Hyundai Sonata VS Subaru WRX
- Much improved looks
- Cutting edge interior tech
- Full-size alloy spare
- No AEB available, at all
- Big price jump to Premium
- Still not a match for Mazda6 or new Camry
- Huge AWD fun
- Signature turbo engine
- Still decent safety
- CVT auto. Really?
- Feeling old inside
- Rough around town
Australia’s love for SUVs is a lot like our embrace of Netflix. EVERYONE seems to be getting on board and people love to boast that they never watch traditional free-to-air TV anymore, while fewer and fewer people are buying once-dominant sedans in favour of their boxier alternatives.
But, there's still a good chunk of the population that prefer good old telly, and the shape of car most of us grew up with. Yes, many regular TV voters and sedan fans will be in the same camp, but that's okay.
So if you're considering a sedan like the Hyundai Sonata, you're not alone. And like most mainstream brands, Hyundai is committed to building a range of cars to suit everyone. This commitment is so strong that you can choose between two mid-size sedans in the Hyundai stable, with the Sonata vying for your attention alongside the i40.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
For many folks around my age, the Subaru WRX holds a special place in the heart.
This is because those of us born from the late ‘80s to early ‘90s are the so-called “PlayStation generation.” Growing up at a time where videogames bridged the gap from 2D to 3D leads to a lot of imprinted memories, a lot of digital firsts, which wowed and inspired, and a lot of rapid-fire nostalgia as hardware advancements left once-thriving game franchises in the dust.
It was also high time for the World Rally Championship's well-regarded Group A rally category, which forced manufacturers to make cars much closer to their production counterparts. It was frequently dominated by none other than the Subaru WRX.
Combine these two worlds and you end up with a lot of kids feeling like they could do anything in Subaru’s newfound performance hero from the comfort of their bedrooms, many of whom would go on to buy a second-hand one to slap P plates on as soon as they could.
Read more about the WRX
It was a perfect storm and made the WRX the right car at the right time to put a previously small-time brand well and truly on the performance map.
The question with this test is: Should those kids, now in their late 20s or 30s, still be considering Subaru’s halo car? Or, now that it’s the oldest product in Subaru’s catalogue, should they wait for the imminent reveal of the new one? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The new Hyundai Sonata gets big marks for the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Premium’s sweet turbo engine and the fact that both variants have full size spare tyres and run on regular fuel. Oh, and Hyundai’s five year warranty.
It’s a pretty good car overall, but it’s a shame to see AEB missing from the spec sheet in 2018. The Premium is the clear pick between the two in terms of an overall package, but the Active’s $14,500 cheaper price tag makes it the sweet spot in our eyes. The new Camry and the Mazda6 do seem to right the Sonata's wrongs though.
Would you look past the lack of AEB to buy a Sonata? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Although it's now the oldest car in Subaru’s catalogue, there’s nothing really quite like the WRX on the market. This is a car which is true to its roots, a rugged performance stalwart that comes with dollops of fun and compromise in equal measure.
Thanks to Subaru’s updates over the years, it’s fared better than some when it comes to technology and safety, but I’d still implore you to pick the manual to truly experience this car as nature intended.
For 2018, the Sonata has been completely restyled ahead of the A-pillar to bring it in line with more recent models like the i30 and Kona. This means the new cascading corporate grille, sleeker headlights which are mounted lower due to a reshaped bonnet, bumper and front guards.
The rear end has been similarly sharpened, with new rear quarter panels and tail-lights, while the number plate has been moved from between the lights to within the bumper. The bootlid has also been reprofiled to accentuate the Sonata’s fastback roof profile.
On the inside there's an updated dash with metallic buttons under the multimedia unit, and both versions get bespoke steering and alloy wheel designs.
I think Subaru was gunning for subtlety with the non-STi WRX. For a performance car, the design is a little sedate, with the WRX looking perhaps a little conservative to really stand apart from its Impreza sedan sibling, despite diverging from it some years ago.
There’s no mistaking the rally profile of the full-fat STi, with its huge wing and even bigger wheels, but here in the WRX premium it’s all a little toned down. Still, fans will love the absurd bonnet scoop, angry-looking alloys and quad exhaust. It’s stanced out a little by some flared bodywork, but the tiny lip spoiler at the back robs it of a bit of street cred. Perhaps it's to encourage you into the significantly more expensive STi…
Despite its relative age, though, the WRX still fits into Subaru’s lineup nicely. It has all the hallmarks; the small grille, the angled LED headlights, and the signature tall profile. The chunkiness is all there, too, both on the outside, with its flared bodywork and exaggerated scoop, and on the inside, with thick leather clad seat trim, and a chunky, satisfying steering wheel.
The abundance of red lighting in the dash cluster is reminiscent of the heyday of Japanese performance cars of years past, and while it’s not as plush on the inside as Subaru’s newer products, it’s not disappointing either, with nice use of soft trims.
The plethora of screens feels unnecessary, and the 7.0-inch multimedia unit is feeling very small now, compared to most more recent cars. At least the software has been updated since 2018 to have the more recent system used in the Impreza, Forester, and Outback. It’s simple and easy to use.
Compared to those Subarus, though, the WRX’s interior is feeling a little tired. It’s a bit small, and things like the CD drive and nastier plastic trims smattered around remind of days past for Subaru. It's a good thing the new WRX is coming soon.
The Sonata was already one of the more spacious mid-size sedans around, with heaps of legroom for rear seat passengers, enough cabin width to manage three adults across on short journeys, and a surprising amount of rear headroom for its sloping roofline. The Premium does lose 40mm of headroom because of its sunroof, but rear passengers only lose 15mm.
This ample rear legroom also means more cabin length than most mid-size SUVs, which makes fitting a rearward-facing baby seat without compromising front passenger legroom a lot more likely.
There are two ISOFIX child seat mounts back there for optimum fitment as well, and the Premium’s retractable door blinds are a far more elegant solution than the window socks that have become a fundamental of modern parenting.
Front passengers get a cupholder each in the centre console, while rear occupants get the same in the fold-down armrest and there’s a bottle holder in each door.
The back seat folds 60/40 to expand beyond the generous 462 litres/510 litres VDA (even though conventional wisdom suggests the VDA figure should be smaller). The split-fold can be actioned via the cabin or boot pulls, and you’ll be able to impress your friends with the hidden boot release button within the top of the H in the Hyundai badge.
One definite highlight is that both Sonatas get a full-size alloy spare wheel instead of the more common spacesaver under the boot floor.
A maximum braked tow rating of 1300kg for both versions is rather modest, however.
Compared to the more forward-thinking designs in Subaru Global Platfrom vehicles, the WRX is feeling a little claustrophobic on the inside. Still, you could do much worse in a performance car.
Front passengers get nicely trimmed bucket-style seats with good side bolstering. Like a lot of Subarus, the seating position isn’t exactly sporty. You sit quite high, and for someone my 182cm height, it feels as though you’re peering down over the bonnet a little. Aside from that, height adjustability is pretty good from the electric seat, and there is a small bottle holder in the door, plus dual cupholders in the centre, a small centre-console box, and a small tray under the climate unit.
Overall, the dark trims in here conspire to make the WRX’s cabin feel a bit tight. This continues for rear passengers. The WRX really is a small sedan and room isn’t great for me behind my own driving position, with my knees touching the front seat. I have to duck a little to get under the sedan’s roofline to get in, and while the decent trim continues, the seat feels a little high and flat.
Rear passengers get pockets on the backs of the front seats, a drop-down armrest with two cupholders, and a decent bottle holder in the doors. There are no adjustable rear air vents or power outlets, however.
Being a sedan, the WRX has a rather deep boot, coming in at 450-litres (VDA). This rivals some mid-size SUVs, but it’s worth noting the space isn’t quite as usable, with a small loading aperture, and it’s a little tight when it comes to the available height. Still, it consumed our largest 124-litre CarsGuide suitcase with ample space to spare.
Price and features
Nobody likes higher prices, but Hyundai claims to have met the $400 rise for the base Sonata Active (now $30,990 MSRP) with an extra $2000 of value.
Extra features for 2018 include an 8.0-inch multimedia screen with in-built sat nav and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also gains dual-zone climate control, push-button start, a hidden boot release button, and chrome door handles.
Other equipment highlights include a leather steering wheel and gear selector, auto headlights, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, plus 17-inch alloys.
The previous mid-spec Elite has been dropped from the range, which creates a sizeable $14,500 gap between the Active and the $45,490 MSRP Premium (which carries the same price tag as before).
Hyundai claims the new Premium brings $1000 more value though, with the addition of LED headlights and a wireless Qi mobile phone charger on top of the updates applied to the Active.
Beyond the Active’s spec list, the Premium also adds features like leather trim, a panoramic sunroof, proximity boot opening, heated and ventilated front seats with power adjustment, plus memory settings for the driver’s seat and side mirrors. There’s also active cruise control, front parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert, auto wipers and 18-inch alloys.
While the Premium’s extra features (and drivetrain advantages detailed below) are numerous, we’d find it tough to make the $14,500 jump over the Active. Hyundai sales expectations also reflect this, with the Active tipped to make up around 70 per cent of Sonatas on the road.
The WRX Premium auto tested for this review is a sort of mid-spec variant. Wearing an MSRP of $50,590, it sits above the standard WRX auto ($43,990), but below the more hard-core WRX STi ($52,940 – manual only).
When you look for rivals, it’s a harsh reminder of the distinct lack of small performance sedans in today’s market. You might consider Subaru’s hero against the front-drive Golf GTi (Auto -$47,190), Skoda Octavia RS (Sedan auto - $51,490), and Hyundai i30 N Performance (manual only - $42,910). There’s a more direct rival coming soon in the form of the i30 N Performance sedan, which will also be available with an eight-speed dual-clutch auto, so look out for that in the near future, too.
While it's now the oldest Subaru on sale by quite a margin, the WRX has been augmented in recent times to offer more up-to-date features.
Standard are mean-looking 18-inch alloys clad in skinny Dunlop Sport rubber, full LED lighting, Subaru’s typical assault of screens, including a smallish looking 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen (mercifully with updated software since I last drove this car), a 3.5-inch multifunction display in the instrument cluster, and a 5.9-inch dash-top-mounted display screen, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a CD player (how quaint), leather-accented interior trim, eight-way adjustable power seat for the driver, heated seats for front passengers, dual-zone climate control, and privacy tint for the rear windows.
The continuously variable automatic makes up the majority of WRX sales, so I’m told, which is particularly disappointing to hear. Especially given it’s a $3200 jump over the manual, and tarnishes the drive experience. More on this in the Driving section.
The WRX also comes with a safety suite that is impressive for a car of its vintage, which we’ll look at in the Safety section. Getting on it may be, but the WRX is surprising in how well it holds its own on the value front.
Engine & trans
The biggest news under the new Sonata’s bonnet is the eight-speed torque converter auto fitted to the Premium. Stepping up from the six-speeder used before, Hyundai claims it improves fuel consumption (more detail below) from the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder unit that still makes a very healthy 180kW of power and 353Nm of torque.
The Active’s drivetrain is unchanged though, with the same 138kW/241Nm 2.4-litre petrol four-cylinder engine, paired with a six-speed torque converter auto.
The WRX’s engine is a tuned-up version of Subaru’s signature horizontally opposed “boxer” four-cylinder. In this case it’s a 2.0-litre turbo unit (FA20) producing 197kW/350Nm, ample for a little sedan like this.
Disappointingly for me, our particular WRX premium was an automatic, and it’s not a great one. While most performance cars will drop in a lightning fast dual-clutch, or at least have the decency to offer a classic torque converter with clearly defined ratios, Subaru falls back on its rubbery continuously variable automatic, as derided in the rest of its mainstream range by enthusiasts.
We’ll explore this more in the Driving section of this review. It’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, but it still doesn’t belong in a car like this.
The Sonata Premium’s new automatic knocks 0.7L/100km off its official combined figure, which now stands at 8.5L/100km.
The Active’s simpler but less peppy drivetrain is still the better of the two, with an unchanged 8.3L/100km combined.
Neither figure may appear particularly frugal, but this would be offset to a large degree by the fact that both engines still deliver their best sipping regular old 91RON unleaded fuel.
Considering 91 is a full 13.2c/L cheaper than premium 95RON on average across Sydney this week, the Sonata goes some way toward balancing key rivals’ lower windscreen sticker numbers at the hip pocket.
Fuel consumption is likely to be at the bottom of your list of concerns when it comes to a small performance sedan, but on the official/combined testing cycle, this car will consume a claimed 8.6L/100km of mid-shelf 95RON unleaded.
Over our week of mostly urban testing, our car produced an unsurprising 11.2L/100km, which is actually under the official urban number of 11.8L/100km. Not bad for a performance car, really.
The WRX has a relatively large fuel tank for its size at 60-litres.
Given the unchanged engines and suspensions, the Sonata drive experience is largely the same as before.
Which is no bad thing. It steers and handles better than you’d expect from a car developed primarily for the Korean and US markets, cabin noise is well contained and generally just does a good job.
It lacks the sporting edge of the Mazda6, but it’s not hard to imagine most buyers in this segment would probably prefer it that way. The Australian-tuned suspension also does a better job of maintaining comfort over rough roads.
The Premium’s new eight-speed auto does a good job, too, and really helps the engine come alive when you put it in Sport mode.
It’d be really nice to have the Premium’s turbo urge in the Active, but its drivetrain is par for the course in its price bracket and more than enough to keep up with traffic and handle the open road.
It truly pains me that this car is an automatic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with an automatic performance car. Dual-clutch iterations of cars like the Golf R are great, but the WRX automatic is a CVT.
This transmission isn’t great in the brand’s regular range, let alone in a performance application, where snappy response and a predictable, linear riding out of the rev-range are really necessary to extract maximum enjoyment.
I was surprised to find the CVT isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps through sheer torque, the WRX does hammer into its 2400rpm peak torque band rather quickly, for an immediately impressive 0-100km/h sprint of around six seconds, but it’s beyond this point where you’ll start to get dull, rubbery, and occasionally hesitant response from the accelerator. Not particularly appealing attributes when you’re carving up a few corners.
Handling-wise, the WRX is excellent with its robust all-wheel-drive system and firm-to-a-fault suspension. This makes it a true joy to fling around bends, with equally firm and rewarding steering giving you a truly organic and controlled handle on what’s going on at the wheels.
Subaru’s boxer engine gives the WRX a signature gruff sound under acceleration, with some turbo noise to boot, but with this particular transmission you won’t be getting the satisfying turbo blips you can extract with a swift kick of a clutch pedal in the manual.
Driving it around town every day is a little rough, with a brittle and busy ride, while the heavy steering will get on your nerves when you’re just trying to park the thing.
The firm ride, large wheels, and slim tyres makes the cabin noisy at all speeds, and occasionally sends shockwaves through the front of the car if you’re unfortunate enough to hit a pothole. It’s hardly the most pleasant companion to have on a freeway.
Honestly, if you’re after an automatic performance car, there are better options out there both in terms of response and everyday comfort, although none are quite like a WRX. I’d implore you to pick the manual if you can, it’s a better, more engaging experience in every way.
The previous version of the Sonata was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2015, but we’re surprised to see that AEB still doesn’t appear on either version of the updated model, even as an option.
Most of the Sonata’s main rivals have this key crash avoidance tech fitted standard these days, and it’s even available on US-market versions of the Hyundai.
Hyundai Australia explains that the Korean plant that builds our Sonatas doesn’t equip them with AEB for their home market, and the numbers just don’t add up for Down Under.
Aside from this omission, both versions come fitted with all other current status quo features, including front and side airbags, with curtain airbags covering both rows, ABS, as well as traction and stability control.
In good news for the WRX, Subaru’s signature EyeSight suite is mostly present here, albeit a slightly older version than the one that appears in its newer products. Regardless, key active items include auto emergency braking (works to 85km/h with brake-light recognition), lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and auto high beams.
It misses out on reverse auto braking from more modern Subarus but features active torque vectoring to add to the standard suite of electronic aids like traction, brake, and stability controls.
The WRX has a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, although it dates way back to 2014, well before active safety items were even considered.
The Sonata is covered by Hyundai’s generous 'iCare' ownership program that includes a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, including free roadside assistance for the first 12 months.
Service intervals differ between the trim levels, with the Premium’s turbocharged engine requiring a visit to the mechanic every 12 months or 10,000km, while the Active’s simpler drivetrain stretches out to every 12 months or 15,000km.
The Sonata comes with a lifetime capped price servicing program, with the Active’s pricing during the warranty capped at $265 (each) for the first three services, a $365 major service, with the final reverting to $265.
The Premium is not dissimilar, with its first three services capped at $275, then a major service for $355, before dropping back to $275.
Annoyingly, the WRX requires six-monthly or 12,500km service intervals, a hold-over from Subarus past. It’s not cheap, either, with each six-monthly visit costing between $319.54 and $819.43 (ouch) for the first 10 visits covering five years of ownership. It averages out to $916.81 per year for the first five years. These are numbers which rival some premium European options.