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HomeDRIVENHONDA CIVIC RS VS SUBARU WRX

HONDA CIVIC RS VS SUBARU WRX

Both are Japanese, similar in size, and are billed as four-door sports sedans, both share very similar colour palettes and exterior trim, and display revered badges. So, do the new Honda Civic RS and Subaru WRX tS live up to their hallowed designations, or must they be considered acronymic anomalies?

Viewed side by side, the Honda Civic RS and Subaru WRX tS exhibit striking similarities in terms of design and trim, and with similar colours (Brilliant Sporty Blue for the Honda, WR Blue Pearl for the Subaru) and finishes, including black matte alloy wheels and gloss black adornments, they are nearly indiscernible from certain angles.

Also, differences in size are negligible, with the Honda 7 mm longer and 50 mm lower but 23 mm slimmer than the Subaru. Yet, despite their sporty appearances – the Scooby is more assertive thanks to its signature bonnet scoop and more aggressive hexagonal grille – and hallowed badges, they significantly differ in drivetrain layout and power output.

The Honda comes with an enhanced 1.5-litre, four-cylinder VTEC turbo engine and an updated continuously variable transmission (CVT) feeding power to the front wheels, while the Subaru has a new 2.4-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged horizontally opposed Boxer engine coupled with a new eight-speed Subaru Performance Transmission (SPT) delivering power to all four wheels.

With only 131 kW of power and peak torque of 240 Nm for the Honda, it is clear it cannot be compared to the WRX-badged Subaru, with 202 kW and 350 Nm of torque available, in terms of performance. So then, what is the deal with the sporty styling and the provocative, racy red RS nomenclature for the Honda?

RS IN HONDA-SPEAK

Usually, the RS designation is associated with “RennSport” (racing sport), as used by manufacturers such as Porsche, Audi and Ford, as well as Renault (for the erstwhile Renault Sport models). The acronym has a storeyed 71-year history steeped in motorsport, yet in Honda parlance, the letters have a completely different meaning, which has nothing to do with motorsport. 

In Honda-speak, RS stands for “Road Sailing” (to describe the smooth road-going nature of the vehicle), and while we only now have seen it locally for the second time, it has been prevalent on Honda cars for a full half-century (the same period as the RS-nomenclature on the Porsche 911).

Also noteworthy is that it was used on the first-generation Japan-only SB1 Civic model launched 50 years ago. This sportier 1200 RS, delivering 56 kW and 101 Nm of torque, was added to the line-up in 1974. The badge returned in 1999 on the acclaimed sixth-generation EK3 model (the Civic Ferio Vi-RS) and was again used on the seventh-generation ES2 Civic Ferio of 2001. 

Both these model ranges were available locally (as the Ballade), but no RS derivatives have been offered until now. 

While not exactly clear, it seems the RS badge slots beneath the erstwhile Type S and the high-performance Type R that competes with the Audi RS, Mercedes-AMG, BMW M, and Subaru WRX STi models. Which brings us to the new, second-generation WRX from the Pleiades brand (the fifth model to carry the nameplate).

RALLY LEGACY

When launched in Japan 30 years ago, the WRX was the original turbocharged pocket rocket, and since then, it has become a global phenomenon. The introduction of WRX, standing for World Rally Experimental, marked a serious assault by Subaru on the World of Rallying. 

Winning three manufacturer’s championships, the Impreza-based racer became an instant icon, and for a generation, rally was defined by the blue and gold colours of the Subaru team. However, from 2015 onwards, Subaru rang the changes by firstly dropping the Impreza name for the VA series WRX and then moving away from the Impreza platform with the latest VB model.

Now based on the Subaru Global Platform, the new, bigger WRX is 75 mm longer and 30 mm wider than its predecessor, with a 20 mm longer wheelbase but styled with a 10 mm lower roofline. It also benefits from an increase of 14% in front lateral rigidity and 28% in torsional rigidity.

A bold broad-shouldered side profile further complements the wider frontal stance of the WRX, but even with crossover-type side garnish over the wheels incorporating air outlets at the trailing edges, 18” wheels with low-profile rubber and an integrated diffuser and spoiler at the rear, it still does not look as menacing as some of its raw, rally-bred predecessors.

Its bigger FA24F 2.4-litre mill, still with the characteristic offbeat warble of Subaru boxers, produces 5 kW more power than the previous 2.0-litre engine but similar torque. Its power delivery is smoother and more linear, improving drivability, but even in the most radical mode, the exhaust note is just too subdued for what is expected from a WRX.

With Sport+ selected on the five-mode Si-Drive performance management system of our tS-badged ES-spec WRX (Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Individual), the all-wheel drive four-door sedan lunged forward from standstill, and acceleration, while not tarmac-scorching, was still deceptively brisk (zero to 100 km/h in six seconds),

However, the allure of the new WRX lies not in its straight-line performance but in its finely honed balance and high levels of corner grip. In this sense, it is still a real sports sedan (as also alluded to by the ‘tS’ designation; a slight hat-tip to the STI brand), yet its diverse repertoire is unfortunately spoilt by an uncomfortably harsh ride (even in Comfort mode) over short and sharp undulations.

ROAD GLIDING

Conversely, the Civic – in keeping with the meaning of its RS badge – literally glides over the road. Its ride comfort on all types of surfaces is hugely impressive. It may not be all that powerful and WRX-grippy in the corners, but its relaxed yet well-balanced road demeanour elevates the driving experience.

Yes, its prominent red badge and racy exterior perhaps overpromises in terms of performance (zero to100 km/h in only 7.5 seconds), but it largely makes up for it with exemplary road behaviour and perhaps the best CVT (with three driving modes) in the business. In our view, it is the best modern iteration of the Civic, and an effortless car to live with.

In terms of interior comfort and spaciousness, there is little to choose between the two, as the Civic, in keeping with its new-age identity, is 25mm longer than its predecessor, with a 35 mm longer wheelbase and a slightly lower roofline. Its cabin is uncluttered, with a minimum number of cut lines to reduce visual distractions.

The WRX, now with a huge central infotainment touchscreen dominating the cabin, shows the biggest improvement in quality materials and trim. Both models are incredibly well-equipped, with dual aircon, suede and cloth seats, and high-quality sound systems from Bose and Harman Kardon, respectively.

Regarding safety, the Civic has the Honda Sensing system as standard, while the Subaru comes with the latest EyeSight Driver Assist System and Driver Monitoring System. Luggage space is virtually identical (495 litres for the Honda, 492 litres for the Subaru), but the Civic has a tiny fuel tank (47 l) compared to the WRX (63 l).

LAST WORD

So similar in some respects, yet so different in others, and quite unalike their predecessors. Also, they are not directly comparable, as indicated by the big difference in pricing (R699,000 for the Honda, R859,000 for the Subaru). In terms of this summation, the new Civic does justice to its RS acronym regarding its impeccable road behaviour, yet it underdelivers in the performance stakes.

And the new Subaru? Well, the WRX tS ES is a different WRX altogether, and is now a much more sophisticated and premium sports sedan for grown-ups. Even so, one cannot describe its designation as an acronymic anomaly.

Report by FERDI DE VOS | Images © RYAN ABBOTT

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