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2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate – Hyundai Heats Up Their Hatch

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate – Hyundai Heats Up Their Hatch

For 2019 Hyundai redesigned the Veloster with more horsepower for all trim levels and an optional turbo. The Turbo Ultimate offers a bevy of driver aids, conveniences, two-tone paint and a tasteful interior. But is it better than the previous generation Veloster?

EXTERIOR

In a word, yes. The new Veloster didn’t just get a facelift. Hyundai trimmed the fat to make the car lighter and treated it to a more sophisticated rear suspension setup.

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For 2019, it looks like the Veloster hit the gym to get in fighting form. There’s nothing really drastic about the redesign. But all the little changes add up to a look that’s just a little more toned and chiseled than the first gen Veloster. Gone is the bubbly, curvy aesthetic in favor of harder edges. For example, the rear side windows use to swoop upward, now they sport hard geometric angles, like the square jaw of a boxer.

Where there was once a chunky arc protruding from the quarter panels and fenders, there’s now a leaner looking body line stamped into the sheet metal. 18-inch alloys spin under the wheel wells.

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The headlights, which used to appear as though they were smeared back onto the fenders, have been curtailed. Now they are set in a determined countenance and peer forward on either side of the gaping fish-mouth grille. The Turbo Ultimate has little hints of red trim below the grille that subtly convey its forced induction powerplant. The rear end looks tidy with its dashing center-mounted dual exhaust outlets.

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INTERIOR

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The high-bolstered front seats are heated. When combined with the low-slung ride, they make it tough to climb in and out. But that’s old-people talk, this car is for boy racers and college kids whose joints still work. For the Ultimate trim level, seats are treated to a racy red stripe set in creamy light-gray leather. The red stripe theme continues throughout the interior.

The Turbo Ultimate features blindspot monitoring, a heads-up display and forward collision avoidance. The 8-inch touch screen stereo/nav system pumps your jams through seven speakers and a subwoofer. It features Bluetooth connectivity and Apple Carplay as well as Android Auto. There’s a wireless charging pad in the console and an extra wide sunroof above it all to let in plenty of sunlight.

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The rear seats are accessed by either scrambling in behind the front driver’s seat or by opening the rear singular rear door on the passenger side. Legroom in the rear is adequate, but headroom for taller passengers is compromised. The rear seats fold flat for an uninhibited cargo space from beneath the hatch to the back of the front seats.

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THE DRIVE

The Veloster turbo has a 201 horsepower turbocharged 1.6 liter to thank for its peppy acceleration. Power is transferred to the front wheels through Hyundai’s excellent dual clutch, seven-speed automatic transmission that never failed to find the right gear in short order. From zero, the car can get to sixty miles per hour in just over six seconds. Which is not bad, but the corners is where this car really shines.

 

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Engage Sport mode, and the steering goes from light to tight. The shift points are pushed further up toward the redline, and the little Hyundai is a pleasure to toss into the curves. It feels predictable and inspires confidence. Grip is good, and body roll is minimal. The drawback of such a rigid chassis and stiff suspension is a somewhat rough ride when the going gets bumpy.

The only issue encountered during this test was is a rattle in the sunroof assembly. But it’d probably be covered under Hyundai’s excellent warranty. The combined mileage is right at 30 miles per gallon, with 34 on the highway and 28 around town. Highway noise is noticeable, but not overwhelming.

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THE DIRT

The new Veloster is a quantifiably better than the previous generation almost any way you dice it. And the new Turbo variant seems to punch above its price tag, especially in the $23,000 R-spec. However, when dolled up in the Turbo Ultimate garb as tested, the price tag swells toward $29,000. That’s Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST money. Two comparable cars which have a little more elbow room.

The bottom line is that the two plus one door configuration could be seen as a bit of a compromise. And unless you just adore the Veloster’s quirky layout, and need the top spec turbo, the R-Spec or the plain turbo might be more bang for your buck. Of course, if you’re really committed to owning the baddest Veloster on the block, you’ll keep saving those pennies and nickels and shoot for the Veloster N… But that’s another story.

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2018 Lexus LS 500 – The Most Luxurious Lexus Ever?

2018 Lexus LS 500 – The Most Luxurious Lexus Ever?

Lexus didn’t pull any punches with the all-new 2018 LS 500. It feels more like a world-class luxury car than any other Lexus I’ve tested and seems to be aimed squarely at its Bavarian rivals. Its exterior is gorgeous, its interior is sumptuous, its twin turbo heart beats out 416 horsepower and it has an extravagant price tag. Does all this add up to the best Lexus yet?

INTERIOR

This LS 500 was equipped with leather trimmed heated and cooled seats that can massage passengers into a jelly-like state of relaxation. A compulsory Lexus analog clock set in the beautifully designed dash shares space with a high resolution 12.3 inch display. To the right of that, there’s a lovely backlit cut acrylic panel in front only serves to look pretty. Dark wood accents are distributed in moderation through the cabin.

It had the available 2,400 watt 23 speaker Mark Levinson sound system. That’s a huge amount of speakers that ensure there’s not a bad seat in the house. It’s safe too. Stashed about the cabin are 10 airbags. And the whole space can be flooded with natural light at the touch of a button thanks to the panoramic glass roof.

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Nestled in the console, is Lexus’ trackpad infotainment interface. It’s nearly impossible to use while driving. The seven inch touch screen interface in the back seat armrest is much more user friendly. It controls everything from AC to chair massage. It also controls the stereo and seat position. It’s proof that Lexus can come up with a reasonable interface. Fingers crossed, this technology will make its way to the front seats in upcoming models.

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A list of every bell and whistle in this ride would make for a rather long and dry review, allow me to highlight just a few favorites. The rear side windows have power sun shades; one of which unfurls like the headsail of a yacht. Adjustable airline-style headrests give the massage seats a first class feel. The armrests are designed to appear as though they’re floating in front of the door panels. They’re backlit by LEDs to enhance the illusion. The LS 500 projects the best looking heads up displays I’ve ever encountered onto the windshield in front of the driver. The passenger side front seat folds out of the way so the seat behind it can lay nearly flat for La-Z-Boy levels of comfort.

 

Front seat passengers are treated to power seat buckles that leap up into position so they’re always at hand. They even light up so they’re easy to find even after dark. After buckling up, the shoulder strap gives you get a little reassuring hug, and after shifting to drive it hugs you again.

If you’re thinking “that’s all so unnecessary,” well, you’re right. But simply meeting the needs of passengers is not what luxury cars are about. They’re about exceeding expectations, anticipating desires and maybe even surprising us with something we didn’t even know we wanted.

EXTERIOR

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The LS’s body work has the sophisticated look of a luxury car, but it doesn’t scream “look at me.” 19 inch wheels wrapped in run-flat tires come standard, but our test vehicle had the optional 20 inch forged alloys. The spindle shape of the grille is repeated on the trunk and again in the instrument cluster on the dash. The design is restrained, and for such a big car it doesn’t look chunky. The ample hood, sweeping roofline and tidy trunk make for a pleasantly proportional profile.

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DRIVE

A pair of turbochargers and variable valve timing helps the 3.5 liter V6 make 416 horsepower. That’s backed up by a slick-shifting 10 speed transmission that sends power to the rear wheels. The LS makes good use of the power too, lay the gas pedal flat and the big sedan hustles from 0 to 60 mph in about five and a half seconds. It sounds good while doing it too.

When in comfort mode, the car has a floaty ride like an old Cadillac but without the tendency to wallow in the corners. The suspension is more firm in sport and sport plus modes. The electronically assisted steering has a satisfyingly heavy resistance. Like the weight of an antique Katana rather than a modern reproduction you’d buy from a late night TV ad.

The ride is so quiet that amorous occupants can whisper sweet nothings to one another at 75 mph without missing a word. At night, the headlights peek around corners as you turn the wheel. Air ride springs raise the car when it’s parked to allow for easier entry and exit. Then they lower the car again for a svelte low slug appearance when the car is in motion.

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Due to the high deck lid, it is tough to see out of the back window while backing up There’s also a chime that dings endlessly while the car is in reverse. However, loads of sensors and multiple video feeds alert drivers to their surroundings and the chime can probably be turned off somehow.

The LS 500 is gratifying to drive, but not in the same ways as a sports car. While there’s plenty of power on tap, this car doesn’t burst violently off the line. It takes off with haste and the speedometer eagerly climbs toward triple digits, but it always feels poised not wily. It’s soothing to drive and you atually feel better when you get out than when you got in.

THE DIRT

So, who would buy this car? It’s for the guy who has made it, and enjoys the finer things, but doesn’t need to shout about it while enjoying them. He wants the luxury, not necessarily the attention. The LS 500 marks a level of luxury I’ve never experienced in any other Lexus product. It feels first class in every respect.

A base model LS 500 costs $75,000. This car, with these options, will set you back $107,090. For perspective, you could buy the base model and a new Dodge Durango for the same money. A big chunk of the option cost comes from the $17,000 executive package. That’s a whole lot of money, but it feels genuinely different than any other Lexus I’ve tested. And relative to flying first class every day, this car is a pretty good value.

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2018 Honda Civic Type R – The R is for RIOT!

2018 Honda Civic Type R – The R is for RIOT!

At the 2018 Texas Auto Roundup I had the pleasure of driving menagerie of great cars around the track at Eagle’s Canyon Raceway in Decatur, Texas. As the day wore on and the laps added up, I made a short list of the cars which were most exciting to drive. The 2018 Civic Type R has to be among the top three.

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In a previous article, I said the 2017 Civic Si could be the best Civic yet. Well That was before I had a turn in the 2018 Type R. I drove it and the 2018 Golf R practically back to back. Honda’s Type R is the clear winner for fun. However, the Golf may be a better choice for those who appreciate a less shouty aesthetic. While the Type R is $10k more than the Civic Si, it seems like a bargain when you put your foot down or chuck it into a corner. The $13k separation between the Golf GTI and the Golf R is a little less dramatic.

The in-your-face looks are a departure from the typical understated Honda styling. Its brash appearance almost beg for descent from on-lookers. The canted LED headlights glare at on-comers as if to say, “I look wild as hell, what are you gonna do about it?” It’s the vehicular equivalent of a punk rock band.  It’s fast, it’s loud, and until you understand it you may not like it. This car makes zero apologies.

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Photo Credit: Kevin McCauley 

EXTERIOR

The crazy looking exhaust makes a little more sense when you understand what’s going on with the triple tailpipes. The center pipe is fitted with a resonator. At lower RPMs you’ll hear more exhaust noise. However, when the exhaust pressure increases at higher speeds, more of the exhaust gasses are routed through the mufflers to each side. This eliminates drone on the highway.

I’d still like a pair of tips or maybe a big central outlet like the one on the Si. The over-the-top aero bits affixed to the back back of the car look garish at first glance, as if e a 17 year old boy had final say at the design meeting. But Honda is quick to assure us that all those wings and gills add up to some real downforce.

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INTERIOR

Inside, the high-bolstered, bright red, Type R front seats are plenty comfortable for a long commute. Drivers are rewarded with quality materials like a leather wrapped wheel and aluminum shift knob. Below the shifter, mounted in the console, there’s a metal plaque with the car’s serial number printed on it. There’s ample trunk space behind the rear seat which can be folded forward to almost double the cargo area. What other is so much fun to drive and has this level of practicality? Driver and passengers can both appreciate the dual-zone automatic climate control and 540-watt stereo with Apple CarPlay controlled with a seven-inch touchscreen in the dash.

Drive

Honda engineers manage to wring 306hp out of the 2 liter turbocharged four cylinder. This power makes its way to the ground through a six-speed trans, and limited slip differential. Stirring the gears in Honda’s excellent six-speed manual is a treat. When shifting down to power out of a corner, the Type R automatically blips the throttle to rev match for the down shift. The sprint from zero to 60 mph is a brief 4.9 seconds. Thanks to oversized Brembo brakes, you can brake deep into corners .

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Photo Credit: Kevin McCauley 

Unlike the all-wheel-drive Golf R, the Type R puts down all that power through the front wheels exclusively. Typically, when front-wheel drive systems are forced to cope with this kind of power they become difficult to manage. Honda engineers must have worked some kind of magic under the front of the Type R because torque steer is all but absent. There was only the slightest waggle in the wheel when accelerating hard over uneven surfaces. This is not a knock against the Type R, I think it’s what known as feedback. 

THE DIRT

In my heart, there’s a tie for most fun drive. I drove this car and the Dodge Hellcat Widebody on the same day. It’s like picking between lovers. They’re both a whole lot of fun in different ways. The Hellcat is certainly the winner for horsepower and downright insanity. Insanity can be fun for awhile, but you don’t marry crazy. Deep down, I know which one we’d put a ring on.

Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting older, but if I had to take just one home, it would be the four-door Civic Type R. It’s half the price of the Hellcat at $35k, it’s hilariously fun to drive, I can get a carseat in it and it gets great gas mileage. Oh yeah, and it probably won’t kill me in my sleep.

2017 Lexus IS 200t F Sport – A Beautiful, Boosted Bummer

2017 Lexus IS 200t F Sport – A Beautiful, Boosted Bummer

This year Lexus didn’t change up the recipe too much for their IS series. Subtle updates include large fighter jet style scoops on either side of the grille and a 10.25 inch screen in the dash. But the real appeal lies under the hood. The IS200t gets its giddy-up from a clever 241 horsepower 2.0L turbo-charged four cylinder introduced last year.

The turbo is a twin scroll design. Exhaust gases are separated and directed toward two different points on the turbine rather than dumping exhaust from all cylinders into one common manifold. This divide and conquer system is designed to allow the turbo to spool up faster thus preventing lag and improving performance. This, along with a boatload of other tech, makes the 2.0 liter from Lexus a pretty smart cookie.

The power is transmitted  through an eight-speed automatic with manual mode and paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Would you rather stir your own gears? Sorry, the auto-box is the only option available. However, radar cruise control comes standard, and you can spring for the cross-traffic monitoring that alerts you if a cars is coming as you back out of a parking spot.

EXTERIOR

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Our press car wore Lexus’ Ultrasonic Blue paint on its low-slung body work. The sleek body work blends geometric creases with organic curves seamlessly. Strong shoulder-lines and a nose-down stance work together to lend a sporty aesthetic to this sedan. The windshield rakes back into an arched roofline that makes a velvety transition to the deck-lid, giving the IS a slippery profile.

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Up front, the obligatory, and divisive, spindle grille is nestled between a new pair of scoops and beady, determined-looking LED headlamps. 18″ aluminum wheels are finished in a gunmetal hue that looks great. Oddly it’s about the same color as brake dust. The posterior of this ride is simple and clean. Dual chrome exhaust tips add interest to the lower valance.

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INTERIOR

Inside, the driver is treated to a 10 way adjustable power seat. Both front seats are heated and ventilated. The seat upholstery is above average in both finish and comfort. You pay for the slinky good looks outside with limited space inside. It seemed like my right knee was alway touching the console. The rear seat space it tight, but serviceable. The F Sport package comes with some perks like the leather wrapped wheel and shifter for your hands and some aluminum pedals for the feet.

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Lexus chooses to use a thin vinyl-like material rather than leather as an accent material. Synthetics like this have their advantages. They’re long-wearing and no cows get peeled to make them. Some of them are almost indistinguishable from their natural counterparts. However, the stuff Lexus is using is a let down. It looks fine, but it doesn’t feel good.

There’s a mushy, thin feel to it like the skin on the back of an old lady’s hand. And it’s everywhere in the cabin. Beyond the wonky vinyl, the shift knob was loose after only 2,750 miles. This isn’t a huge deal, but if I shelled out almost 50k for a car I couldn’t abide it.

Front and center in the dash there’s a 10.25 inch wide display for the infotainment system. Said system pumps your jams through 15 speakers stuffed into the cabin. The console is home to a knob that toggles between Eco, Normal, and Sport modes.

And then there’s the infotainment interface which Car and Driver called “irksome.” That’s a nice way of saying complicated to the point of being unusable. It’s downright unsafe to use while driving. Lexus sought to remedy this by adding another button, but to little avail.

It just demands too much attention. I guess that’s what the radar cruise control is for. And if that fails to prevent an accident while you’re fiddling with the absurd mouse-selector-joystick thing, there are 10 airbags tucked away that will keep distracted drivers safe.

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DRIVE

For commuting, the car is pleasant enough. It’s quiet, comfortable and refined. But if you’re expecting a rowdy, scaled down version of the excellent Lexus GSF, you’ll be disappointed. Driving it is a little bit of a let down, like a tepid soda that’s lost some of its fizz. It can be goaded into misbehaving with the traction control turned of and Sport mode engaged. But it’s missing knife edge excitement that you get in the big Lexus.

For day to day it’s not bad though. The car can get from zero to 60 in 6.5 seconds. The steering feels good and the chassis is certainly up to snuff. It’s tough to get a feel for when the power comes on. The eight speed trans seems to suffer from a lack of focus. Put your foot down and the transmission has a “wait, you wanna do what?” moment before kicking down and allowing the car to pull. At 3,500 pounds, this car is heavier than most of it’s competition and the turbo-four-banger doesn’t cope well with the heft.

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THE DIRT

This car looks the part, but the grunt and guts and excitement are a little lacking. When I see interesting technology like the 2.0 liter in this car I want it to work. I don’t think the engine is a let down, but this chassis and transmission combo might not be the best way to showcase it.

I’d love to see Lexus mate this engine to six-speed manual and drop it in their CT200t hatch. But Lexus is not in the business of making hot-hatch fantasy cars for would-be boy racers. So, if it has to be an IS, maybe drop the extra dough for IS 350F.

The real question is why, given the option, wouldn’t one buy the comparable Bavarian competitor? Just like the IS200t it has an eight-speed auto, a 2.0 liter turbo-four, and four swinging doors, but manages to do the zero to 60 dance and full second faster. And for the same price.

2017 Honda Civic Si HPT – Possibly The Best Civic Yet

2017 Honda Civic Si HPT – Possibly The Best Civic Yet

The latest iteration Honda’s venerable Civic might be the best yet. To the chagrin of fanboys everywhere, this Si marks a departure from the much-loved VTEC valve train. Honda opted instead to turbo-charge the four banger in their hot Civic. How does the new Si stack up?

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EXTERIOR

Pretty darn well. This is the latest in a long line of compact Hondas ranging way back to 1972. In all that time, I’m not sure the Civic has looked this good. The body lines are simple with an angular appeal. The roofline peaks at the top of the windshield and slopes back all the way to the rear edge of the deck-lid. The roofline reminds me of the Audi R8.

Up front, projector headlights wear the outer extremities of the grille like heavy eyeliner. Below the grille the pouting bumper cover houses fog lamps set in black plastic trim. The quarter panels bulge outward over the tires. Out back, things are wrapped up nicely with angular taillights like parenthesis around the trunk. The spoiler looks a bit much, but relative to the Type R, it’s downright sedate. There’s more black plastic surrounding the single outlet exhaust which looks better than the type R’s triple trumpet affair.

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INTERIOR

The high-bolsters on the Si embroidered seats give a reassuring hug to let you know you’ll be supported while cornering at speed. Between the seats there’s a clever console featuring siding cup holders and change tray. You can easily arrange it to accommodate all sizes of cups.

The shift knob is made from quality cast or billet aluminum wrapped in black leather. The console around the shifter feels a little flimsy, but shouldn’t be an issue. Red accent stitching serves to break up the black interior.

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Passengers in the front are treated to seat heaters and space for long legs. Rear seat passengers aren’t so lucky. Limited head and legroom in the back make for tight quarters, and it’s probably best suited for kiddos.

The infotainment and a/c controls leave a lot to be desired. To adjust the climate controls, you must first push a climate button. Then select from some touchscreen options. This doesn’t sound like much but it does force drivers to look away from the road. Adjusting the volume is a similar ordeal only it’s a touch sensitive slider (thankfully there are volume controls on the steering wheel). In both instances Honda complicated what should be very easy operations. Bring back the knobs Honda.

Below the stereo and climate controls there’s a clever cubby for your electronic devices. Power outlets built into the console along with wire organizers keep your chargers tidy and at hand.

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The new heart of the Civic Si is a 205 hp turbocharged 1.5 liter. This is almost a full liter smaller than the previous Si, but exactly the same horsepower.  Those ponies make their way to the wheels through a six-speed manual transmission and a limited slip differential.

The EPA estimates this setup will get you 38 mpg on the interstate and 28 around town and a combined 32 mpg. The HPT designation tacked on the end of the Civic Si moniker stands for High Performance Tires. That means the 18″ alloy wheels are wrapped in sticky Goodyears. It also means you’ll be buying tires sooner than normal, as they are bound to wear faster than normal treads.

DRIVE

This little Honda feels eager, especially for a sub two-liter. The shifter fits perfectly in the palm and is the first contact point with the slick shifting six-speed. It makes stirring gears a pleasure. The car is comfortable cruising on the highway. Road and wind noise levels are nominal. Shift into top gear, set the cruise and relax.

Often times electrically assisted steering feels too light. Honda struck a nice balance here the steering is tight and responsive. It doesn’t completely insulate drivers from the road. It’s just what you want in the sporty two door.

Punch the Sport mode button and the suspension transforms from comfortable to stiff and the accent lights in the instrument cluster all turn red. The light above the tachometer acts as a shift light, flashing at the redline. Said redline is lower due to the absence of VTEC but the surge of power when boost builds will make you forget about those last couple hundred RPMs. In fact, the new Si gets from 0 to 60 a hair faster than its VTEC predecessor.

At around 4000 RPM the exhaust really begins talking. Put your foot in it from a stand still and you’ll definitely encounter some torque steer, but it’s completely manageable. In fact, it’s fun. Second gear scratches are par for the course as the Civic claws the asphalt for traction. Cornering in this car is a treat. It feels balanced and inspires confidence.

THE DIRT

This car feels special. It’s comfortable and surprisingly practical, which is not something that can be said about all sporty two-doors. If I were in the market for a fun, two-door commuter with plenty of passing power the Civic Si would definitely be on my shortlist. At around $24k it’s feels like a good value, it’s good-looking, and it’s a pleasure to drive. Is it the best Civic ever? I don’t know for sure, but I can assert with confidence that it’s the best one I’ve ever driven.