilary Clinton after Monica-gate. Also, despite only having 1.6 liters to work with, the turbocharged 201 horsepower 4-cylinder engine never felt like it suffered from even a touch of lag and was nicely muted until you neared redline.
It took bumps more smoothly that the Si but didn’t quite handle with the same razor sharp accuracy which can make any driver feel like they are ready to hit the race track even if they really aren’t. And Roxy reminds you that while she wears a harness while riding around in racy cars like the Si, if you take a dog out on a race track wearing one you deserve to have your dog barf on the back of your helmet. But in the end there was one thing the 2015 Kia Forte Koup SX Turbo could not escape. It is a two door coupe. And Roxy hates two doors. Perhaps your dog may be more accepting but do check before buying any two door vehicle.
(Words and Concept by James Hamel and Roxy Hamel–a 5 year old female dog adopted from Boxer Rescue Los Angeles.)
All Photos by James Hamel and Jon Gala