Honda Civic VS Subaru Impreza
- Looks are good (or bad)
- Suspension and steering are both terrific
- Plenty of legroom in the rear seat
- CVT drones at pace
- Standard safety lacking on base models
- RS is noisy on the wrong road surfaces
- Sturdy road feel
- Comfortable, chunky interior
- Full safety package
- Could do with more power
- A bit thirsty
- Needlessly complicated interior
If you think the new Civic Hatch looks a little lower-slung than its sedan sibling, that can likely be attributed to the crushing weight of expectation placed on its little metal shoulders.
See, this 10th-gen Civic might be the most important car Honda has ever made. While most manufacturers were pouring funds into their SUV ranges, Honda was diverting a huge chunk (heavily tipped to be a whopping 35 per cent) of their research and development budget into the Civic, using the evergreen nameplate as a key pin in their Australian comeback.
And with that much riding on it, it had to be good. In sedan form, which launched here last year, it mostly lived up to the hype, with Honda shifting more than 800 units per month. And with the Civic hatch finally touching down in Australia, Honda is hoping to add 1000 sales to the tally.
So the question now is, does this new hatch version shine, too?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
There’s a lot to admire about Subaru.
For one, the brand is hell-bent on committing to all-wheel drive across its range where its major competitors benefit from selling (often cheaper to manufacture) front-drive cars, plus its current safety push is admirably reminiscent of Volvo’s efforts in the field.
Subaru’s stalwart hatch and sedan, the Impreza, can’t afford to let up, though. In a world where some of Japan’s most beloved nameplates are losing ground to SUVs in a big way, can the fifth-generation Impreza still hold its own in 2019?
We’ve spent a week in the top-spec 2.0i-S hatch to find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Energetic and engaging (if not quite sporty), the Civic hatch is quiet and comfortable around town, but it can more than hold its own on a twisting backroad, too. It’s looks will either appeal or not, but a lack of comprehensive safety equipment on the cheaper models is sure to ruffle some feathers.
For us, the cheapest way into the turbocharged engine forms the pick of the bunch, so we'd call the VTi-L the sweet spot.
The Impreza 2.0i-S is packed with safety and luxury features and offers fantastic value by flying under the asking price for most equivalent high-spec competitors.
Because it has been built for a world where SUVs dominate, it’s a better commuter car than ever before, just don’t expect it to have that wild rally spark from days past…
Is there a place for the humble hatch in a world of small SUVs? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The word 'polarising' is usually a thinly disguised way of saying 'lots of people don’t like it'. And the all-new Civic sedan was, well, very polarising. A glance at this new hatch version shows it hasn’t strayed too far from that design approach, either.
It’s as understated as a snakeskin suit in all grades, but nowhere is it quite so busy as in the RS trim level, in which the sporty trimmings jump out from every possible angle. Strangely, though, we quite like the way it looks, and it's undeniably an individual in the small car segment.
Inside, Honda has produced the comfortable and tech savvy interior that was missing from the outgoing model, but the sense of well executed semi-premium fades as you approach the spartan rear seat.
When the fifth-generation Impreza launched three years ago, it was the first car in Subaru’s range to debut a styling language which it calls ‘Dynamic x Solid’ and, well, there isn’t much arguing with that description (depending on how you define “dynamic”...)
The Impreza owns Subaru’s signature chunky styling with plenty of hard lines and angles, and squared-off light fittings with bumpers which give it a wide stance.
On the ‘dynamic’ side of things, there are delicate light fittings, a gently executed grille and swoopy sculpting down the sides which help to class the usually tough hatch up a little. Apart from the giant alloys, the only thing setting the 2.0i-S apart from the rest of the range are the LED light fittings and chrome garnish bits strewn about.
The look isn’t as controversial as the Civic’s angular assault, nor perhaps as forward-thinking as the swoopy curves of the incoming Mazda3. To many, the more conservative style of the Impreza will be exactly what they’re looking for.
Inside is plush, if a little SUV-like. If you’ve driven any of Subaru’s recent range you’ll know how familiar all the interior fittings are, for better or worse. Everything is nicely finished, with high-quality soft-touch plastics and tasteful matte or chrome highlights. It’s all very chunky and on-brand.
I’m a particular fan of the super-satisfying bumper-car steering wheel. It’s cladded in nice leather, although I’d argue there are a few too many buttons on it (15 plus two toggles…).
The media screen is a fantastic bit of hardware. It’s fast, has a fantastic resolution and syncs with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto fairly easily. The way it protrudes from the dash also makes it easy to use for the driver and front passenger. While the gloss finish is a posh look, it’s a nightmare to keep clean.
Also, there’s a second screen embedded atop the dash. Why? It needlessly overcomplicates an otherwise slick interior. Yes, it cycles through status readouts for the car, but that could easily have been integrated into either the dashboard’s multifunction display or the big media screen.
The Impreza’s seats are best here in the 2.0i-S, as the leather has a decent thickness and the seats offer a bit more support than cloth-clad versions in lesser models. Subaru has come a long way in that department compared to earlier-generation cars.
The Civic hatch is surprisingly spacious in the cabin, where up front the two seats are split buy a central bin housing two of the fattest, deepest cupholders we’ve ever seen (that would be America’s 'Big Gulp' influence on the Civic’s design), along with a hidden USB and power source that sits behind the centre console, hiding the ugly chords while you’re plugged into touchscreen unit.
The back seat, is plenty spacious in the longer and wider hatch - which also sits on a 30mm longer wheelbase than the outgoing car - with more shoulder, leg and knee room for backseat riders.
Which is just as well, as there’s not much else happening back there, with no air vents, power outlets or USB points on offer, with just the two cupholders housed in a pulldown divider that separates the rear seat.
The Impreza’s interior offers up plenty of space courtesy of its wide dimensions. You’ll never be lacking for room in the front seats, with ample leg and headroom despite the sunroof. There’s also plenty of space between you and your passenger and plush leather surfaces for your elbows on both doorcards and the wide centre console box.
Deep bottle holders also feature in the doors, and there’s a decently-sized trench in front of the gearknob which hosts two USB ports. The cabin features two more USB ports in the console box and two 12-volt outputs, so there’s no shortage of power outlets for you and your passengers.
The rear seat offers excellent amounts of room. Behind my own driving position (I’m 182cm tall), there’s plenty of airspace for my knees, plus the seats and doors are finished in plush matching leather trim, and there’s a drop-down armrest. On the downside, the back seat lacks amenities of any kind. There are no adjustable vents or power outlets in the back of the centre console box, and the centre seat has limited legroom thanks to the presence of a tall transmission tunnel – a necessary downside of all-wheel drive.
Headroom is also brought down by the presence of a sunroof in the back seat.
Boot space comes in at 345-litres for the hatch, spanning to 795L with the rear seats down. This just pips the Honda Civic RS hatch (330L), Corolla ZR (333L) but is easily bested by the Hyundai i30 (395L) and massive Kia Cerato (428L).
There is a space-saver spare underneath the boot floor.
Price and features
Thanks to what Honda refers to as its “One Civic” philosophy, this new hatch lineup perfectly mirrors the sedan range that was launched here last year, with the only major change being the ‘Ring-burning Type R, which will be hatch-only when it arrives later in 2017.
And that means the five-strong Hatch range kicks off with the entry-level VTi ($22,390) before stepping up to the VTi-S ($24,490) and the VTi-L ($27,790). Next up is the sport-sprinkled RS ($32,290), before the range tops out with the high-flying VTi-LX ($33,590).
Entry-level shoppers will make do 16-inch steel wheels, fabric seats and single-zone climate control, but there are some nice and premium-feeling flourishes, like LED DRLs, a 7.0-inch touchscreen that’s now Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-equipped and a second colour screen in the driver’s binnacle for your trip information.
Stepping up to the VTi-S adds 16-inch alloy wheels, integrated LED indicators in your wing mirrors and proximity locking and unlocking, along with some clever safety stuff we’ll come back to under the Safety heading.
Along with a better engine (more on that in a moment), springing for the VTi-L will earn you 17-inch alloy wheels, twin-zone climate control and automatic windows in both rows, while the sporty-flavoured RS adds LED fog and headlights, along with a hearty dose of sporty styling courtesy of a bumper kit, skirting and a liberal splashing of piano black highlights.
Inside the RS gets leather trimmed seats, a better 10-speaker stereo and and a standard sunroof, too.
Finally, the range-topping Civic - the VTi-LX - gets satellite navigation, and a fairly comprehensive suite of safety kit.
I miss the days when Subaru’s variant names made more sense as you worked your way from GX up to WRX in a sensible order.
We’re in a different time now, though, and just like most other Japanese brands, the Impreza has a focus on luxury and spec items over sportiness. So much so that the WRX isn’t even an Impreza any more... But I digress. What’s actually important is the 2.0i-S hatch is the most expensive Impreza you can buy at $29,740 before on-roads.
This bodes well for Subaru, because it’s relatively well equipped and cheaper than the top-spec cars from its traditional Japanese opponents.
Suddenly the Subaru’s $29,740 starts to look pretty good. Especially since it’s the only car on the list with all-wheel drive.
What else is in the box? The 2.0i-S comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, heated and power-folding wing-mirrors, a sunroof, full LED (and steering-responsive) front lighting, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery, and heated front seats with eight-way power adjust on the driver’s side.
Still with me? Okay, on the muiltimedia front there’s a massive, bright 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay & Android auto, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity and built-in nav, which is mated to a six-speaker audio system.
Missing is a branded premium audio system and a digital dash, which are available in some competitors. A power-adjustable passenger seat would be nice, but other than that there’s not much missing from the 2.0i-S’ arsenal.
To boot, it gets Subaru’s impressive full safety suite, but more on that in the safety section later in this review.
Engine & trans
Like the sedan version, there are two engine choices on offer, with the cheaper option a 1.8-litre petrol engine, good for 104kW at 6500rpm and 174Nm at 4300rpm found in the VTi and VTi-S trim levels.
The better option, though, is a perky turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine that will push 127kW at 5500rpm and 220Nm at 1700rpm to the front tyres.
Both engines are partnered with a CVT automatic transmission, with or without wheel-mounted shifters, depending on the trim level.
Here’s one of the main downsides for the Subaru. Competitors are now mostly running improved low-capacity turbocharged engines, but Subaru has overhauled – and so doubled-down on – its non-turbo 2.0-litre four cylinder ‘boxer’ engine.
This engine produces an average-looking 115kW/196Nm. Sure enough, under heavier acceleration, it feels lacking, especially considering this Impreza’s almost 1400kg kerb weight.
Peak torque doesn’t arrive till 4000rpm, so you’re left waiting a little while for it to get there for overtaking. A turbocharger could easily rectify the situation.
On the upside, the changes to this engine mean the annoying six-month service intervals have been pushed out to a year and it happily drinks 91RON unleaded.
The Impreza is available with just one transmission – a continuously variable automatic. There’s no manual.
Fuel use is pretty impressive across the board, with the 1.8-litre engine sipping a claimed combined 6.4-litres per hundred kilometres, while the turbocharged version needs just 6.2 litres on the same cycle.
Emissions are pegged at 150 and 142 grams per kilometre of C02 respectively.
The 2.0i-S has a claimed/combined fuel usage number of 7.2L/100km. Over my week of testing in mainly urban scenarios, I landed on 9.1L/100km which is bang on Subaru’s ‘urban’ estimate.
It’s at least a litre more than I usually expect out of lower-capacity turbo engines in the competition.
If you really want to save on petrol, the Prius-derived tech in the Corolla ZR is has a claimed usage number of 4.2L/100km.
Subaru’s raft of improvements to this engine allow you to fill its 50L tank with base-grade 91RON unleaded.
Honda struggles a little in explaining exactly what its new 1.5-litre turbo-powered Civic is.
Is it a hot hatch? Nope, the incoming Type R will handle those duties. Oh, so it's a warm hatch, then? Not really - it's mechanically identical (same engine, gearbox and suspension) to the other, top-tier Civics. In fact, only the brand of tyres seperate the RS from the more luxurious VTi-LX.
"We would say it's a 'sporting hatch'," says Honda's head honcho, Stephen Collins.
And sporting it is, with its clever turbocharged 1.5-litre engine a willing and perky unit, delivering plenty of oomph all over the rev range and with no noticeable, soul-destroying lag in its power delivery.
The steering, too, has a sporty flavouring, it's super direct, and offers such crisp direction changes that you have to pay keen attention driving, as even the slightest input will see you steering out of your lane. And while the ride is a little crashy through bumps, it pays you back with composed cornering antics that see the front wheels hanging on to the tarmac for much longer than you might expect.
But the best trick of the 1.5-litre engine is that it doesn't require much accelerator to make it move, which means there's never too much strain on the CVT auto in town. And, given the auto is both loud and intrusive when you ask too much of it, that can only be a good thing.
Like most CVT 'boxes, it's quiet and composed in city driving, but loud and with a tendency to surge when you start to test it. So much so that heavy acceleration requires a kind of lucky dip as to when to back off the throttle, with the Civic continuing to accelerate for a moment or so even once you get off the gas.
Happily, then, the 1.8-litre models are much easier to classify. They're the cheap ones.
It's a a simple, honest and hardworking engine that feels both slower and slower to respond than its newer, turbocharged sibling, but is more than capable of getting up to speed, even if it struggles to add pace from the mid-range onward.
The Impreza feels solid on the road. Part of this is down to the hefty kerb weight, and a great deal of it is down to the all-wheel drive system.
You have a sense of security behind the wheel that’s not quite there in many competitors. The flipside to this is the Impreza seems to have lost a lot of its, well, character.
I’ll explain. Older versions of this car were not as well built or as slick to drive, but they had a bit of a wild streak for those who wanted to push them, with just a little bit of the WRX’s character found in every variant. Now, though, this Impreza seems a bit sanitized.
If you’ve driven any of the rest of Subaru’s range, its easy to see how the Impreza has arrived at this point. Remember how I mentioned that it shares much of the switchgear of the SUV range? Well, it feels like an SUV to drive, too. It’s got that kind of weight to it, and the engine and transmission combination hardly lends it extra agility.
That might seem like harsh criticism, but I should be clear. For many people, the extra heft and SUV-like security which this Impreza brings will feel great, especially in a plush top-spec hatch like this.
It brings other benefits, too. The 2.0i-S is quiet. Despite the huge wheels, road noise (previously a sore spot for the brand) is surprisingly low and not much can be heard out of the engine and transmission below 4000rpm.
The Impreza might have lost its rally derived sporty soul, but for most buyers, it’s a far better commuter car than ever before.
While some of its key competitor are throwing safety functions at all trim levels, with Honda it’s still sadly a case of you get what you pay for.
The entry-level VTi, for example, makes do with six airbags (front, front-side and curtain) and a 180-degree reversing camera, opting for the VTi-S, VTi-L or RS adds front and rear parking sensors and Honda’s cool 'LaneWatch' (with activates a side-mounted camera when you indicate, beaming an image of the lane running alongside the lefthand-side of the car up onto the 7.0-inch screen).
The entire Civic range was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Apart from the base-model Impreza, which misses out on the ‘EyeSight’ dual-camera suite, the rest of the range is well equipped.
Included from 2.0i-L up is auto emergency braking (AEB) with brake light recognition, lane keep assist (LKAS) with lane departure warning (LDW), lead vehicle start alert (lets you know when the vehicle in front has moved off), and adaptive cruise control.
But wait. The 2.0i-S adds even more to the active suite, with blind spot monitoring (BSM), lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA) and AEB which works in reverse to stop you from having an embarrassing parking accident.
The 2.0i-S is also the only Impreza with active torque vectoring which monitors and controls the amount of power going to any given wheel to maximise traction.
This is one of the most comprehensive safety offerings in the segment at a price that's less than most of its top-spec competitors.
Subaru has recently brought its warranty offering up to the competitive standard of five years/unlimited kilometres. Much better than the previous lackluster three-year offering.
The brand’s capped-price-servicing program has also been updated to match the length of the warranty, with the Impreza costing a not-particularly-cheap average of $481.53 per year for five years.
The Impreza requires servicing once a year or every 12,500kms.