Hyundai i20 VS Subaru Impreza
- Cracking exhaust
- Fun rather than ferocious
- A hoot on a track or (we expect) a winding road
- Too soon to properly judge it
- Manual only will deter shoppers
- Lacks the out-and-out punch of bigger hatches
- 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
After we spent what felt like an eternity with the Hyundai i30 N being an only child in Australia, the lauded hot hatch is finally getting a smaller sibling, with the Korean brand confirming the i20 N will debut in Australia next year, likely in the first six months of 2021.
On paper, at least, the city-sized hot hatch promises to deliver the performance thrills of the N brand to a whole new demographic, given its utterly family-proof dimensions and what will obviously be a more affordable price point.
But is it truly worthy of the N badge? We put an early prototype version to the test on the track to find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium 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|
We'll reserve full judgement until we've lived with a production version of the i20 N, but after our short, track-based taste test? We like it a lot.
Fun rather than ferocious, it's the kind of hot hatch you can have an absolute blast in without feeling like you're going to kill yourself or your licence, and you can't help but climb out smiling..
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.
Again, this more an arbitrary score here, as the only i20 N we've seen to date was dropped in camouflage inside and out.
That said, you can tell from its silhouette that this a wide, hunkered-down hatch, with bulging arches and 18-inch blacked-out alloys, a domed bonnet, and little roof spoiler jutting out from above the rear windscreen.
Hyundai tells us the i20 N will also serve up a new air intake on front bumper, unique side sills, a new radiator grille, and a new rear bumper with a diffuser, as well as new rear lights. You can get the i20 N in seven colours, one of which will be the Performance Blue that's become the signature of the brand.
Inside, Hyundai says you'll find a "high-performance driving space" (whatever that means) with a host of N stuff, like a sports steering wheel and shifter, metal pedals, sport seats up front and blue highlights throughout the interior trimmings.
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).
Not particularly practical, to be fair. While Hyundai is yet to confirm the specification details of the i20 N, it is based on the brand's existing city car, so expect similar dimensions here.
It does, though, have four doors, which puts it ahead of some of its hot-hatch competition, and means climbing into the backseat isn't as hard as it could be. Once there, though, you won't be spoiled for space.
For reference, the regular i20 serves up twin cupholders up front, and bottle storage in each of the doors.
That car also stretches some 4035mm in length, 1734mm in width and 1474mm in height. That's enough to squeeze 326 litres (VDA) into the boot, or 1042 litres with the 60:40 split rear seat folded flat.
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
This is a tough one to answer, without yet knowing the pricing details. But Hyundai has told us that it will be priced on or around the money for the segment, which should see it land around the early $30k mark.
In terms of exactly what you get for that money, well, that remains to be seen. But here's what we know so far.
Expect 18-inch alloys wrapped in Pirelli rubber, a digital driver's display and a second, central touchscreen that will deliver both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, remote unlocking with push-button start, power windows, and...
Well, that's about all we could glean from our very camouflaged car. But you will also get a whole heap of performance kit, which we'll touch on under the Engine and Transmission section.
For everything else, though, you'll just have to watch this space.
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
I like the engine. A lot. Not the most powerful in the class, sure, but not underpowered in my opinion, either.
That's enough grunt, Hyundai says, to deliver a "class-leading" power to weight ratio of 126kW per tonne.
So how does it stack up? It puts the i20 N about a touch under segment standard, power-wise, with cars like the Polo GTI making 147kW and 320Nm, while the Fiesta ST makes 147 and 290kW. Unsurprisingly, it’s also comprehensively shaded by the Toyota GR Yaris, which makes a whopping 200kW and 370Nm.
We have managed to extract some other key details surrounding Hyundai’s newest hot hatch, too. We know, for example, that there’s torsion-beam rear suspension, a mechanical LSD, Sachs dampers, dual-mode exhaust and, like it’s i30 N big brother, the i20 N should get Pirelli rubber wrapped around its 18-inch wheels. It also weights just 1250kg.
More? Well there's rev matching for the manual gearbox, launch control and the brand's N Grin Control System which allows you to dial through Normal, Eco, Sport, N and N Custom drive modes.
The chassis and suspension have been overhauled, too, and there's bigger performance brakes fitted.
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.
That I can't tell you, at least not yet. We were driving pre-production cars exclusively on a race track, and so taking an computer reading would have been grossly unfair, and Hyundai hasn't dropped an official figure on us yet.
We do know that the i20, in regular guise, is fitted with a 50-litre tank.
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.
How should the success of a city-sized hatch truly be measured? Raw power and out-and-out pace? I don’t think so. There are bigger, more powerful vehicles for that.
Price? Well, at least a little. This segment forms the stepping stone to the performance vehicle world, and so they really can’t be too inaccessible, right?
If you ask me, the biggest - and possible only - criteria a car has to hit in this segment is that it’s fun. Plain and simple. Does it make you want to take the longer, twister way home, emerging at the other end of a winding road with a face-splitting grin and fighting the urge to turn around and do it again in the other direction? Or does it make you want to stick to the freeway?
Well, it’s safe to say that in the i20 N - in prototype form at least - the answer is definitely the former.
Yes, the light hot hatch segment has been in something a power arms race of late - one now won by the GR Yaris - but the i20 N doesn’t really step into that ring. Its 150kW and 275Nm puts it at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of pure outputs.
But damn if it ain’t fun. The numbers on the page only really tell half the hot hatch story. The rest of it is how it feels, or how big a smile it paints on your face, and I can tell you this car painted a plenty big grin on mine.
One of the things I like about the i20 N is that it feels a little Mazda MX-5-like, in that you don’t need to be traveling at warp speed to feel like you’re having a good time behind the wheel. It means you can unleash it on any twisting road you come across, and have a whale of a time, without risking your entire driver's licence.
There are some cars where you really need to be travelling at pace to feel like you’re having a good time in them, but this isn’t one of them. It feels fun all the time.
It feels really connected to the track, too, like you’re in control of the vehicle, And I think the mark of a hot hatch is one that makes you feel like a better driver, and this does that. It forgives you mistakes, it urges you to push a little bit faster, a little bit further, and all of which results in a pretty good time behind the wheel.
Now a caveat, of course. This is a pre-prod car, and this test also took place on a race rack, so how this thing drives on the streets near your place, and what it's like to live with, is anyone’s guess, but as a taste test, it certainly seems to continue the N legacy of building cars that are simply a ton of fun.
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.
More mysteries here, I'm afraid. Hyundai is yet to confirm full safety specification for the i20 N, but we would expect it to get most of the brand's advanced safety kit.
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.
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.