Triple test: Hyundai i30 vs Honda Civic vs Subaru Impreza
SALES of hatchbacks are slowing as the SUV surge continues - but small cars are still the biggest segment of the market.
The three latest arrivals - Hyundai i30, Honda Civic and Subaru Impreza - rank among our top six picks (the others being the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and VW Golf).
So this is going to be one of our tightest contests. We've chosen the cheapest tickets: the most popular variants.
A sign of the competition, starting prices are just $200 apart, from $24,990 drive-away for the Hyundai and the Honda, to $25,190 drive-away for the Subaru.
It may look like a redesign of the previous model but this Impreza is new from the ground up, even though the ingredients are familiar, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder matched to a constantly variable transmission and all-wheel drive. Inside, Subaru has invested in a more modern cabin design with better quality materials. The rubber-covered dashboard and elbow pads in the doors are a pleasant change from hard plastics.
The faux carbon-fibre trim, sensor key with push-button start, electric park brake, tinted rear windows and auto-up front windows help push the Impreza up-market.
The central touchscreen has Apple Car Play and Android Auto; car information is in a small screen on top of the dashboard.
But the tiny screen between the analogue dials detracts from the rest of the upscale cabin and lacks a digital speed readout.
The rear camera has guiding lines that turn with the steering but front and rear sensors are a dealer-fit accessory. Subaru hasn't scrimped on power ports: two of the three USB points are the fast-charging variety, plus there are two 12V sockets and a 3.5mm audio input.
Despite all-wheel-drive hardware under the floor, the Impreza claims 345L of boot space.
On the move the Impreza glides over bumps, despite riding on 17-inch alloy wheels with low-profile tyres. You can feel the strength of the new body structure over patchy roads.
The engine has a hi-tech whirr but works well with the seven-step constantly variable transmission (with paddle-shifters on the steering wheel).
Smooth most of the time, the CVT can be indecisive on tight uphill turns. Surprisingly, despite its all-wheel drive, the Impreza had only the second-best cornering grip on our wet test drive, proving good tyres are key to contact with the road.
A year after the new Honda Civic sedan arrived with a new design, the hatch has joined the fold. The styling polarises opinion but, for what it's worth, we think it looks better as a hatch.
The starting point is the same as the sedan: a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine matched to a CVT auto driving the front wheels.
The Civic cabin is one of the best in the small-car class. The digital wide-screen instrument display, modern seat fabrics, upscale cabin materials, electric park brake, and auto-up front windows instantly give the Civic a premium appeal.
Honda is well known for making the most of available space and the Civic hatch excels, with a cavernous boot (414L) and one of the roomiest front and back seats in the class. The centre console is big enough to swallow a handbag and more.
The Civic has the best seating position of the three and feels "just right" as soon as you slip behind the wheel. The central screen supports Apple Car Play/Android Auto; the rear camera has guiding lines that turn with the steering but front and rear sensors are dealer-fit options. There are two USB ports and one 12V socket.
Sadly, one of our favourite touches of the Civic sedan is gone: the thumb swipe function of the volume tab on the steering wheel. Sedan customers said it was too sensitive, so Honda disabled it on the hatch. Please, Honda, make it an option.
All three cars tested have two Isofix child seat anchor points in the outboard positions of the rear row. The Civic has only two top tether points and the Subaru and Hyundai have three, enabling a non-Isofix child seat to be mounted in the middle position.
On the road, the CVT works in a similar fashion to the Subaru (it gets off to a slow start and can have a delayed response in tight uphill turns) but lacks shift levers to select a ratio.
On our test loop the Civic hatch was impressively sure-footed. The hatch is composed over bumps and handles corners the best of the trio.
The compromise for having superior grip? Noisier tyres on certain road surfaces.
Get behind the wheel and the reason for all the hype around the new i30 is not immediately apparent. The eight-inch tablet-style touchscreen (largest of the trio) looks up-market but the rest of the cabin is dominated by dark grey, hard plastics, from the dash to the doors.
From the inside, it looks like a cheap car that has been spruced up, though it gets most of the basics right and adds some fruit for good measure.
The standard Apple Car Play/Android Auto didn't work during our test despite trying different phones and different cords. Solely in this trio, the i30 has built-in navigation as standard (with free map upgrades for 10 years).
The i30 is also alone in having auto headlights, illuminated vanity mirrors, rear parking sensors, and a full-size alloy spare.
But some details were overlooked. The map pockets are mesh (so there's no security if you want to stash a wallet or phone) and there is only one USB port, two 12V sockets and a 3.5mm audio input.
The i30 has a lever handbrake versus the electric park brake of its peers.
The rear camera has guiding lines that turn with the steering (neither the sharpest or worst image we've seen). Cabin design is clean and functional. Instruments (including a digital speedo) are easy to read and the controls are well placed and intuitive.
The door pockets and glovebox are huge, boot capacity is 387L but rear seat space is the smallest of the trio. Where the i30 starts to shine, though, is under the bonnet. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder is the most powerful among this trio and it's the lightest car here.
Combined with a six-speed auto, it gives the i30 a head start in the 0-100kmh dash. These are not supposed to be performance cars but the i30 is the zippiest.
The steering is light and precise and provides good feedback. The suspension is taut yet comfortable over bumps. However, the Hyundai's tyres had the least amount of grip on our test loop. It didn't feel as sure footed as the Honda. And the brake pedal felt "soft" compared to the others, requiring a little more effort to pull up.
Hyundai's ace is not on the car itself. Its routine service pricing costs a little more than half that of the Honda and Subaru over three years, plus you have the peace of mind of a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
This was the closest contest in some years; each of these cars is worthy of consideration.
The Subaru and Honda have badge appeal, an up-market look, and resale value on their side. But the sweet spot in the new Impreza line-up is the next model up, which comes loaded with advanced safety features.
The Civic feels the most secure in corners, has the roomiest cabin and cargo hold, and a stunning hi-tech instrument display. But as with Subaru, the CVT detracts from the daily driving experience.
The new Hyundai i30 may look and feel like a $20,000 car with some extras added.
But for the money, the Hyundai has significantly more standard equipment, a zippier engine, a smoother transmission and the clear advantage of a five-year warranty and cheaper running costs.
Subaru Impreza 2.0i
Price: $25,190 drive-away
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: $1298 over 3 years
Service interval: 12 months/12,500km
Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 115kW/196Nm
Transmission: CVT (7 presets); AWD
Dimensions: 4460mm (L), 1775mm (W), 1480mm (H), 2670mm (WB)
Honda Civic VTi
Price: $24,990 drive-away
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Capped servicing: $1397 over 3 years
Service interval: 12 months/10,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl, 104kW/174Nm
Transmission: CVT; FWD
Dimensions: 4515mm (L), 1799mm (W), 1421mm (H), 2700mm (WB)
Hyundai i30 Active
Price: $24,990 drive-away
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: $777 over 3 years
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 120kW/203Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; FWD
Dimensions: 4340mm (L), 1795mm (W), 1455mm (H), 2650mm (WB)
Spare: Full-size alloy