Price & Equipment - Winner: Honda Civic Type R
Visual subtlety is in short supply in the Honda Civic Type R but there’s not much else missing. A one-spec-fits-all proposition, it gets all of the safety stuff standard, and like the Subaru, has adaptive cruise, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav, a rear camera and huge alloys wrapped in sticky rubber (20in here; an inch bigger than those fitted to the STI.)
The Subaru WRX STi is a mainstay in the $50K performance realm while the newly turboed Type R has grown into it. Close on power and torque, the super Subie isn’t as loaded with kit; you have to pay an extra $5K for an STi Premium to get the likes of forward-collision warning, lane-change assist and a side-view monitor.
Interior & Versatility - Winner: Honda Civic Type R
The Honda’s front seats and driving position top the Subaru’s and the finishes are nice but the success of the busy design is perhaps a matter of taste. Tenth-gen Civic’s broad proportions translate to plenty of cabin space. With the rear seats folded the cargo compartment grows from 414 litres to do a handy wagon impression.
The fourth-gen Impreza-based STI has been around a while so the Type R has newness and Honda’s quality focus in its favour. There’s nothing wrong with the Subie’s materials, it’s just that it aims for neat functionality rather than classiness.
You get a 460L boot and a bit less rear legroom due in part to the STI’s 50mm-shorter 2650mm wheelbase.
Performance & Economy - Winner: Honda Civic Type R
The Honda has similarly hefty outputs but is 150kg lighter than the STI and only drives the front wheels, which hurts it away from the line but makes it feel livelier at low revs. The Type R’s sweet-revving nature recalls atmo Type Rs, which is nice, as is the way it builds to its peak of 228kW at 6500rpm.
Subaru’s EJ-series engine is nearing 30 years old as a design but there’s still plenty to like in 2.5-litre turbo STI guise. It’s tough, easily tuneable and packs a 407Nm wallop at 4000rpm. At its most driveable in ‘sport’, the AWD Subie is quicker off the mark, but loses its accelerative advantage on the move, and it officially uses a third more juice.
Ride & Refinement - Winner: Honda Civic Type R
The Type R’s ride is surprisingly unaffected by the 30-profile 20-inch rubber and it strikes a terrifically absorbent tune on adaptive dampers in comfort mode. It’s perhaps a bit quieter inside than its rival, although it does let some tyre roar into the cabin on coarse-chip; neither has an overly noisy exhaust.
The STI’s NVH is fundamentally quite good but there’s no escaping the extra tyre drone you get on large, low-profile performance-oriented rubber, or the boxer thresh and burble (which we love). Restless at low speeds, the STi’s ability to ride well exists away from sharp-edged bumps and above 80km/h.
Steering & Handling - Winner: Honda Civic Type R
The Type R is eager to turn in and there’s genuine meat to the steering (just as in the STI). The dual-axis front suspension – think Ford Revoknuckle or Renaultsport Perfohub – separates steering and suspension axes to provide geometry approaching that of a double A-arm front end, and as a result, improved ability and feel.
The STI is rare in that it is fitted with hydraulic steering assistance, yet this doesn’t make it a car you’d single out for its ability to deliver feel. The Subie isn’t quite as keen on turn-in, nor to offer nuanced feedback as its rival. It rewards a scruff-of-the-neck driving style more than a smooth approach; drive it hard and it’s a hoot.
Verdict - Winner: Honda Civic Type R
When two rivals are closely matched, elements of the ownership experience often rise to deliver the decider. But that’s not the case here. Not only are the Civic Type R and WRX STI fundamentally different machines with different audiences, they’re both made by brands with a solid rep for quality and reliability. Honda does give you a five-year warranty though (while Subaru’s is three years).
We like the Subie’s character and hard-driven demeanour, but unless you’re a blinkered brand loyalist or an all-paw devotee, the Honda is more thoroughly convincing for its cabin space and finish, hatch practicality, engine efficiency, nicer ride and for presenting an overall sweeter proposition as an urban hi-po tool.
Just as long as you’re a fan of the styling.