One FWD sedan and two AWD hatchbacks are out for Type R blood.
Knowing that the new Civic Type R is its most significant release of the year, Honda took its time sharing the details of this much anticipated hot hatchback. The car was teased several times before being officially revealed in July, but we had to wait until this week to see (almost) all the juicy details on the specification sheet, most notably those related to the engine's outputs.
Now that we know much more about the Civic Type R, it's the perfect opportunity to see how it stacks up against rivals like the Volkswagen Golf R and the upcoming Toyota GR Corolla. Although it isn't a hatchback, the Hyundai Elantra N is a more than worthy competitor in the performance compact segment, and with the number of options here dwindling, any enthusiast would be remiss not to consider it. So, can Honda's new hatch overcome this trio of performance cars that won't cost the earth? Let's dig in and find out.
These are not minivans so an appealing design is the first step to convince buyers to take a test drive. By far the most restrained car out of this quartet is the Golf R. Yes, it comes with a special grille, unique bumpers, and a chrome-tipped quad exhaust, but it doesn't have the audacious attitude of the others. Some will undoubtedly prefer the timeless, more sophisticated Golf, though.
The new Civic Type R trades some of its predecessor's garishness for a more mature overall look, but unlike the Golf R, its rear wing spoiler is more daring and the triple-outlet exhaust is unique. Unlike the Golf, the Civic doesn't have a sunroof.
The Toyota GR Corolla is perhaps even shoutier. It also has triple tailpipes but its fender flares are especially intimidating. The GR-badged matrix grille with air ducts distinguishes it from the standard Corolla hatch, and you can even get it with a carbon fiber roof, a feature more often associated with exotic machinery.
That brings us to the oddball of the bunch, the Elantra N sedan. The base Elantra is already an unusually styled car with deep body creases and a large grille, but the N model is much bolder with its lower red trim, N Design front fascia, and wing-type spoiler.
In case you doubted that these are serious performance cars, the Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda are all offered with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. The VW, meanwhile, wears summer performance tires from Hankook.
Design is subjective, but it's clear that the neatly styled Civic Type R is not necessarily the only head-turner in this segment it once was. Its boy racer image is now matched more closely by the GR Corolla, and the Elantra N is one of the most pumped-up sedans you can buy for the price.
The Honda, VW, and Hyundai all have 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines, whereas the Toyota is coming with a 1.6-liter three-cylinder turbo. While the Hyundai and VW both come a choice between a six-speed manual and a dual-clutch automatic, the Japanese cars stick with a six-speed manual only.
With 315 horsepower each, the Civic Type R and Golf R are jointly the most powerful of the four cars. In fact, the Civic Type R is now the most powerful production Honda ever to be sold in the USA. With 310 lb-ft of torque, the Type R betters the Golf R's 295 lb-ft. If you go for the manual Golf, torque drops to 280 lb-ft. In the Golf R's favor is that both peak power and torque are produced lower down than in the Honda. VW also released a 20 Years edition of the Golf R earlier this year that makes 328 hp, but in US spec, it makes no more power than the regular model.
Next is the GR Corolla which has been tuned to make 300 hp and 273 lb-ft. Based on the GR Yaris, we know that this three-pot is a cracking engine with a unique soundtrack.
Finally, the least powerful of the lot is the Elantra N which makes 276 hp, although its 289 lb-ft is better than the GR Corolla and manual Golf. While many turbo-fours are a bit devoid of character, the same can't be said of the Elantra N's energetic mill.
Both the Elantra N and Civic Type R are front-wheel drive, whereas the Golf R and GR Corolla have all-wheel-drive systems. Despite the extra weight of the Golf and Toyota, their AWD grip will make the 0-60 times a close affair. Speaking of weight, the Golf R weighs as much as 3,481 pounds and the GR Corolla comes in at 3,249 lbs. We expect the Civic Type R to be closer to the Elantra N manual's 3,186-lb curb weight, but Honda has yet to confirm this figure.
Neither the Civic Type R nor GR Corolla have had acceleration figures published, but the Honda should near five seconds flat while the Toyota's AWD could see it drop below that mark. The Elantra N is capable of a sprightly five-second run with the DCT gearbox and launch control. The fastest of the lot is the Golf R which gets to 60 mph in under 4.7 seconds.
These four cars are more about driving engagement than ultimate speed, though. Acceleration is negligible between them all, but which is best to drive and which will be the benchmark the Type R has to overcome?
Having experienced the Golf R and Elantra N so far, both impressed overall but may lag behind the Civic in one area: the manual gearbox. The Golf R's manual throws are longer and less tactile than desired, while the Elantra N's extremely light clutch wasn't ideal. Honda's manual gearboxes have traditionally been superb, and the new Type R promises even more precise shifts and a new rev-match system.
The new Civic Type R has already set a FWD record around the Suzuka circuit, an early indication of the car's exceptional balance. The target for it will be the Nurburgring next, where the more powerful Golf R 20 Years recently set a time of 7:47.31 - several seconds off the old Type R's pace. Waiting in the wings is the GR Corolla with its trick AWD system with variable torque split and available front/rear Torsen limited-slip differentials. The Elantra N is a blast to drive on the track and represents another great example of what can be accomplished with a front-wheel drivetrain, but we found it too stiff.
As with the exterior, the Golf R has the most sophisticated interior, with all the sporty bits seemingly overshadowed by typical German austerity. Hyundai pushes the performance envelope further with its N lightweight sport bucket seats, as does Toyota with the GR Corolla's model-specific steering wheel and displays for things like turbo pressure and gear position indicator. But whereas these three cars all have predominantly black cabins, Honda will have you reaching for your shades with the Type R's vivid red seats and carpets.
All of these cars have digital instrument clusters and central touchscreens, but Toyota's 12.3-inch GR full TFT meter is the largest. Being high-performance cars, simple and user-friendly ergonomics are important. To that end, we much prefer the Honda's physical controls for the ventilation system to the VW's fussy climate control sliders. The aluminum shift knob, Type R serialized plaque on the dash, and suede-effect seats are other welcome touches that appeal to the enthusiast in the Honda.
The Golf R's more premium positioning is reflected in standard features like a head-up display, Nappa leather, and a power driver's seat, but we think the Honda has all the essentials in place as these are not luxury vehicles.
How do these spicy performers cope with the rigors of carting your family and their stuff around? After all, hot hatches have to blend performance with practicality.
Starting with the trunk, the Type R leads the way with 24.5 cubic feet of volume. Specs for the GR Corolla aren't available yet, but if it matches the Corolla Hatchback's maximum of 23 cubes, it will be next best. The Golf R has 19.9 cubes, and the Elantra N shows the limitations of its sedan body style with 14.2 cubes.
All are spacious inside besides the Corolla hatch, which lags behind the rest with a cramped 29.9 inches of rear legroom. The Honda has a much more generous 37.4 inches of rear legroom, bettering the VW and just behind the Hyundai's 38 inches. However, the Civic Type R only seats four - there is a center rear seat, but the bottom of it has an integrated cupholder that will be very uncomfortable to sit on. Besides this limitation, the Honda provides the best balance between space for all occupants and a generous trunk.
At the time of writing, we don't know what the Honda Civic Type R or Toyota GR Corolla will cost, but assume that they'll start at about $40,000 and $35,000, respectively. If this is the case, the Type R will be one of the pricier contenders in this group.
Both will likely be cheaper than the 2023 Golf R, though, which starts at $44,290 for the manual and $45,090 for the DSG. The Golf does, however, somewhat justify this premium with its standard AWD system, more standard comfort features, and its exceptional performance.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Elantra N looks like a bargain at $32,150 for the 2022 model. Its power deficit has not greatly affected its ability to keep up with the others up to 60, it's loaded with features, and its edgy sedan body style is something different from the rest.
Each car makes a strong case for itself, and the Honda Civic Type R will have a battle on its hands to keep them at bay. But whereas the VW is pricey, the Toyota rather cramped, and the Hyundai uncomfortable for daily use, the Honda's sheer all-round capability could be the deciding factor. At this early stage, it appears to have no obvious weak spots. We look forward to driving both it and the GR Corolla before deciding which is the hot hatch (or hot sedan) king.