Honda City VS Subaru Impreza
- Roomy enough to fit four adults
- Huge boot
- Handsome looks
- Underdone engine
- Average CVT performance
- Multimedia system is a disaster
- Value for money
- Great to drive
- Cabin fit and finish
- Not as spacious or practical as hatch version
- CVT results holds back acceleration
- No rear directional air vents
Honda built its four-wheeled automotive empire on the back of small cars, flying in the face of 1970s convention that bigger was better. As the ubiquitous Civic grew larger and larger, a niche for a smaller car appeared, and that niche was subsequently filled by the City in sedan guise, and the Jazz hatch that sits alongside it.
The buying public, however, is simply not as interested as it once was in small hatches and sedans, and Honda, along with other importers, is feeling the pinch when it comes to slumping sales for its smaller models.
We’re trying the range-topping, $21,590 VTi-L to see what we may have been missing.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
So, you're thinking about a Subaru Impreza? The top-of-the-range one, too, the 2.0i-S? And the sedan version? Straight up, I'm going to tell you it's one of the best choices among its small-car rivals and its uniqueness is also its strength.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Small sedan sales are on the wane, and as a result, the cars that remain in the market often aren’t the best in a brand’s lineup.
The underdone steering, too, makes the car uncomfortable for passengers more often than not, while the buggy, hard-to-use multimedia system is unforgivable in an almost-$22,000 car.
Are small sedans off your shopping list, or does the Honda City still hold appeal?
The Impreza 2.0i-S Sedan is outstanding in the way it drives, the value for money, its fit and finish and safety features. If you're after a small car that's practical, the sedan isn't bad, but the hatch is better for usable space.
Would you chose a small sedan over a hatch? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The City does a good job of disguising the fact that it’s a micro-sized sedan; at first glance, the revised front bar and grille that’s meant to mimic the one on the new Civic does such a good job that some people will need to look at the bootlid badge to find out it’s not a Civic.
A high waistline and a solid yet stylish sweep over the roof keep the City from looking overly twee, and even though the 16-inch wheels look a bit narrow, the overall impression is one of a larger car.
The interior, too, is spacious and airy, while the controls and steering wheel give the City an upmarket feel. There’s a little too much grey plastic inside, and hard plastics aren’t difficult to spot, but the City presents well, on the whole.
Subaru's Impreza is one of only a few small sedans which don't look they were styled the morning after the big party for the design team following their completion of the hatch version. If anything (and this will ruffle a few feathers in the Subie fan world) the sedan is a more traditional Impreza body-style than the hatch.
It's been years since the hardcore WRX became a standalone model in Australia and no longer the high-performance grade of the Impreza range, and the superb dynamics and aggro look justify the separation. Yep, the Impreza has a pretty sedate appearance in comparison, but that didn't stop the bloke in my street who owns a 2015 WRX from slowing right down to have sticky beak at the 2.0i-S out the front of my house.
Mazda is the master of making affordable cars look and feel high end. The only other rival in my view which can match that standard is Subaru. Clean, refined exterior styling, with an outstanding fit and finish inside. There are prestige cars costing three times the $30K asking price of the Impreza that don't feel this premium and well made.
The 2020 update to the Impreza added the new grille and front bumper, the fog-lights have also been restyled and the alloy wheels have a new design. The cabin was updated with a new door trim and piano black plastic was added around the climate controls.
You can tell a 2.0i-S from the rest of the range by its larger alloys (18-inch), body-coloured mirrors, sunroof, LED fog lights and side skirts. Inside there's leather seats in Ivory or Black and a leather steering wheel.
I'm a fan of the big integrated display, the sports pedals and how every touch point feels padded and cushioned.
You'll have to get used to displays which are busy with hard-to-interpret icons, though. From drive mode graphs to safety system alerts the little, colourful hieroglyphics are cute, but a bit messy and not at all necessary. It's a Subaru thing.
How big is the Impreza sedan? Well it's 4640mm long (165mm longer than the hatch), 1775mm wide, and 1455mm tall (25mm lower than hatch).
Up front, the City is a great fit even for taller drivers, and its height-adjustable seat also means that the, err, less vertically inclined pilot can find a comfortable position behind the tilt-and-reach adjustable wheel.
A regular gear shifter and manual handbrake means the two cupholders are squashed under the centre console, but there are bottle holders in all four doors, as well as two more cupholders in the rear centre armrest in the VTi-L.
The VTi-L also gains two extra 12-volt accessory power points in the rear to complement the USB and a third 12V point up front, while the keyless entry system is not something you’d usually find on a car at this price point.
Sadly, the City’s multimedia system lets the side down - big time. Try as we might, we couldn’t connect a phone to our tester, no matter what we did, and it’s just utterly unintuitive to use in most situations.
It’s a bit of a rude shock, actually; most manufacturers have media systems sorted, but there’s simply not a even a half-decent one in any Honda that’s currently on sale. And there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though you can find those mirroring systems in the larger Civic.
Rear seating has adequate headroom – just – for taller teens, and there isn’t a lot of compromise required from front seaters to comfortably accommodate four people. Five? That’s getting crowded, but it can be done.
Two ISOFIX baby seat fixtures are present, along with three top-tether mounts. Boot space measures 536 litres - which is actually 12 litres bigger than that of the new Camry - while both rear seats fold flat(ish) to increase load capacity further.
A good point; the seats can be unlatched via boot-mounted buttons. A bad point; you still have to reach in and push the seats down by hand. A space saver spare nestles under the boot floor, as well.
The most practical Impreza is not the sedan - it's the hatch. You should know this right from the start. I found the hatch had more leg- and headroom in the rear seat, although at 191cm tall I still can sit behind my driving position in the sedan without my knees touching the seat back.
And while the boot in the sedan is 115 litres larger in cargo capacity at 460 litres (VDA) and it fit the two CarsGuide suitcases with ease (see the images), the hatch's tailgate opening is way larger and you can fold the rear seats down to open up 795 litres of space.
You can still fold the rear seats down in the sedan, which is what I did and loaded the Impreza up with a surprising amount of stuff I needed to clear out of the spare room. Take a look at the images – yes, that is an eight-foot Malibu surf board, and a pedestal fan and two heaters and a desk chair and a large plastic tub full of clippings of articles I'd written and for some reason still hold on to. They were all going to the in-laws 300km away which was a good chance to test the fuel economy too, and you can read about further on down.
The sedan's cabin storage is good with a decent-sized centre console bin, large door pockets and four cup holders (two front and two rear), but the hidey hole in the dash is too small to fit my big iPhone sideways.
For charging devices you'll find four USB ports (two in that hidey hole and two in the centre console bin) and two 12-volt outlets. The second row doesn't get USB ports or a 12V outlet. Making back seat passengers feel even more left out is a lack of directional air vents in the second row, too.
Price and features
The top shelf VTi-L is the best of a two-model lineup, and costs $21,590 plus on-road costs. It comes with an 88kW 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a continuously variable transmission driving the front wheels, as well as LED daytime lamps, a part-leather interior, push-button start and smart key, climate control air conditioning, 16-inch alloys and a 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with sat nav and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming.
It also has a leather-bound steering wheel and gear shifter, and map pockets on both seat backs.
It does miss out on a lot of other stuff, though, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, automatic lights (remember when a car last beeped at you to turn off the lights? Me neither...) and automatic wipers, and it also misses out on driver aids like auto emergency braking (AEB).
It starts to look a bit dear when you look at similarly priced cars - even from the next size sector up - that do offer inclusions like AEB and automatic headlights, though the small sedan is a bit of a rarity in the Aussie market now.
Its only like-for-like rivals in the space are the Mazda2 sedan and the Hyundai Accent sedan. Other potential competitors like the Ford Fiesta sedan and, more recently, the Toyota Yaris sedan have been deleted from local line-ups after years of declining sales, while the subsequent rise of the compact SUV will continue to have an impact on the so-called 'light car' market.
The 2.0i-S is the most expensive Impreza in the range, but the sedan costs $200 less than the hatch with it list price of $31,160 (before on-road costs). You're still getting the same standard equipment apart from the hatch's smoked-finish tail-lights.
The February 2020 update to the Impreza brought with it new equipment for all the grades in the range including the SI-Drive modes (see the driving section further down), a new alloy wheel design and auto door locking.
The 2.0i-S did well out of the update and scored more features such as new LED headlights, auto-power folding mirrors with passenger-side dipping mirror, front-view monitor, side-view monitor, memory settings for the driver's seat and a stitched sun visor.
There were also a few more styling tweaks inside and out but read about those in the design section. For now, let's talk about the rest of the standard features that come on a top o' the range Impreza.
Deep breath, because there's a lot. There are leather seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, reversing camera, six-speaker sound system, DAB digital radio, CD player, dual-zone climate control, power adjustable and heated front seats, privacy glass, rain-sensing wipers, proximity key, LED running lights and 18-inch alloy wheels. That's just the highlights reel, there are more but it'd be silly to list them all.
How does the Impreza compare with rivals on price? Well, there's the Toyota Corolla sedan in ZR form which lists for $33,635, and you can also compare the Impreza to a Honda Civic sedan in the RS grade for $32,840, and the Mazda3 G20 Touring with the Vision pack for $31,740. So, as you can see the Subaru is priced well and you're getting great value for money.
Engine & trans
The i-VTEC four-cylinder 1.5-litre single cam engine is naturally aspirated, and it makes its 88kW at a high 6600rpm, while its modest 145Nm of torque peaks at 4600rpm.
It means the CVT gearbox needs to work pretty hard to get the best from the engine, which has been superseded by a twin-cam version in other markets.
As with all Imprezas, the 2.0i-S has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer petrol engine under the bonnet making 115kW and 196Nm. A boxer engine has cylinders which lay flat and pistons inside them which punch in and out horizontally like a boxer, as opposed to being aligned vertically and moving up and down. The benefits of a boxer engine include a lower centre of mass and a constant purr which Subaru owners imitate to themselves when they're in the shower.
If only you could have the Impreza with a manual gearbox, because the continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto, while smooth, results in fairly uninspiring acceleration and turns the purr of the engine into a drone when you put the boot in.
Like the rest of the Imprezas, the 2.0i-S is all-wheel drive.
A 320km test loop netted us a dash-indicated figure of 6.3 litres per 100km, which is impressively close.
The 40-litre fuel tank is happy to accept standard unleaded petrol, too.
According to Subaru the Impreza should use 7.2L/100km after a combination of open and urban roads. I used the Impreza as a moving van for the strange collection of items mention above and after 307.5km of roads from inner Sydney to Maitland (city streets, suburban roads and motorways) the Impreza's trip computer reported 6.2L/100km.
I wasn't able to test that figure at the fuel pump, but in my experience of Subarus in the past the average fuel reading on the display is never far off what I measure at the petrol pump. So, I'm confident in saying that the Impreza isn't a thirsty beast.
Weighing just 1100kg, you’d expect the 1.5-litre powered City to have a bit of get up and go… but unfortunately it’s already gotten up and left by the time you drive off.
The 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine is a carryover unit from the previous generation, and it feels like it, too. It’s also teamed with a CVT gearbox that isn’t a patch on more up-to-date trannies from the likes of Subaru and Toyota.
On any sort of incline, the CVT ups the revs of the engine to a point between bloody annoying and mildly painful, too. The VTi can be ordered with a manual gearbox, which has to be better than the CVT in this example.
The underdamped suspension tune is adequate for light duties around town, but the electric steering feel very odd underhand, especially at the very beginning of a turn.
There’s a big initial motion at the front wheels when you start to turn which then quickly tapers off, meaning that you have to be ultra precise with your steering to prevent the City from lurching into the corner and falling over its soft suspension.
On light throttle, with no hills and few corners, though, the City is just fine…
The Impreza 2.0i-S's rivals are front-wheel drive cars. The Impreza is all-wheel drive. I feel like I could just leave that there and not have to write anything else, but I'll go on. See, even people who never think the journey is more important than the destination will like the way the Impreza drives.
They won't have any idea that regardless of the speed, or corner, or the muddy water that's streaming down the hill and across the road, that the Impreza's all-wheel drive system is constantly 'feeling' and anticipating any loss of traction and diverting drive away from a wheel that might slip and to another that will help keep everything under control. To them the Impreza will just feel really stable and easy to drive.
Along with being dynamic the Impreza 2.0i-S is also comfortable. The combination of the softness and with good handling is thanks to nicely turned suspension set up and a good choice of tyre (Yokohama 225/40R18 front and rear), while the planted feeling is helped by the boxer engine creating a lower centre of mass.
The continuously variable transmission is the only part of this excellent team letting things down slightly with acceleration being a little lacklustre. A regular automatic or manual gearbox would make the Impreza superb to drive.
The 2020 update added Subaru's SI-Drive modes. The S mode is for a sporty driving setting which favours better acceleration and responsiveness from the engine, while the I is an intelligent setting that's better for fuel economy.
Full-length curtain airbags are offered along with dual front and front side 'bags, and there's a reversing camera. The City holds a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, which it has had since it was tested back in 2014.
The Impreza scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2016 and back then not many small cars had the same level of advanced safety equipment. The world has changed, and the rivals are now far better equipped than they were, but the 2.0i-S's standard safety features are still impressive.
The 2.0i-S comes with AEB (forward and reverse), blind spot warning, lane departure warning, lane change and lane keeping assistance, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control. There's also lane sway alert, lead vehicle start and brake light recognition. The 2020 update saw side-view and front-view monitors joining the regular reversing camera. There are rear parking sensors but not front ones – personally, I'd rather a 'beep' than a camera picture, especially when it's dark.
For child seats you'll find three top tether anchor points and two ISOFIX mounts across the rear row.
Under the boot floor is a space saver spare wheel.
Honda sells the City with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, while a no-catch seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty is occasionally offered with its cars, along with premium roadside assistance for the life of the longer warranty.
Both warranties are also transferable to the next owner, should you sell your car before the warranty expires.
A fixed-price servicing regime is in place for the City, too, starting at $259 and peaking at $297. But Honda asks for the City to be serviced every six months or 10,000km, which does add to the cost of running the car.
The Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. There's also a five-year/62,500km capped price servicing program. Servicing is recommended at 12 month/12,500km intervals with the first capped at $350.25, the second at $588.31, the third at $354.83, the fourth at $784.77, and the fifth at $354.86 for a total of $2433.02 over the five years.