For years, the C-segment has languished in the face of the crossover’s popularity, brought about by fears of flash floods and adverse weather. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the small, versatile, fuel-efficient, and affordable subcompacts that have allowed thousands of Filipinos to become motorized in the last three years.
Yet the C-segment lives on, and with the upcoming excise tax increase, will this vehicle class—which sits comfortably below the threshold where prices will really matter—find new strength? Perhaps.
For its part, Honda is finally back in the limelight after years of running around in the dark. The latest Civic is a real delight—well-built, stylish, roomy, and very elegant. The steeply raked C-pillars hide its bulk well, and the chassis is superb. What’s more, there’s now a sense of accuracy and precision in the controls that’s been missing in previous Hondas.
Ironically, despite this accuracy and precision, the tenth-generation Civic has grown up even further. Long-distance highway driving seems to be its forte. When the road gets tight and twisty, the Civic, though still capable as ever, feels a little more inert and unwilling to change directions, unlike the Impreza. It needs some coaxing, as if it’s telling you it’s all grown-up and doesn’t have time anymore for some tomfoolery, which was what made the older Civics—particularly the EF, the EG and the EK—true driver’s cars.
The engine is a 1.8-liter normally aspirated, single-cam four-cylinder unit producing 139hp and 174Nm. Power is transferred to the front wheels via a CVT. This sounds like a bad idea on paper, because most CVTs deliver neutered response. But Honda’s boffins have found a way to make the Civic, in real-world conditions, feel stronger and more responsive at throttle tip-in from idle—you’ll get a surprisingly sudden lunge forward if you’re not careful with the throttle. It’s only when you hit past around 65% to 75% of full-throttle input when the powertrain suddenly feels underwhelming.
But if you’ll be using the Civic every day in traffic, with long stints behind the wheel doing nothing, few cars are as comfortable, refined and relaxing in this price range. Aside from boasting spaciousness, the interior feels high-quality, with soft-touch materials all-around. The multimedia system can even mirror-link your smartphone. This car is also quite safe, with traction/stability control as standard, plus ABS and two airbags. Apart from the tight turning radius of 5.3m, the backing-up camera is handy, too, for squeezing into narrow parking slots.
The Civic has grown up, together with its legion of followers. But do these fanatics, who have made the nameplate so popular, still want the rambunctious feel of Civics of yore, or have they been caught up by #adulting as well?
SPECS: Honda Civic 1.8 E
Engine: 1.8-liter SOHC I4
Power: 139hp @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 174Nm @ 4,300rpm
UP NEXT: Subaru Impreza
Underpinned by the billion-dollar Subaru Global Platform, the all-new Impreza has a lot of things riding on it. Subaru has invested heavily into the platform, which is longer, wider and lower than its predecessors, as well as safer, sturdier, and more dynamic. On initial test drives in Singapore earlier this year, the latest model was very impressive. But out in the wild lies the real test.
Driving the car in real-world conditions, you come to an inescapable conclusion: Subaru is trying to beat Toyota at Toyota’s own game. The Impreza has lost practically all its quirkiness and alternative feel. It’s trying to be handsome and universally appealing, and ultimately comes out a bit on the bland side as a result. The interior is well-laid-out, with comfortable leather seats as well as generous standard equipment such as the large LCD serving as the heart of the multimedia system. The wheelbase is longer, giving better knee room for taller occupants behind.
The engine is a direct-injected flat-four that delivers 154hp and 196Nm, outdoing the Civic by 15hp and 22Nm. That said, the Honda tips the scales at 1,239kg versus the Subaru’s 1,374kg, the weight penalty no doubt coming from the AWD system. The Impreza’s CVT does limit the disadvantage, its preset seven ratios providing just as much grunt as the Civic’s in heavy acceleration. It also feels much improved compared to the previous model.
On the outside, the Impreza looks bigger and bulkier. There’s a lot of Legacy vibe here, a bit of Lexus IS/Toyota Mark X (a Japanese-only midsize) at the rear, and some cues from the older WRX/STI on the profile. You have the trademark Subaru styling cues up front—hexagonal grille and C-shaped headlights. The lines are softer compared to the previous model, which should yield better aero efficiency. The Civic’s appearance, though, is more dramatic.
Standard safety equipment is also better: ABS-EBD brakes, Symmetrical AWD (which practically doubles stability on slippier surfaces), seven airbags, hill-start assist, and perhaps the most unobtrusive blind-spot monitoring system. And to make sure you don’t careen off the road, traction/stability control is standard as well. There’s also a clearer backing-up camera.
On the road where it matters, the Impreza is surprisingly very fluid, very organic, and very playful. Our test unit has some damage on the front-right suspension, eliciting a loud clonking noise (due to either a broken ball joint or top mount) and resulting in noticeable pull on the highway. But on winding roads that require constant direction changes, the Impreza feels very much at ease, relaxed and composed despite the damaged suspension part and the weight penalty versus the Civic. Just because a car is heavier doesn’t mean ride quality or body control should suffer. Subaru has judged the suspension settings brilliantly here.
SPECS: Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S
Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC H4
Power: 154hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 196Nm @ 4,000rpm
UP NEXT: The verdict
Initially, I felt that the Civic would walk this one, because it seems a more polished and better-built product. The Impreza’s weakness is its interior, and the perceived build quality that seems lower than that of the Honda.
But driving these cars in real-world conditions yield a different story altogether. The Civic is all business: It tries to go as fast as possible in the most efficient way. In the three days I drove it, it covered 140km. That works out to roughly 12km/L on my route, about 70% highway driving and a bit of city driving.
The Impreza, on the other hand, managed barely half of what the Civic did, clocking it in just under 7km/L on the same route. Granted, I drove the car shorter over a shorter period of time, and the engine was tighter at only 1,300km run compared with the Civic’s almost 16,000km.
But on winding roads, the Impreza is the clear winner. It’s far more fluid, far more entertaining, and better-equipped for sportier driving. Grudgingly, I have to award the Civic the win. It meets the needs of the vast majority of motorists. It’s fuel-efficient, refined, roomy and comfortable. The Impreza, despite becoming more generic and universally appealing, is still one for keen drivers. The Impreza is the moral victor here, because it’s still the one many petrolheads would choose to take home. Today, however, the Civic takes home the bacon.