Subaru WRX VS Honda Accord
- Huge AWD fun
- Signature turbo engine
- Still decent safety
- CVT auto. Really?
- Feeling old inside
- Rough around town
- Quiet and serene cabin
- Frugal hybrid powertrain
- Booming sound system
- Expensive pricetag
- Sedate handling
- Chintzy chrome exterior accents
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|
SUVs are all the rage these days, with buyers abandoning the once-thriving mid-size sedan landscape for something higher riding and, arguably, more practical.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any options left for those wanting a traditional three-box sedan.
Over in Honda’s corner though, the Accord – now in its 10th generation – continues to fly the flag for the Japanese brand, but does it do enough to justify continuing its low-volume sales in Australia?
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Regular Unleaded|
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.
The Accord VTi-LX Hybrid might seem like an odd choice for those after a mid-size sedan, but Honda has done more than enough to justify its existence in its current stable.
Sure, the price is a bit high, but it comes fully loaded and has a cutting-edge powertrain to keep running costs down.
In a segment that is dominated by the Toyota Camry, Honda had to do something to stand apart, and pushing a little more upmarket with spec and refinement is definitely the right way to go.
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.
Sedans might be as daggy as all get out right now, but we think the Accord actually looks pretty handsome (don’t @ me).
With its long bonnet and athletic profile, the Accord wears Honda’s current design language well, and thanks to the chrome touches on the outside, dare we say it even looks a little premium?
The chrome isn’t for everyone though, and we’d have liked to see darker accents like a ‘Shadow Chrome’ gunmetal grey colour that might age a little better than the ultra-reflective material.
In profile, the gently sloped roofline also adds to the aesthetic factor, while it's great to see Honda has opted for comfort in the 18-inch wheels rather than style, by going a few sizes bigger.
The rear end features unique wraparound tail-lights and a pinched derriere that slims things down a little, while the hidden exhaust outlet hints at the Accord’s green-car credentials.
Overall, the Accord is inoffensive, and certainly scores points for being much less common than the Toyota Camry and Mazda6, and a little less divisive in styling than the Skoda Octavia.
Step inside the Accord and it’s mostly a sea of soft-touch materials and plush leather.
The seats are especially notable because of their supportive design and wide base, ensuring driver fatigue doesn’t set in until you're several hours into a journey.
The 7.0-inch driver display is a little small, but the large head-up display is excellent at putting all the data you need front and centre.
As for the multimedia system, an 8.0-inch screen seems large, but because it is flanked by physical buttons and knobs, it actually looks a bit smaller than the units found in some rivals.
I did appreciate the old-school buttons, though, and the touchscreen is quick and snappy, even if the graphics and user interface are a little clunky and cheap looking.
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.
Measuring 4904mm long, 2137mm wide, 1450mm tall and with a 2830mm wheelbase, the 2021 Accord is actually pretty close in size to the Holden VF Commodore.
And it flexes its bigger dimensions with a roomy and spacious cabin, regardless of where you are sitting.
Up front, the electronically adjustable seats offer plenty of variability to get into the perfect position, and the driver’s seat also has a memory setting if you are sharing the Accord with different people.
The door bins are a little on the smaller size and struggle to fit a full-sized water bottle, but the centre console boasts a deep cavity, with two cupholders also featured next to the shifter.
The wireless smartphone charger position , which is between the shifter and climate controls, does eat up an entire storage hole because once you put your phone down, you don’t want to put your keys or wallet on top of it and risk scratching your screen.
it would have made more sense for the wireless smartphone charger to be placed under the armrest, like it is in BMWs, to retain another storage option.
In the rear, space is excellent for occupants of all shapes and sizes, affording plenty of head, shoulder and leg room.
The middle seat can be a little squeezy, but the soft-touch leather and seat shape offer plenty of support and would be supremely comfortable over long journeys.
In the back, there are two air vents, two charging ports and a fold-down centre armrest with two cupholders.
Opening the boot reveals a cavity that will accommodate 570 litres of volume, but the back seats can be folded down to stow longer objects.
The rear seats are one piece, rather than split fold, meaning you’ll have to choose between having rear passengers or taking that trip to Ikea.
There is a lockable ski tunnel through the middle, though, which means long and narrow items can be carried without folding down the rear seats.
Two bag hooks are found in the boot, which helps keep your groceries in the bag and not all over the boot floor.
Price and features
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.
The Honda Accord VTi-LX Hybrid we’ve tested wears a pricetag of $55,800 before on-road costs, but those that can do without the electric assistance can score one for just $52,800.
A $50,000-plus asking price for a Honda sedan might seem steep, but the VTi-LX grade comes with all the fruit you’d expect out of a car in this price range.
Seriously, this isn’t something we usually bring up in reviews but the Accord’s sound system is truly great, offering clear and crisp audio whether listening to the radio or streaming music via Bluetooth.
Other key specification appointments include automatic LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, auto-folding side mirrors, woodgrain interior dashboard, electronic sunroof, black leather upholstery, electronically adjustable front seats, heated front seats, wireless smartphone charger, active noise cancellation, 7.0-inch driver display, 6.0-inch colour head-up display, keyless entry, push-button start, and remote engine start.
It’s a long and exhaustive list of equipment, but what about the options?
Well, there aren’t any.
Likewise, the standard 18-inch wheels are the only ones available across the Accord range, with no option to black them out or go an inch or two up in size.
Sure, those that want a frugal petrol-electric hybrid powertrain at a cheaper price can opt for the Camry Hybrid (priced from $33,490-$46,990), but the fit and finish of the Accord VTi-LX does feel a step above what Toyota has to offer.
It's worth pointing out that the top-spec Camry Hybrid features a powered tailgate and cooled front seats, which the Accord misses out on, while the former also boasts a larger 9.0-inch multimedia screen.
Engine & trans
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.
Powering the Accord VTi-LX Hybrid is a 2.0-litre petrol engine and dual-electric motor combo, for a total output of 158kW/315Nm.
Drive is sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission.
Compared with the Camry Hybrid, the Accord is down 2kW in power, but out in the real world it is very hard to tell the difference in outputs.
Being a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, there is no need to plug in the Accord Hybrid as the petrol engine works to charge the battery.
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.
One key to the Accord VTi-LX Hybrid’s appeal is its ultra-frugal fuel consumption figure of just 4.3 litres per 100km, and low 98 grams of CO2 emitted per kilometre.
In our week with the car, we managed an average of 6.1L/100km in a mix of varying drive modes, including ‘Sport’.
No doubt if we were hypermiling that figure would be much closer to the official numbers, but our time with the Accord consisted of various short inner-city trips (where the hybrid powertrain excels) and a blast down some country roads (where the hybrid powertrain does not excel).
Regardless, the fuel economy figure is still a respectable one for a hybrid, especially one of this size and with this much practicality.
The Accord VTi-LX Hybrid is both more fuel efficient and less pollutant than the top-spec Toyota Camry Hybrid SL, which returns 4.5L/100km and 103g/km respectively.
It's also worth nothing that it’s 48-litre fuel tank will be enough to get around 1000km of driving range before requiring filling with 91Ron petrol.
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.
While the Accord was once a nameplate that delivered a dynamic and engaging driving experience (remember the Accord Euro with its wonderful K24 engine?), it seems Honda’s mid-size sedan has matured somewhat in its older age.
Its petrol-electric hybrid powertrain is designed for frugality, not fun, so being aware of this before purchasing an Accord is vital, particularly if you're an enthusiastic driver.
In this regard, the Accord VTi-LX Hybrid is a safe and predictable car, never surprising with understeer or tyre squeal, but also delivering a comfortable and cosseting experience.
You kind of know what you are getting out of the box, which is certainly no bad thing for anyone after a quiet and calm driving life.
Tipping the Accord into a corner, the steering wheel feels light, progressive and unsurprising, but offers plenty of feedback for what the front-drive sedan is doing.
The suspension also feels much more geared towards comfort than sportiness, with bumps and road imperfections soaked up with ease.
The quietude of the cabin is what probably stands out the most when behind the wheel of the Accord VTi-LX Hybrid, thanks to the electrified powertrain and clever active noise cancellation.
When running in EV mode (available, depending on conditions, at the push of a button), the Accord is a serenely quiet and comfortable place to be, even rivalling premium marques like the Lexus IS200, let alone the mainstream Toyota Camry Hybrid.
Three driving modes are on offer – Eco, Normal and Sport – and with the electric motor assist, even in the Eco setting, the Accord still offers decent punch off the line.
Sport mode turns things up a little, but the CVT tends to feel a little elastic with the throttle pedal pinned.
Our recommendation is to drive the Accord in Eco mode and reap the benefits of a low fuel-economy, figure rather than trying to relive the glory days of Honda’s high-revving, VTEC-laden sports sedans.
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 10th-generation Honda Accord has not been crash tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP and, as such, does not have an official safety rating.
However, all Accords come with Honda’s Sensing suite of advanced driver-assistance systems, which include forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams.
The Accord also boasts automatic headlights and wipers, active cornering headlights, rear cross-traffic alert, a surround-view monitor, hill-start assist, tyre-pressure monitoring, and front and rear parking sensors.
The 10th-gen Accord wears a maximum five-star crash safety rating in North America (with full marks for frontal crash, side crash and rollover protection), where it was tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Despite sharing many safety features, the US and Australian Accords differ in production location, with ours coming from Thailand.
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.
Like all new Hondas, the Accord comes with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty plus six years of anti-corrosion assurance.
After the first free 1000km service, the scheduled maintenance intervals for the Accord VTi-LX Hybrid are every 10,000km/12 months, whichever occurs first.
According to Honda’s tailored service price guide, the first five years/50,000km of ownership will total $1816 in maintenance costs, which averages out to be about $363 per year.
While the 10,000km service intervals are a little short compared with the Camry’s 15,000km period, the Accord is actually quite cheap to get serviced.
Each of the Honda’s services for the first 100,000km costs only $312, with costs going up depending on additional service items.
However, the Toyota Camry Hybrid still edges ahead with its longer intervals and $220 per service costs for the first five years, although the numbers increase dramatically after that.
The cheap service pricing combined with the excellent fuel economy of the hybrid engine mean the Honda Accord VTi-LX Hybrid keeps running costs down.