Subaru Impreza VS Ford Fiesta
- 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
- A true hot hatch
- Forgiving but engaging to drive
- Highly specified
- Tight back seat
- Firm ride might not be for all
- Manual-only will limit appeal
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|
Hot hatches are for a relatively small club of enthusiasts, and new small cars are gradually being eliminated from the greater Australian market.
Surely, it makes little to no business sense to bring an Australian audience a small, manual-only hot hatch all the way from Europe, to sell to a pitifully small audience of diehard enthusiasts.
But then, perhaps this is part of Ford’s enduring genius in Australia. You see, while long-time Australian arch-rival Holden stumbled over its ill-fated Commodore sequels and flip-flopped on its SUV catalog, chasing sales numbers in a post-local manufacturing world, Ford let the cars speak for themselves by offering Aussies brightly coloured pony cars and over-the-top pickup trucks which instantly etch themselves on your consciousness as they rumble past.
So, here we are. Ford made the surprise announcement to bring in its Fiesta ST hot hatch a few years ago, and despite a few delays we can now get our hands on it.
The question remains – is it any good? And, what is it like to live with in an Australian capital city? We took one for a week-long urban test to find out.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
If you want a brand-new city-sized hot hatch which is also entirely track-ready, it is clear you only really have one option to go with in 2020.
Good thing then the Fiesta ST is not only a blast to drive, but it has all of today’s modern connectivity and tech items in an attractive and tasteful package at a not-outrageous price.
It’s just too bad the manual-only aspect will limit its appeal to true enthusiasts.
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).
The Fiesta wears Ford Europe’s new design language, which has swung back towards curves and bumps from the angular look of a few years ago, being tied to the brand’s broader global range through the use of the Mustang-look rhomboid grille. After the Focus it’s the first car to bring this design language to our market, and heralds a better-looking range of Ford SUVs in the form of the Puma and Escape (a segment in which Ford is struggling to make ground).
Regardless, our Fiesta only comes in one four-door body-style and one trim, this full-fat ST with all the spoilers and contrast detailing.
I love it. It scratches that European hot-hatch itch many have with its compact dimensions balanced out well with more subtle design touches. The 18-inch wheels and contrast grey highlights work well in the ‘Race Red’ colour scheme on our car, which also seems to nicely integrate the rear light fittings.
It’s aggressive but not over the top; there’s an element of subtlety about it, which should be applauded.
Inside, things are interesting. The chunky leatherbound wheel is nice, as are the almost-too-well-bolstered Recaro seats. But the dash is very upright, and the seating position immediately feels just a smidge too high, even in its lowest configuration.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen juts out of the dash into the passenger compartment, making you really feel those tight dimensions. At least everything is easily within reach…
The cabin design is a little dated, with plenty of hard plastics, a more-analog-than-not dashboard and some fittings which could easily be in a last-generation Ford product. Those searching for that hot-hatch experience probably won’t care, but it’s just not the most modern space to be in.
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.
This isn’t a big car, nor is it particularly magical in the way it’s packaged. It’s focused on the front two passengers, so is best meant for a single or couple. This is most obviously reflected in the awesome Recaro seats, which you have to drop yourself into due to the high and firm bolstering.
Still, even for front passengers it’s tight, with little arm-flailing room, and minimal cabin storage.
There’s two centre cupholders, which can barely hold a large cappuccino, tiny bottle-holders in the doors, a small centre console box, but a decently sized binnacle under the climate controls where my wallet, keys and phone spent most of the week. The glovebox is also so small that the collection of manuals which live in there had to be bent out of shape to fit.
Amenity-wise you get one USB port and one 12V power outlet next to the gearknob, and one USB port in the centre console.
The Fiesta is tall, so at least no occupant is left wanting for headroom. That having been said, the rear seats are tight. Behind my own seating position, my 182cm tall frame had knees up against the seat in front, and entry/egress to the rear is a little tight. I’d hardly recommend placing an adult in the centre seat. Unsurprisingly, rear-seat passengers get next to no amenities. There are no power outlets or adjustable vents, leaving them with only a pair of pitifully small cupholders in the doors and rear-seat pockets. Still, the fact it has rear doors at all is something, and gives it at least the ability to carry four adults without too much trouble getting them in or out for quick urban journeys.
Boot space has been expanded 21 litres over the previous Fiesta to now offer 311 litres (VDA) of space. This is actually pretty impressive and held our largest 124L CarsGuide travel case with ease.
Under the floor there is a space-saver spare wheel.
Price and features
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.
I wouldn’t call the Fiesta’s $31,990 price-tag ‘cheap’ considering how much car, physically, you actually get for that money.
But then, for a pretty much track-ready hot hatch, it’s not bad either, especially since it is packed with a rather long and surprisingly luxurious list of inclusions.
These include 18-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, sat-nav and digital radio, a 10-speaker Bang and Olufsen audio system, 4.2-inch colour information screen between the dial clusters, single-zone climate control, leather steering wheel and semi-leather/suede Recaro sport seats, heated front seats, a reversing camera, and full LED front lighting.
Performance-wise, out of the box the ST gets Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, launch control with three drive modes, and is the first Fiesta to get a mechanical limited-slip differential (built by Quaife).
Rivals? The Fiesta comes at an opportune time, after Peugeot’s ageing but excellent 208 GTi was pulled from our market last year, and the Clio RS Cup ending production internationally, so you’ll be stuck looking for MY18s of those in dealers.
Other than those two, there is the Suzuki Swift Sport, which is fun and more affordable ($25,490), but not as much of a serious performer.
The Fiesta’s option list is limited to a panoramic opening sunroof ($2500) and premium paints ($650). Both are arguably worth it if you want them.
Engine & trans
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.
You’re buying this car for its 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine from the larger Focus. It is a punchy and characterful little unit, pushing out a whopping 147kW/290Nm. A lot for such a small package.
The Fiesta ST is only offered with a six-speed manual transmission which proved quick but forgiving, even in dense traffic. There’s no magnetic clutch or anything too brutal here which is going to make the ST unpleasant for urban drives punctuated by stopping and starting.
On the performance front the ST comes to Australia with a Quaife LSD as standard, which you can really feel in the corners. (More on that in the driving segment.)
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.
The initial claim of 6.4L/100km on the combined cycle seems pretty bold, and we couldn’t get close to it. I’m sure you could get much closer if you tried, but I was having far too much fun.
After a week of blasting the Fiesta down alleyways and skitting it around corners, the engine computer returned a usage of 8.4L/100km. Not on the claim, sure, but also not bad considering how much fun you can have for that amount of fuel.
The Fiesta has a 45-litre fuel tank and will accept mid-grade 95RON unleaded.
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.
Like any good hot hatch, the Fiesta is huge fun, even when in the tight quarters of a city, or on a daily commute which would otherwise be boring.
The torquey engine makes short sharp bursts down suburban streets smile-inducing, and, due to the pure physics of having so much power in such a small package, there’s serious entertainment to be had without wrangling with the law. That’s because this car comes alive in the little moments: bursting off the mark at the lights, or swinging it into a corner and feeling the LSD work its magic to keep the ST’s body in line. You don’t need to be speeding or breaking traction to enjoy it.
There is nothing remarkable about the transmission in a good way. It’s slick, slots into gear nicely and the clutch is smooth – even forgiving. That ties into something else the Fiesta does well. Nothing is over the top about it. It is sensible, understated, tasteful.
You can bring it to life in the confines of an apartment block without waking up your neighbors, go for a short drive to the shops without cringing at potholes, take your family somewhere without blending them in the corners.
The suspension has enough give to be firm, a pleasure in the corners and a little skittish perhaps, but not as brutal as, say, the Peugeot 208 GTi was.
And while it might be the only performer left in the segment for now, I reckon it is a better urban friend than the Peugeot on Sydney’s roads, and a more engaging one than the Clio in the curvy stuff. It’s a hot hatch with few compromises… as long as you can drive a manual…
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.
Just because the Fiesta is a performance car, doesn’t mean it’s missed out on crucial active safety gear.
Missing is driver attention alert and active cruise, although in a manual it’s not likely you’ll miss it.
Ford’s Sync software also has a feature which can automatically call emergency services if the airbag is deployed.
Other safety features include torque vectoring, electronic stability, brake, and traction controls, six airbags (with full-length curtain), and dual ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
The Fiesta ST does not yet carry an ANCAP safety rating, although it does have a maximum five-star EuroNCAP rating.
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.
All Fords are now covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is on-par with major rivals, and a nice bit of security to have on a performance car. Check the fine print before taking it to the track though…
Ford also offers a few kickers through its Service Benefits program, like a free loan car when you service, auto club membership, and sat-nav updates.
The services which need to occur every 15,000kmn or 12 months are also cheap, with Ford covering the first four years at a fixed price of $299 each time.