Catch the next hatch wave

Thrifty and flex­i­ble, small cars still ap­peal to many buy­ers. We com­pare new ar­rivals at the $25K mark

The Advertiser - Motoring - - COVER STORY - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

We’ve cho­sen the most pop­u­lar vari­ants, so this is go­ing to be a tight con­test.

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.

Dis­ap­point­ingly, how­ever, au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing is not avail­able — even as an op­tion — on these base mod­els.

SUBARU IM­PREZA

It may look like a re­design of the pre­vi­ous model but this Im­preza is new from the ground up, even though the in­gre­di­ents are the fa­mil­iar for­mula of a 2.0-litre four-cylin­der “boxer” en­gine matched to a con­stantly vari­able trans­mis­sion and all­wheel 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 ana­log 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 fastcharg­ing va­ri­ety, plus there are two 12V sock­ets and a 3.5mm au­dio in­put.

De­spite all-wheel-drive hard­ware un­der the floor, the Im­preza has more boot space than the i30. 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 over patchy roads.

The en­gine has a hi-tech whirr but works well with the seven-step con­stantly vari­able trans­mis­sion (with pad­dleshifters on the steer­ing wheel) and is the only one to shut down the en­gine at lights to save fuel.

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 sec­ondbest cor­ner­ing grip on our wet test drive, prov­ing good tyres are key to con­tact with the road.

HONDA CIVIC

A year af­ter the new Honda Civic sedan ar­rived with a dra­matic de­sign, the hatch has joined the fold. The styling po­larises opin­ion but, for what it’s worth, we reckon 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

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