Both of these cars will upset the neighbors, but which one is right for you?
Car enthusiasts talk about how we're living through the Golden Age of horsepower, despite what consumers thought in the late 1960s and early '70s. Those Americans couldn't dream of 600-hp BMWs, 760-hp Ford Mustangs and 900-hp McLarens. But we're also in the golden age of handling, capability, and cheap speed, though it may not seem like it.
Despite the recent events that have lead to a shortage of new cars for reasonable prices, in the year of our lord 2021, we have two of the best front-wheel drive cars ever produced in the Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai Veloster N. We got a chance to drive both of them back to back, and we hope to get a definitive answer to which one is better.
Both the Civic Type R and Veloster N are wild. We're looking at wings and ground effects, diffusers and splitters in addition to the strange three-door layout of the Hyundai. On the N, we like the red accents on the black, but even more on the Boost Blue launch color of the vehicle. The front end is complicated, but not nearly as busy as the Honda. Besides the doors, the Hyundai looks like an almost-standard hot hatchback.
As for the Civic Type R, it's about as wild as you can get. This one, the Limited Edition special, is wearing Phoenix Gold paint, and also sports a red accent along the ground effects. The Type R is certainly the wilder of the two, begging to get pulled over with every stomp of the throttle. We appreciate that Honda placed the rear wing out of the way of the rearview mirror, a problem that has plagued the Subaru WRX for a decade or more, but the Type R definitely takes a less-than-subtle approach to design.
The Veloster N comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 making 275 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque with a six-speed manual transmission. The Civic Type R also houses a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4, this one making 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The Veloster has a power to weight ratio of 11.29 pounds per horse, while the Civic R comes in at 10.03. So, the Civic should feel a bit faster, and it does. It also feels more refined.
Where the Veloster N snorts and pops and snarls with every control, the Civic's engine sounds the same as it ever did, with a little extra exhaust grunt and light turbo whoosh thrown in. There's been talk lately about the popping and backfiring exhausts like the N, Jaguar F-Type and others, with about half of the crowd saying it's stupid and antisocial. We were almost agreeing with them, until the N landed in our driveway. At that point we slipped the car into N mode and didn't take it out that most aggressive setup for an entire week. The Civic might be a little quicker, but the angry N has theater on its side.
Both of these cars are the best handling front drivers in the world in their respective pricing brackets. The Veloster N starts at $32,250 while the Type R starts at $37,985 and the Limited Edition goes up to $43,995. The Veloster N gets Pirelli P Zero summer tires while the Civic R LE comes with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s (the regular Type R is shod with Continental SportContact 6 tires).
We haven't driven the Type R on the track, but it is flawless around the roundabouts, Michigan lefts and iffy pavement in the Midwest. Because the tires are so good, road feel is transmitted to the steering wheel, even though it uses an electric setup as opposed to the old school but more feelsome hydraulic system. That means you can feel when the front tires are about to give way, which is very rarely.
The Veloster N is still stellar with the Pirellis and front limited-slip differential (the Honda has a front LSD too, which is almost a must with this much power to the front wheels). The best thing about the N on a racetrack is that there is very little danger, which allowed us to push the car harder than we've ever pushed anything. It might not reach the same insane speeds as the Type R, but it feels more playful at the speeds it does reach. It's not as serious a hot hatch, but one that's about how the driving experience feels. They're both very, very good, but the hardcore Honda astounded us every time we got behind the wheel.
For single or coupled people, the Veloster N has more than enough trunk space. It has about 20 cubic feet with the seats up and 44.5 with the rear seats folded. Those rear seats are a problem, though as they're tricky to access and tight when you're in there. We did stick two kids in car seats in the back, and it was a pain. Up front, it features a nice, thick steering wheel with buttons for the drive modes. The touchscreen sits above the dash, which annoys us a little, and was a little finicky in our time with it. Thankfully in cars like this, touchscreen operation is low on the items-to-be-concerned-about list.
The Civic, in addition to its four doors, has more interior space than the Hyundai and more in the trunk. The cargo area in the Civic R is measured at 25.7/46.2 cubic. Crucially, it has about two inches more legroom in the back. The infotainment screen is integrated in the Civic and the semigloss carbon fiber trim looks great. The Hyundai shifter is good, but the Honda shifter, similar to the S2000, is one of the best.
The Hyundai is cheaper, but it has less horsepower and space. If we figure the cost of each horse, we come up with $117 per hp in the Veloster N and $124 per horse in the Civic Type R. The Limited Edition, coming in at $6,000 more than the base R, comes with much more expensive horses. Right off the bat, as much as we like the Limited Edition Type R, we'll knock that one out of the running, leaving just the N and base R for top honors.
We actually think the Hyundai is more fun to drive than the Civic Type R. And remember, we're talking about 9s and 9.5s out of 10 here where the difference is almost negligible. But we're humans, with needs and families. And if you need a modicum of utility in your hot hatch, we'd have to recommend the Civic. It's antisocial enough to remember our counterculture youth, but not so annoying that it would tick off ALL of the neighbors, ALL of the time.
A hot hatch is a personal experience with personal situation dictating much, but as a better all-rounder, the Honda Civic Type R takes the W.