Which Is The Better All-Rounder?
This Christmas, the Go Flat Out team is in for a treat. We compare two of the most highly contested sport compact cars currently on sale. We pit the 2018 Honda Civic Type R against the 2018 Subaru WRX STI in order to find out which sport compact is able to excel in multiple aspects. Sport compacts have always been a favorite among car enthusiasts. Despite its high-performance capabilities, these cars are still able to provide the practicality and utility that makes these cars feasible to use even on the most mundane of everyday tasks. It’s essentially the best of both worlds, but there are sport compact cars out there that are more usable or more capable than others, and that’s what we’re going to find out.
It took about 20 years for the Type R nameplate to finally arrive in the Philippines, so how does it fare in the styling department? Well, unlike Type Rs of past, this one looks extremely aggressive, perhaps too much to some people. It used to be hard to differentiate an EK Type R against a normal EK hatchback, thanks to its subtle design. Now though, every aspect of the Type R’s design is there to tell onlookers that you’re driving the fastest front-wheel drive (FWD) car to lap the Nurburgring. These numerous styling upgrades range from its wider wheel arches to accommodate the wider track, massive 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped in extremely thin performance tires, all the way to the massive rear spoiler, front splitter, side skirts, and rear diffuser, which are all finished in a faux carbon fiber pattern.
Many of the aero bits are functional, though. The side vents suck in air to cool the Brembo brakes up front, while the side vents let air out from the wheel wells for better aerodynamics. The rear vortex generators bring air towards the massive rear wing in order to create plenty of downforce at high speeds. The rest of the vents, meanwhile, are just for style. There’s acres of them–and it isn’t to everyone’s taste either. The looks certainly do split opinion. It’s either you love it or loathe it, and while Isaac does like the Type R’s looks, he does wish that the fake vents were reduced.
Compared to the Subaru WRX STI though, the Subie’s exterior is a lot tamer than the Civic Type R’s, and to a good amount of people, the WRX STI manages to be the better-looking one. There’s not much going on around its exterior, with only the C-shaped LED daytime running lights, 18-inch BBS forged alloy wheels, and the signature WR Blue Pearl paint giving the WRX STI its head-turning design. If it were in white or silver though, the WRX STI will easily fly under most people’s radar, but for many car enthusiasts, the Subie’s more subtle design is what they’re looking for. If any, the WRX STI should age better in terms of its more conservative design.
As a whole, the Civic Type R is like an athlete trying to look good with all the latest and trendiest sportswear, while the STI is simply athletic and would rather be known for its skills instead of trying to look like it has the skills. Because of this, we give the styling win to the WRX STI.
Winner: 2018 Subaru WRX STI
Because the Civic Type R is a newer car than the WRX STI, it simply feels more modern and better engineered than the WRX STI’s interior. It isn’t by any means a luxurious interior, but with its body-hugging racing bucket seats, acres of alcantara inserts, signature Type R titanium shift knob, as well as the right amount of red interior trimmings, the Type R really is a track-focused interior. Up front, you are greeted with a digital instrument cluster and an ergonomically laid-out interior. There are also some faux carbon fiber elements that do uplift the interior vibe. Yet, because it is still a friendly Honda Civic underneath all the red-ness, you still get the practicality you expect from the popular compact sedan. More on that later.
The WRX STI, meanwhile, is starting to feel dated. This generation of the WRX STI first came out in the 2015 model year, and it is felt in many aspects of the interior. The symmetrical dashboard has a nice sprinkling of red trimmings, but apart from the signature STI shift knob and swathes of STI badging all around, there’s only so much that a facelift could do to bring the WRX STI up-to-date. The traditional symmetrical dashboard is ergonomically laid out and easy to use, but it is far from being a stylish interior.
Winner: 2018 Honda Civic Type R
Space and Practicality
This is where both cars show their strengths as a high-performance car you can use every day. The Civic Type R’s interior is festooned with cubby holes and storage areas. Underneath the high center armrest is a massive center bin that houses the reconfigurable cup holders. Remove those cupholders and you are left with so much space, the center bin can easily store an iPad. Oh, and there’s a hidden storage cubby behind the center console which also houses more USB ports, including one for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to function.
Meanwhile, at the back, the sloping roofline of this Civic hatchback body cuts into headroom much more than the sedan. Whereas a six-footer will easily fit in the Civic sedan, James and Isaac has their heads brushing into the headliner of the Civic Type R’s hatchback body style. Also, while the seats are a bench-type that can technically accommodate three adults, Honda only provided two seatbelts, hinting that the rear is best left for two. Oddly enough, there’s also no rear center armrest to talk about.
However, because of its hatchback body style, the Civic Type R has more cargo flexibility. Isaac particularly likes how intelligently designed the Civic Type R’s parcel shelf is. It’s a roll-up type design which enables it to be very compact and easy to store underneath the trunk floor. With the seats in place, there’s 420 liters of space. Fold the rear seats down, and you’re provided with a huge 1,580-liter trunk. The 60/40 split-folding rear seats lie almost flush to the floor, too.
Meanwhile, the Subaru WRX STI does a better job of carrying three adults at the back. The center tunnel can be intrusive for the middle passenger, but it’s nothing too terrible to deal with. The upright design also means that there’s more headroom compared to the Civic Type R’s, and while the sedan body style isn’t as flexible as the Civic Type R’s hatchback design, the trunk space of the STI is bigger at 460 liters.
Elsewhere, the WRX STI has decent cubby holes and storage areas dotted around the cabin. While it doesn’t have as much intelligently designed cubby holes as the Civic, nor the flexibility of its hatchback design, the WRX STI is the better car for carrying five people. With equal strengths and weaknesses in different areas, Isaac and James will consider this a tie.
Features, Safety, and Infotainment
We’ll start with what each cars offer similarly. Both cars have passive entry with push-button start, automatic LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, LED tail lights, LED foglights, an 8-inch infotainment system, and then from there on, this is where their similarities in terms of features end.
The Honda Civic Type R’s Display Audio infotainment system isn’t the nicest to use, but it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, which gives it an edge over the Subaru’s. As of this writing, though, Subaru has announced a few added features for the 2019 model year, the most notable of which for the WRX STI is the addition of the new Starlink infotainment system, which also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Additionally, the music coming out of your phone will sound better thanks to the upgraded Harman Kardon sound system for the 2019 model year.
As with previous experiences with the Starlink infotainment system in cars such as the XV and Outback, the system is easy and intuitive to use, and is better than Honda’s Display Audio infotainment. Plus, Starlink also comes with a volume and tuning knob, unlike the Honda’s fiddbly touch sensor inputs.
Elsewhere, the Subaru WRX STI also offers slightly more equipment in the areas of safety. Blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert comes as standard, as well as steering responsive LED headlights. If frolicking under the sun is your thing, then you’ll be glad that the WRX STI also comes with a sunroof. Because of these added features, the Subaru WRX STI offers more value when it comes to features compared to the Honda Civic Type R.
Winner: 2018 Subaru WRX STI
Powertrain and How It Drives
While both cars have roughly the same power and torque figures on paper, their performance on the road couldn’t be more different, and it starts with the way the two cars respond differently to your inputs.
Out in the open road, the Subaru WRX STI performs admirably. The hydraulically assisted steering feels heavy yet weighty, something that Isaac and James loved. You really do know what the front wheels are doing. As a result, it’s easy to point and shoot the WRX STI through corners.
The EJ25 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer engine is oh-so-familiar to us now, having been the engine underneath the STI for such a long time now. It provides plenty of punch once the STI gets going. Hard launches are much better, too, as the center differential for the Symmetrical AWD system is now fully electronic, making the car much more fluid and more agile to respond to any of your inputs.
While the boxer engine’s signature rumble will always be music to our ears, its engine is one of the areas where the WRX STI’s age is really felt. Whenever the engine goes below 3,000 rpm and you want to overtake or outrun someone, the engine feels gutless. It’s only when the turbos spool up that the engine tries to break your neck and push you back to your seat. However, once the WRX STI is in its rhythm, the engine provides so much punch through the rest of the rev range that it just simply accelerates relentlessly when driven hard. With the advent of modern turbocharging systems that basically try to reduce turbo lag, this is one area where the EJ25’s age is really felt.
As for the rest of the package, the AWD system does an excellent job of keeping the WRX STI composed through the corners. The chassis itself is finely tuned as well, which is well-matched to the suspension that delivers basically zero body roll. For all the suspension’s stiffness though, there’s some hint of flexing happening through the chassis. Perhaps it might be because this vehicle is what our buddy Russ Swift uses in his stunt shows whenever he is in the Philippines, but one aspect where we can all agree upon is the WRX STI’s stiff ride.
Combined with the car’s manual transmission, in which its clutch engagement is high, the pedal effort heavy, and the shifter feeling precise but stiff, the WRX STI is a car that is hard to drive in city traffic. With multiple driving modes available in the Subaru Intelligent Drive (Si-Drive) switch, its best left in Sport mode, as it offers the best balance between response and smoothness.
In contrast, the Civic Type R feels more modern and easier to live with. While the Type R also has selectable drive modes like the WRX STI, the presence of Adaptive Dampers makes a world of difference. Drivers can toggle between Comfort, Sport, and R+.
By default, the Civic Type R starts out in Sport mode, yet even in Sport mode, the stiffened suspension still offers enough rebound when going over bumps. Flick the switch to Comfort mode, and the Civic Type R feels just like a manual Civic RS Turbo thanks to the electronic steering that then becomes lighter to use and the suspension that softens to offer a very compliant ride.
Out on the highway, the Civic Type R has plenty of usable torque whatever the rev range. Even without spooling the turbos, the K20C1 turbocharged inline-4 VTEC Turbo petrol engine provides decent punch. When you do want to bury your foot down even more for overtaking power, the turbos spool up so quickly that turbo lag is extremely minimal.
The Civic Type R’s wide torque band doesn’t require you to change gears too often just to get any pace when driven in the city or on the highway. Even then, you might simply want to downshift just for the sheer pleasure out of it. The Type R’s clutch pedal provides an excellent pedal feel, and the engagement point is lower compared to the WRX STI’s. Oh, and the titanium gear shifter is so light and extremely precise, changing gears is a pleasure on its own.
Flick it into R+ mode, and the Civic Type R’s civilized personality is suddenly thrown out of the window. The steering weights up, throttle response sharpened, and the suspension automatically stiffens to deliver zero body roll. While the electronic power steering is extremely fast and accurate, especially in R+ mode, it doesn’t provides the same amount of feel as the WRX STI’s hydraulically assisted steering. Nevertheless, the inputs made through the steering, pedal, and transmission are so instantaneous, you immediately feel so connected with the car’s mechanics. Every input during R+ mode is almost never met with any sort of delay. While the Subaru’s EJ25 provides plenty of punch at higher revs, the Civic Type R accelerates relentlessly from whatever rev range. Also, due to some suspension geometry trickery that Honda’s engineers have developed, torque steer is almost completely eliminated when you bury your foot to the pedal, which is a wonderful feat for a front-wheel-drive (FWD) hot hatch. I do say almost since it can still show tiny hints of torque steer when you really try to provoke it.
A 0-100 kph sprint dictates that the Civic Type R is a full second slower than the WRX STI, thanks to the latter’s AWD system, but once the two cars are in motion, it becomes a different story. Due to the broader torque and power band, the Type R responds better to your inputs. Lapping the Nurburgring in 7 minutes, 43.8 seconds, this FWD hot hatch manages to be faster than more expensive and more powerful supercars such as the Audi R8 V8, Ferrari 599, and also the BMW M3 GTS. If you want to see more about the ten supercars that are slower than the Civic Type R around the Nurburgring, click this link here.
Winner: 2018 Honda Civic Type R
And that’s the wonderful aspect about the Civic Type R. It manages to be a civilized and comfortable machine when doing the mundane tasks in life, whilst being a wonderful track monster. In a world where almost all high-performance sport compacts perform quite closely among each other, what matters most nowadays is how many tricks can it perform.
Whereas the Subaru WRX STI ends up as a one trick pony, the Honda Civic Type R impresses with its dual character that ends up being a car that is enjoyable to use both on the track and also during the boring and mundane stuff in a car nut’s life. This is why overall, the 2018 Honda Civic Type R wins this test.
Isaac’s Pick: 2018 Honda Civic Type R
James’ Pick: 2018 Honda Civic Type R