Briefly, the Civic feels a little leaden by comparison, feeling every one of the 320 additional kilos it must carry relative to the Fiat. It takes a while before it feels back to its best again, and when it does, you can’t help but realise this is a less interactive experience, where the fun derives more from marvelling at what it can do rather than what the two of you can achieve together. This doesn’t make it any less real but it does make you aware of the limitations of a heavier, front-drive design that simply don’t apply to the Abarth.
But so too is there a trade-off here, and so before we can anoint a winner, we must take it into account. I’m not sure why I feel slightly surprised to say it, but ultimately it is the Abarth that is more fun to drive. The only problem is that you must drive it quite hard before it will take you to that other place of car and driver interaction the Civic cannot approach. By contrast, the Honda always keeps you amused. Whether tearing up the asphalt with a ridiculous turn of speed, or slicing through a corner as flat and fast as you might imagine any hatch could go, it is the consummate performer, its talents as broad as those of the Abarth are deep.
All of which gives us a problem. Right until this point I was going to amaze you all and give the nod to the Abarth. It’s only when you drive a properly configured, traditionally arranged and genuinely lightweight sports car that you realise that for all the fastest of fast hatches have brought, so too has much been lost. But the Honda is just too good too much of the time. Yes, in ideal driving conditions the Abarth is the superior driving machine, but how often do we get to enjoy those? It has top-down appeal, too, but again, only when circumstances are right.
By contrast, and out there in the all-too real world, the Honda can always be enjoyed, whether it is wet or dry, the roads busy or empty and with one, two, three or four of you on board. So let’s give the moral victory to the Abarth and try not to think too hard about how much better even than this a far cheaper MX-5 would have fared. But the overall win belongs to Honda.