By on March 2, 2018

Image: 2018 Honda Civic Type R

With his last Ace of Base segment, Matthew Guy got everyone talking about the base Volkswagen GTI S. It went so far as to cause certain members of the TTAC staff to build GTIs over at the Volkswagen website. I didn’t do that, because I was busy ruminating on the difficult choices a Buy/Drive/Burn entry on hot hatches might offer. It’s difficult to write said entry the way I want, because the STI isn’t available as a hatchback anymore. So we’ve got hot compacts today.

Three hot hatches grr, compacts, from different manufacturers. One gets purchased, one you borrow, and one burns to the ground. Last time, it became apparent that some of you don’t know the rules, so here are the rules and you should read them before you scroll further. Let’s get speedy.

Proceeding from most racy to most serious, three distinct flavors of hot are on the table. All of these have manual transmissions in the specification discussed.

Honda Civic Type R

Image: 2017 Honda Civic Type RLast year, Honda decided it would sell this fifth-generation Type R in the United States, marking the first time the Type R had ever been available in this market. Available in one trim and four-door hatchback configuration only, Honda has tuned the 1996 cc inline-four engine, strapped a turbocharger to it, and piled up 306 horsepower. Those horses go galloping through the front wheels, and a manual transmission is required. Navigation and the shouty styling are included in the $34,100 base price.

Subaru WRX STI

Image: 2018 Subaru WRX STIA perennial enthusiast favorite, the WRX STI is a bit more subdued on the styling front. It’s got more power than the Civic – 305 horsepower. And the all-wheel-drive system means the power gets to the road a lot easier, and through twice as many tires. Subaru also mandates a manual transmission for the STI version of the WRX, and it will come home with you for $36,095. The interior is trimmed in Ultrasuede and leather; navigation is not available.

Volkswagen GTI

Image: 2016 Golf GTISerious and grown-up, the GTI continues the long tradition of simplistic styling and special cues that say GTI — like that red trim at the front (love). For the Honda and Subaru type money we’re talking today, you can’t get the Golf R, but you do get a top trim GTI Autobahn. Six-speed manual, leather, Fender audio system, navigation, and a panoramic sunroof are all standard. The only optional extras are wheels and dealer-installed accessories. Believe it or not, at 3,062 pounds the GTI is the featherweight of the group, besting the Honda by a bit less than 100 pounds, and the STI by nearly 400. It’s also the least powerful, with its 2.0-liter engine producing just 220 horsepower. Heavy on standard equipment but in the middle on price, it’s $35,070.

Well-equipped and wearing different tracksuits, which athlete wins a garage space, and which one ends up in the burned-out warehouse?

[Images: Honda, Subaru, Volkswagen]

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81 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Three Flaming Hot Compacts; One Will Actually Burn...”

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    Buy: WRX STi. Yeah, it drinks like a fish, but handles well, great ski mobile (AWD FTW), and well, its a Subi…

    Drive: GTi. Much rather have the subie to own, but the GTi would be fun to hoon into the ground (assuming by ‘drive’ its ‘drive it like you DON’T own it and hate whoever you are borrowing it from).

    Burn; Civic Type R. OK, I love Honda’s 6-speed manuals. But damn, that thing is just soo fugly and putting that much power through the front wheels is just stupid.

    • 0 avatar

      How they get that power down through the front wheels is the trick. They’ve effectively separated the power from the steering via an LSD and suspension geometry (that’s why the big wheels). I’d get it in grey,get new tires, and have the wing removed. The regular civic is so very good, this can only be very very very good.

      Truth though – I’d get the civic sport and do a hondata tuning. For about 25 large, I’d be a very happy person.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve driven them all, if only a test drive in the Civic R, and the Civic is, by far, the most entertaining to drive at anything less than rally speeds. Still think the FiST is even more entertaining on public roads (even flat out though Nevada), but the Civic is the closest this bunch gets to Miata like fun and responsiveness at even somewhat extended everyday speeds.

      The latest GTI is more of a sporty luxury car. It doesn’t look it, but you have to be one heck of a sensitive prissy to find it not comfortable enough, even compared to an A8. Not sure how VW does it, but it has the heft of an E class with the nimbleness of a 3 series. Based on what people who can afford to seem to shell out big money for, it’s the “best” car of the bunch for the most people. By far. But for an everyday “hoon”, even the best of the 3 series was never a Miata. Hence my pick is still the Type R.

      As for FWD, the slight extra effort, feel and touch required to guide and manage the front wheels under torque, just adds to the liveliness, if you ask me. AWD is just too forgiving and sensory depriving on modern tires at public road speeds. The STi is an engineering achievement (I still preferred the Evo..), and as efficient at going fast as anything street legal, but fast in an STi means really fast. Faster than I’m comfortable driving virtually anywhere, and also faster than I care to maintain and replace wear parts on a car.

  • avatar
    Adam Tonge

    The GTI is not a competitor to the STI and Type R. That vehicle would be the Golf R.

  • avatar

    Beyond any doubt, burn the Civic. I’m not joking when I say I find an Aztec more attractive. No matter how good it may drive, I would not be able to stand looking at it in my driveway.

    The GTI is objectively the best of the 3, but I’ve been burned badly by VW reliability in the past. I would drive this one, but not past the warranty period.

    I guess that leaves me the Subaru to reluctantly buy. AWD would make it a good 4 season car here in the lake effect belt.

    • 0 avatar

      Now that’s an original topic, VW reliability! But I agree, I wouldn’t want to buy any new VW and keep it until that warranty expires- I’d be driving a seven-year-old car!

    • 0 avatar

      This so precisely sums up my response that I have nothing to add. I want to want to buy the GTI, but I just don’t trust VAG.

  • avatar

    Buy the STi because it sounds good

    Drive the Type-R because I don’t like looking at it

    Burn the GTI because it’s just ehh.

  • avatar

    Buy: STI. Holds its value absurdly well
    Drive: Type-R. Objectively the best driving car on this list.
    Burn: GTI. Not as fun to drive as I’d hoped

    I will say, I love this site but please check your facts. STI does not have 268hp.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re right. The Subaru website reset the scrolled sections every time I expanded a new one to see more detail. Will fix.

    • 0 avatar

      Buy the STI – Great resale, great drivetrain, fast and fun. A fabulous weekend and toy car.

      Drive the Type R – I like the Type R styling unlike many folks. And the Type R would make a fun and fast commuter. Its like a middle finger at the old folks commuting in their S-Class and 7-series lux barges.

      Burn the GTI – yes, its fun to drive and easy on the eyes. But its middle of the road performance compared the the group combined with horrid, dodgy VW reliability mean it should be torched. Preferably right before the warranty ends.

      • 0 avatar

        Right before the warranty ends in 2024, you sell the VW to an optimist. Have you checked their warranty lately?

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          Exactly. I bought a Toyota for long-term reliability but would have no hesitation owning a GTI for the six years of warranty coverage. It would be good timing for trading in on the next GTI.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    Buy: Civic Type R. If I have to pick something to live with every day, a Civic hatch would be it, no matter how ridiculous it looks.

    Drive: STI. Enough said.

    Burn: GTI. Along with anything and everything else from VAG until their entire management is rotting in jail.

  • avatar

    How can any of these be BURN? My heart aches for all 3. Stupid monogamy.

    Buy: STi. Known devils. Not a track beast, a real world, wet and dirty with potholes, leaves and road gravel type of beast. More expensive than the Honda to own, but not as garish.

    Drive: Type R. When I drove the Si it was short on power and otherwise OK. Hopefully the extra power and suspension dynamics take some of the meh out of the formula.

    Burn a GTi? NFW. Might buy it too or something. The Type R as drive is easy because of the looks. I could seriously toss a coin on which to the others to buy, so it would / will come down to the deal or other competing car types. There is no burn on this list. The rules are wrong.

    • 0 avatar

      I see the Bull Nuke pulled rank. OK, I’ll play by the rules, I’m just an MM1. Buy the STI, drive the GTi, and cry while I burn the Type R, because … chief said not to trust it so I don’t.

  • avatar

    Correction: WRX STI engine is a variant of the venerable EJ25 and produces 305hp (as it has for the last several years). That being said:

    Buy – WRX STI. Ridiculously fun, head-turning sound, awesome performance. Great resale value when you finally grow up and look at adult means of transportation.

    Drive – Golf GTI. When you need to go somewhere more or less respectable in a nicely trimmed vehicle that can get out of its own way and like to be seen as a responsible and practical yet contemporary thinking member of society. Easy to smile while using it as you remember that you do not own it and haven’t needed to service it or deal with VW dealerships.

    Burn – Honda Type R. All Honda’s, the dealers that sell them, the haughty and condescending service departments that “want to have a relationship” with you, and the corporate minions that dodge any and all warranty issues should be burned, scraped up and re-piled, and burned again. Napalm and/or C-4 may be used for a larger “grin factor”.

  • avatar

    I think I get it

    Buy the STI (It’ll probably have the longest life)
    Drive the GTI (And give it back before the warranty expires or sooner)
    Burn the Type R. No love here for it

  • avatar
    Turbo Is Black Magic

    Buy – GTI… APR plus tune keeps the warranty, bumps the power to 306HP and 371TQ… great sleeper with a comfortable mini Audi interior. Great everyday car.

    Drive- Type-R, looks that I would not want to take home every day. Gear grind complaints showing up often now. Lower rent interior.

    Burn- STI, crazy old engine, too thirsty, no hatch option, very low rent interior… and I don’t vape.

    • 0 avatar

      This seems like the obvious answer, and I’m surprised it took this many responses to get to it. I daily drove a GTI Autobahn, for the last three years and it couldn’t have been a better commuter: fast, easy to place in traffic, comfy as all get out. I’d be embarrassed to be seen in either of the others at any age over 25, but would happily drive the Type R for a fun weekend. The STI does nothing for me at all, but my cousin with inch-wide ear gauges loves his.

  • avatar

    You’re all crazy.

    Drive: Civic Type R

    It is an incredible machine, worthy of a good thrashing. Although it does look terrible.

    Buy: Golf GTI

    It is the ultimate sleeper hot hatch. Cheap insurance, great utility, and still has the ability to have fun on the weekend.

    Burn: WRX STI

    I would have driven it when Subaru was doing new and exciting things, but unfortunately this current iteration is stagnating. I may as well drive one from last year, or the year before, or the year before………

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Buy: GTI. Best all-rounder in the group and the 6 year warranty is encouraging.

    Drive: Civic Type R. Sounds like a hoot but I don’t want to see its puerile visage in my driveway every day

    Burn: STI. No real problem with it, I just have no affinity for it. I also don’t wear baseball caps backward, have thick rimmed white sunglasses, or possess a desire to wedge a fartcan on the back so I’m not sure it’s technically legal for me to own one.

    • 0 avatar

      Didn’t know about that warranty, second your choices. Herding the Honda’s 300 FWD horses around a track sounds insane, I’d love to try it. Can’t fault anyone for wanting the Subie, but it just doesn’t do much for me.

  • avatar

    Buy: STI – Just a beast in the snow, and just about any other driving environment. Durability and resale also great.

    Drive: GTI – Fantastic car, DSG makes it into a mini Porsche from the 80’s

    Burn: Civic R- I would imagine feeling like that cat or dog after a haircut. Is everyone looking at me feeling. Boy racer overdose.

  • avatar

    Buy: Civic Type-R. I’m not crazy about the looks either, but I’ll take Honda reliability and ergonomics any day. I’ve sat in a Type-R, and I loved the seats, shifter, etc. If they add Sensing, I might buy one next year.

    Drive: STI. I’d love to experience its old-school rally AWD goodness, but wouldn’t want to deal with the harsh ride every day.

    Burn: GTI. I’m sure it would be a wonderful daily-driver, but I’ve owned a VW, and wouldn’t buy another unless I was thoroughly convinced their reliability issues were safely in the rear-view.

  • avatar
    Peter Gazis

    Burn-Type R -too ugly and the GTI too plain

    Drive-WRX/STI over to Ford dealership to buy last remaining Focus RS

    Change my mind at dealership end up buying Mustang instead.

  • avatar

    Buy the Honda: It’s a Honda and I still trust it the most.

    Drive the GTI: PLAID!

    Burn: STI – Subaru is practically phoning it in at this point, give me a 5 door hatchback version and I’ll switch it to buy. (Add sound deadening and I might even be able to talk the wife into it.)

  • avatar

    Buy: GTI. Engine is underrated. Factory warranty is longest. Best interior here and easy to live with everyday. Decent fuel economy for commuting.

    Drive: Type-R. That 6-spd is a pleasure to shift. You don’t have to look at the exterior from the inside.

    Burn: STI. Old engine that guzzles fuel. No hatch. AWD is overrated. Get proper tires.

  • avatar

    Buy: STI. Remove the shopping cart handle and replace with the Premium edition WRX trunk lid. This is the closest thing I can find to my current ’05 Legacy GT Limited. Removal of the shopping cart handle makes it look a little aggressive without the dudebro look. Also All Wheel Drive.

    Drive: GTI. Buddy has one albeit with the dual clutch gearbox. It’s a fun car but I’ve had bad luck with Audi/VW products in the past. Looks are pretty sleeperish, which appeals to me.

    Burn: Type R. I had high hopes for this car before it was announced. The thing is ugly and overwrought and there’s no way to tone it down. My wife has an ’07 Si which I love to drive so there’s no need for this.

    • 0 avatar

      I actually chose option D: new control arms and radiator for the 05 LGT. None of these made me want them more than a spruced up what I already had. If a 2 year old TourX is all it should be in 2 years …

      • 0 avatar

        This is a valid path as well, but not one of the choices. :)

        That being said, it’s probably going to be the route I’ll actually go, keeping the LGT running for as long as possible so I can keep a manual tranny and AWD.

        If only it was a wagon. If I’d known 13 years ago that I’d have a baby, it would have been.

  • avatar

    Buy: GTI–Because it does everything well and would be the easiest to live with over the long haul and the new warranty should greatly improve the VW ownership experience.

    Drive: STI–When I’m tired of doing the boy-racer thing I can always get in the GTI that I bought above

    Burn: Civic Type R–Mainly to take out my anger at having to pay over sticker or having to pay full retail for a bunch of dealer installed accessories I don’t want in order to get one.

  • avatar

    Buy & Drive: Civic Type R. I am not a great fan of the Type R’s looks but that wouldn’t stop me from buying one. It’s by far the best handling and most fun vehicle to drive out of these three. My only question about it would be tires for year-round driving in a semi-snowy environment.

    STI – I don’t even care.

    Burn: GTI. Has no business being in this class. Not to mention while the interior is slightly nicer inside it will fall apart much quicker than the other two. That’s before you even get to any questions about reliability. Nope.

  • avatar

    I don’t vape, or consume energy drinks, or wear flat-bill hats (yo), so the Scoobie has been set aflame.

    That leaves me with the krautroker and King Geedorah.

    Even though I have an MK6 GTI that I love, the Type R is my “I just won the lottery, I want something ostentageous” machine. So yeah, I guess the Honda is bought while the MK7 is a loaner.

  • avatar

    Buy the GTI because it’s less pretentious than the others. Drive the Civic, at night. Burn the STI, because I don’t wear my baseball cap backwards.

  • avatar

    Buy: WRX, as I live in a very snowy area that has a lot of dirt roads.
    Drive: GTI. Lots of twisty roads around here too.
    Burn: Civic. Damn, that’s an ugly car.

  • avatar

    Buy: STI. I actually like this car a lot. I like the styling, I like the sound, I like the performance pieces, I like body shape. If I was less devoted to cylinder counts and displacement I’d probably own one.

    Drive: GTI. There are few occasions in my life where a shouty car with a wing won’t be the right tool for the job, so I’d use the VW in those situations.

    Burn: Civic R. I think it’s an ugly car and although this isn’t really the brand’s fault the recent internet Honda lovefest and “HONDATA FTW!!” stuff is annoying to me.

  • avatar

    Buy: Type R. It’s ugly, but it’s the best pure performance machine of this bunch.

    Drive: GTI. Believe it or not, when properly equipped, this thing is only marginally slower than the Type R. It’d be a perfect daily driver.

    Burn: STI

  • avatar

    Curious, I tallied the results to this point (of those who played by the rules):

    Subaru: 11 / 3 / 8 (Buy/Drive/Burn)
    Honda: 5 / 7 / 10
    VW: 6 / 12 / 4

    Feel free to double-check those numbers.

  • avatar

    2/3 cars offered have wings. No thanks.

    Burn: STI and Type R
    Buy/Drive: GTI

    If Subaru bring back the bug eyes with a wagon, it’s game, set, match. But they don’t.

  • avatar

    Burn: STI, ancient engine is too much for me.

    Drive: GTI, to confirm it’s as boring as I remember.

    Buy: CTR. First stop would be to Tire Rack for some 18s, second stop would be to a body shop to patch up all its gaping wounds and remove the silly (but functional) spoiler. Third stop may be an upholsterer to do away with the silly red trim wherever feasible.

    Or I guess I could just buy the GTI and wait for the next ILX.

  • avatar

    Ok this is better than the mini van crap I had to deal with last time so here goes

    Buy the Honda ( and keep it garaged sell it in 15 years you may have the only nice one left)
    Drive the GTI because I am a grown up, it is the best all around car of the bunch esp when your inside it.
    Burn the Subie- just too much no hatch and I do not need AWD

  • avatar

    Buy the STI – Great resale, great drivetrain, fast and fun. A fabulous weekend and toy car.

    Drive the Type R – I like the Type R styling unlike many folks. And the Type R would make a fun and fast commuter. Its like a middle finger at the old folks commuting in their S-Class and 7-series lux barges.

    Burn the GTI – yes, its fun to drive and easy on the eyes. But its middle of the road performance compared the the group combined with horrid, dodgy VW reliability mean it should be torched. Preferably right before the warranty ends.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Buy: STI, a fine land ship for any pirate captain fetching vittles and rum on any road in weather.

    Drive; GTI, their management is awaiting time in one of her majesty’s gaols and most of their service writers learned advanced acts of forgery and malfeasance while in leg irons.

    Burn: The Honda; grown up street urchins attempting to foist themselves off as respectable horseless carriage salesmen. Gallows bait the lot of them.

  • avatar

    Buy the GTI. 6 speed, zero other options. Perfect.

    Drive the Civic, burn the Subaru.

  • avatar

    Buy: Civic R
    Drive: STI
    Burn: GTI

  • avatar

    Buy the GTI and pocket 10k.

  • avatar

    BUY: I just bought a 2018 GTI 6spd. manual/autobahn. No better car out there for me; mature looks, comfortable over the road for 30K miles/year, fantastic drive. This is my third GTI (2011/2015/2018) and have yet to experience the VW reliability gremlins to any degree. That said I’ve been in the service waiting room when the service person comes out to tell someone else the extent/cost of their repairs and it makes me think of what it must be like to be at a hospital when they tell you someone died. As such, I’ve only kept my two previous GTIs for a max of 130K miles. That and I like new car smell…

    DRIVE: TYPE R. Who doesn’t love it when Honda nails the engineering on a hot car. Two of my favorite cars I’ve ever owned were a 1997 and 2001 Accord because they were just right and I still kick myself for not buying that 1994 Integra as my first car after college. Ugh! Still, as good a drive as the Type R is, there is no way I’d want to roll up to my client’s offices in that “look at me” vehicle.

    BURN: Nothing really to hate abut the STI other than the same negatives as the Type R regarding its aesthetics, just that I’ve never been very interested in Subaru. Shame to have to burn it, but those are the rules!

  • avatar

    Buy the VW, because it certainly is the best all-rounder of the bunch.

    Drive the Subaru, and drive it like there’s no tomorrow.

    Burn the Honda, because only after that I can look at it without pain.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Buy the Civic, and put it in a storage locker so you can flip it for stupid money in 15 years.

    Drive the Subie until the head gaskets give up.

    Burn the Golf, because f*ck VW.

  • avatar
    Hoon Goon

    Buy: STI
    Drive: Type R
    Burn: GTI

  • avatar

    Buy the Civic and plead with makers of body kits to make me a toned down (no gaping holes) rear bumper for it, and relish in the fact that I don’t have to look at it while I’m driving it.

    Drive the VW. I’m sure its fun, but I wouldn’t want to own it.

    Burn the Subie. Nothing about it lights my fire, so I’ll light one for it.

  • avatar

    Buy the Subaru. Good for year-round use. Wing would be removed.

    Drive the Civic on track days to save wear on the Subaru. It’s faster anyway and apparently quite fun in that situation.

    Burn the GTI. The best-looking and most practical of the three. I’d find reasons to keep it alive and kill that ugly Civic with fire if the GTI had an LSD. But that’s a fatal flaw in this company.

    • 0 avatar

      For this model year and last, every GTI above the base S has a real live electronically controlled mechanical LSD. Prior to that, those with the Performance Pack have it. Impressive bit of kit it is too.

      • 0 avatar

        Interesting. I suppose a complex electronic diff is a lot better than nothing. I’ll have to do some test driving before lighting any matches.

  • avatar

    I saw a Type R the other day.I didn’t mind the “over the top” styling. My 16 year old loved it.
    I’d say buy the STI, drive the Type R and burn the VW. If it’s a VW diesel then the fire won’t add too much to global warming ;)

  • avatar
    No Nickname Required

    I can do this.

    Buy: GTI. I currently own an A4 2.0 6MT and really like it. Compared to the other choices here, the GTI is understated and underrated, which I appreciate.

    Drive: STI. See burn below

    Burn: Type R. Absolutely awful looking car. Too much power for a fwd. Sure, it might be reliable but my experience with Honda products has not been outstanding in any way. Oh and did I mention it’s ugly? Yeah, burn it.

  • avatar

    Buy STI. Damn near got a ’16. It’s a snorter, old engine and all, a version of which I have in my LGT, always prodding me on to do naughty things. It’s not dead from the ears down like most modern driving pods.
    Drive GTI. For gentle toddling down the road on a trip with refinement but not huge brio.
    Burn Civic R. The landscape needs no more uglification, and Honda fans are annoyingly superior-acting, as if nothing else existed.

  • avatar

    I bought the GTI. It is very nearly the perfect car, I have zero complaints after a year with it other than I wish they would sell me a long-roof one.

    Burn or drive or whatever the other two, I don’t care about either of them. Both ugly as sin, the Subaru sounds awful and has a Fisher-Price interior, and I need AWD like I need a wife.

  • avatar

    Despite no experience with any of these (hey, when did anyone let information get in the way of opinion on the internet?)

    Buy the Honda … it’s a Civic Type R and the fanboys/girls who will keep the resale stratospheric are legion. I also have massively more faith in Japanese engineering than anything Germany can over complicate and overprice.

    Drive the GTI – because there will be times you just want to quietly blend into the background and look like you’re getting groceries or on the school run.

    Burn the STI – it’s a sedan and whatever other marvelous characteristics it may posses it can never overcome what is, effectively, a hate crime for this segment: grandma’s favorite body style.

  • avatar

    None of the above?

    I would drive the GTI and Sri but would be too embarrassed to be caught dead in that Civic.

    I realized after my short stint daily driving a Focus ST that my driving style leaves any of these cars wasted because there is too much muchness to be used on a daily basis; I recognize that I’m not interested in track driving; there are no twisty roads in metro Minnesota. Buying any of these would be pointless to me.

  • avatar

    Buy the GTi. It’s cheap. Drive the Honda. The others aren’t even close from the driver’s seat and I wouldn’t have to look at it. Burn the STI. The waiting list for the engine that blew up after the dealer talked you into a reflash so Subaru wouldn’t be on the hook for its replacement is so long you’d have only remembered you had it at monthly payment time anyway.

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