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Honda Civic Type R vs. Subaru WRX STI; Which Car Belongs In Your Garage

How does the 2018 Honda Civic Type R stack up against the 2018 Subaru WRX STI. Which compact performance car belongs in your garage?

There’s two things that stand out when you compare the 2018 Subaru WRX STI vs the 2018 Honda Civic Type R. The Civic is front wheel-drive vs the STI’s all-wheel-drive platform, and the Civic Type R offers a hatchback body style compare with the WRX STI sedan.

The advantages of the hatch body style are clear with the Civic offering more utility over the sedan body style. The hatch offers more versatility and utility when it comes to transporting sports gear and carrying the family dog along. Performance fans were disappointed Subaru dropped the 5-Door hatch in 2015, and they want it back. The Civic Type R offers the hatch as does the Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R.

Sales numbers say Americans want hatchbacks more than sedans. In 2017, compact and subcompact car sales were down 25 percent in the US. While hatchbacks in those same classes have risen 16 percent. While hatchbacks account for about a quarter of industry small car sales, Ford’s Fiesta and Focus out-perform that significantly at 33 percent and 40 percent respectively. Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle told USA TODAY, “Hatchbacks are the nugget of hope for the small car segment.” Advantage Civic Type R.


The Subaru WRX STI, sends engine output to all four wheels, while the Civic Type R retains the same front-wheel drive layout as do all models in the Civic lineup. It wouldn’t make much sense for Honda to change the Type R to all-wheel-drive, when the entire lineup rides on a different platform. “Civic traditionally has always been front-wheel drive and this platform is front-wheel drive,” said Civic senior product planner Rob Keough. “And Type R is about what’s the maximum that we can achieve out of that platform.”

Putting power down to all four wheels in a sport compact does have its advantages. Not only does it provide an added level of traction, but all-wheel drive helps send power where it’s needed and when it’s needed there. The system in the WRX STI, for example, provides for a performance-oriented 41:59 torque split. This allows the mechanically limited slip differential to have a quicker response and activates just prior to the electronic limited-slip differential. Manual mode offers six selectable settings, allowing the driver to vary the front-to-rear torque distribution to optimize all-wheel drive performance to suit specific driving conditions. Advantage Subaru WRX STI.

AWD does have disadvantages

The disadvantages with having an all-wheel-drive performance car, is the added weight. Adding the extra WRX STI AWD hardware does add weight (3,386 lb.), where the Civic Type R comes in considerably less at 3,117 lb. total curb weight. There’s also the inevitable drivetrain power loss resulting from powering all four wheels as opposed to just two.

“All-wheel drive would’ve added weight to the car, it would’ve changed the character of the car,” Keough said. “Honda’s racing philosophy has always been lightness and balanced performance, and the team felt like (it) could get the most performance out of this car without adding the weight and the cost of all-wheel drive.”

It worked for Honda because when they took the car to Germany to see how it would do on the Nurburgring, the Civic Type R completed its lap of the “Ring” in just 7:43.80. The Subaru WRX STI Type RA NBR did it in 6:57.5 last year, but that was a special “Record Attempt” machine that’s nothing like the production model. It also took the all-wheel-drive Focus RS and Golf R more than eight minutes to circle the Ring. Advantage Civic Type R.

Engine output

When we compare engine output, the Civic Type R is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder under its hood that makes 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The Subaru WRX STI, meanwhile, makes 305 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque from its 2.5-liter turbo boxer engine, which is slightly less than the Honda. While there’s little difference in power, the Subaru STI boxer engine sits lower in the chassis and has a lower center of gravity than the Civic Type R. This makes make for a more dynamic driving experience, and gives the STI an advantage especially in the corners. Advantage WRX STI.

When we compare the 2018 Subaru WRX STI ($36,095 starting MSRP) vs the Honda Civic Type R ($34,100) each has advantages over the other compact performance car. What this comparison can't measure is the aesthetics, daily drivability, and something unmeasurable, called the grin factor. Maybe it comes from decades of Subaru’s motorsports involvement that transferred all that technology to the STI. It’s as close a competition as any, but at the end of the day the winner is clear.

Not many owners if any, will take either car to the Nurburgring for a track day. But all will drive their performance compacts in less than ideal conditions on the street. You’ll see many STI owners heading to the ski slopes with snowboards strapped to the top carrier on snowy winter mornings. We would choose the 2018 Subaru WRX STI for its daily ability to get you home safely in all-weather conditions and its recreation-purposed platform. Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD system is what puts the STI clearly ahead of the Honda Civic Type R.

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Photo credit: Subaru Facebook


David M Pridham (not verified)    February 6, 2018 - 9:19AM

A bit like comparing chalk and cheese and it's more than obvious that there is a real leaning from the narrative, of one against the other. If you like 4WD, then that's fine, but please put it against others of a similar ilk, rather than purporting to write a comparative test, when you now the result, before you've put pen to paper. It's all a little pointless and provides no real insight, other than the obvious preference of the writer.

john c (not verified)    February 11, 2018 - 2:31PM

I think a better question is which one looks less like 15 clowns are going to clamber out of it in a stoplight. I'd be embarrassed to be seen in either, but the honda is particular is really garish.

David M Pridham (not verified)    February 12, 2018 - 9:18AM

In reply to by john c (not verified)

Both cars have their followers and detractors. The purpose of this article is simply misconceived, in that they are totally different vehicles, with absolutely nothing to put as a comparative point. Whether they visually or otherwise suit you or your personality doesn't come into it either, quite frankly. I have issues with articles that are supposedly written for constructive reasons, but fail miserably on every level.

Wayne (not verified)    June 2, 2018 - 8:00AM

In reply to by David M Pridham (not verified)

Sorry, have to disagree. There are definitely people who will cross shop these cars. For 35k-40k cars you can track that are also practicsl they are among the top choices for sure. I have a friend with a type R that has a couple issues who is considering trading for an STI.

billybob (not verified)    July 2, 2018 - 11:32PM

If you can find a Type R without the dealer markup it may be worth considering. I tried to cross-shop between the Civic and the STI. Fortunately the Honda Dealer made the decision easy by bouncing the price up by $7,000 as a dealer markup. I am now looking forward to taking delivery of the STI.

David Pridham (not verified)    July 3, 2018 - 4:25AM

That, unfortunately, is a truly bad part of the USA dealer network arrangements, when they can hike the price like that. It simply doesn't happen anywhere else, although now that this Trade War is going on, you can expect to see every car, rise in cost, relatively quickly.

DC (not verified)    October 25, 2019 - 3:53PM

This is not a very constructive comparison. Comparing lap times of a much more expensive competition version of an STI (which nobody reading this will buy) to a stock CTR is not helpful. AWD isn't the primary factor when figuring out how practical a car is, of course AWD is an advantage when driving in heavy snow but even then we all know tires are a bigger factor. I also believe telling people that the CTR cost $3000 less isn't painting the whole picture. It's hard to find a CTR for MSRP, where an STI can easily be found with a discount.

Paul Richard Stabin (not verified)    May 18, 2020 - 2:13AM

I own a Type R, and had a Civic SI before that. And have driven both the WRX and STI. The STI corners better? In what universe? Handling is a clear win for the Honda in anything but snow and ice. They do fine in the rain, and will crush a Subie on a dry road. Check any course, any lap time. Not knocking Subaru- I actually had one at the top of my list before test driving them back to back with Honda. In the AZ desert you don't need a snowplow. You need a scalpel. And that is what Honda makes. Even back in 2004-2006, when I test drove an STI vs an Evo, the Mitsubushi easily outhandled the less agile STI. Now if you want something to put your ski rack on, the STI is great. But if you want something to handle a slalom like an Olympic skier, then you need a Type R, or at least an SI. All Honda had to do for their record lap at Nurburgrung was throw some Michelin Cup 2 tires on a stockType R. Subaru had to create an entirely different version that you cant even buy let alone use every day. Renault meanwhile had to recently create a special edition too. and take out the back seat, etc. to catch the Civic. So let's give it to Subaru for a good hydraulic rack-although the steering on the Type R is also magic, better all weather capability, a much better turning radius than the Type R, and a great culture. And some serious Rally history. Everything else goes to...Honda. Not a fan boy, just hard facts plus my observations. I even test drove the Focus RS. Impressive, still not as good as the Type R. Which is a keeper. Subaru makes a great car. Pretty much the same one they have made for years. Sorry, had to go there. Honda engineers actually have an answer when their boss asks 'what have you done lately,?'

Paul Richard Stabin (not verified)    October 29, 2020 - 7:35PM

In reply to by Sean (not verified)

Yes, I am aware of that version, but it is in another price class. And I still suspect the record setting STI RA was tweaked further at the Ring than the one your Subie dealer offers. But it is excellent , as it should be for the cost. My bottom line is you can't go too wrong with either the STI or Type R. Unless you live in northern CO. In which case the Subie is mandatory. Just as the Type R is perfect for the AZ desert which mine resides in.

George Yang (not verified)    August 12, 2021 - 4:20PM

In reply to by Paul Richard Stabin (not verified)

Honda engineers actually have an answer when their boss asks 'what have you done lately,?' How many years of engineering did Honda take and build a car to be on the same level as Subaru? Name one car manufacture company who is competing against STI that still uses their same platform from early 2000s?

Carlos J Silen (not verified)    June 1, 2022 - 3:02PM

In reply to by Paul Richard Stabin (not verified)

Funny. Let's see that Type R go at 55 miles per hour on a yield circle. :) . If you all have an STI i suggest you all try it! Its fun. Might have some wheel squeek but it's all good. Bwaha

Tim (not verified)    November 21, 2020 - 12:52PM

Another aspect that is often overlooked between these two cars is the engine reliability. STI 2.5L motors are known to have many problems including head-gaskets and engine failure. It is Subaru's least reliable engine by far. Honda's 2.0L engine is great as a daily drive/fun car, but has known problems with overheating when used on tracks.

Paul Richard Stabin (not verified)    February 9, 2021 - 3:43PM

Fair comparison. Except- if you don't need a four season car- like here in the AZ desert- the awd and extra weight. inferior seats / seating position, and drivetrain loss of the awd Subie seems pointless. And the better ride, extra room, and precision of the Type R makes it a better choice here. I own a Type R, and have driven several STI's and WRX models. Both great cars. But all I miss from the STI is the hydraulic steering rack and smaller turning radius. Certainly not the interior compared to the Type R. The funny thing is my Plan A was an STI. Then I drove the Honda. No wrong answer here. Just a matter of priorities. In CO it would have to be the Subaru. But in AZ the Type R rules.