Honda Civic Type R Vs Toyota GR Corolla: Which Hot Hatch Is Right For You?

The question was unavoidable. As soon as I was on the scene to drive the latest Honda Civic Type R, the topic came up almost immediately. Spoken, certainly, among my peers in the automotive media; unsaid, but clearly no less of interest among Honda's engineers and product managers. "How do you think this stacks up against the Toyota GR Corolla?" 

It's a surprisingly tough question to answer and, while I know some — those lucky enough and patient enough to score a place on Toyota or Honda's wait-list — are looking for a modicum of consumer advice, I know most who are asking this just want ammo in their belt for an argument. I'll say now that it does come down to personal choice, just to avoid that particular bait-and-switch down the line, but it's worth exploring how both cars approach their roles as moderately affordable, track-ready Japanese sports cars.

Splitting hairs

The hype for these vehicles and why they're inexorably lumped together in the minds of enthusiasts is understandable. Both are highly coveted off-the-shelf performance hatchbacks, based off of two incredibly successful and ubiquitous models, from two major Japanese automakers each with a deep motorsport lineage. This is bolstered by the fact that the Corolla and Civic were likely the first car of many enthusiasts and subsequently became heavily utilized in aftermarket tinkering. With that said, it's easy to see that the love for the Civic Type R and GR Corolla stems from a personal place.

First off, let's break down some key details:

Honda Civic? Front Wheel drive. GR Corolla, all-wheel drive.

The Civic packs a 2.0-liter turbo I-4 that produces 315 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque.

The GR Corolla sports a turbocharged 1.6-liter 3-cylinder engine that squeezes out 300 horsepower and between 275 to 295 pound-feet of torque, depending if it's in the Morizo edition. Both cars are fitted exclusively with 6-speed manual transmissions with rev-matching functionality.

Toyota's GR Corolla can hop from 0 to 60 in 4.9 seconds while the Honda Civic Type R's speed... isn't specified. Honda has no official stats to share, but it does claim that the latest Type R is the fastest FWD production car ever to lap Suzuka Circuit.

It's certainly very easy to get deeper into the weeds here in terms of weight, cargo space, technology, suspension setups, and dimensions down to the millimeter, but let's... just not.

Disparate measures

The conditions in which I drove both cars couldn't have been more different. On the day of the GR Corolla drive, we were at Utah Motorsports Campus on a hot, clear day. The all-wheel drive Toyota's Cup 2 tires stuck to the track like glue, with nary any wheel slippage despite my best efforts. Its ability to distribute power to the front and rear axle in different configurations added variety to the car's character: a 60-40 split for daily driving, 50-50 for perfect track balance, and 30-70 for a tail-happy good time. Still, in our sunbaked testing ground, it took great effort to rotate the car, for a laugh or otherwise. In any case, the GR Corolla put all that to good use as it was unwavering in its ability to skirt around corners with ease.

When it came time to drive the Civic Type R, I was a long way from the hot, flat sticky track of Utah. Instead, Honda took its new toy out to Sonoma Raceway, a twisty technical course that makes use of the hill it's built upon, providing plenty of elevation and a variety of cambers to play with, all of which happened to be drenched that day.

Myself and the other writers attending the drive were quite thankful for the Civic's front-wheel drive stability, particularly when it pulled the Type R up out of troubling areas rather than having to push it through. Most of the time, the Honda was fairly composed and the summer tires it wore exceeded expectations, but physics are physics, and the damp sections of the track inevitably unsettled the car, if only for a moment. Thankfully, recovering from any slippage was very manageable with a cool head, and the traction control system shuddered the Civic back into place without much effort. The Civic Type R performed even better in its natural environment of mountain switchbacks, even with the inclement weather.

Everybody wins

If conditions were flipped, I don't think it would've changed things dramatically. Would I have minded a little extra control from the Corolla on the wet track? Sure, but I was also quite happy with the Civic. And, in turn, had I had the Type R at UMC, it would've been just as much fun to rip around. How one likes their particular flavor of performance is up to them. Personally, I'm torn between the two because the Corolla's drivetrain variety is more my cup of tea (though the GR 86 is even more to my taste, if we're splitting hairs), plus its all-wheel drive would be put to good use here in the Northeast. With that said, Honda's Type R felt more sturdy in structure and much smoother when it came to every input, particularly its manual gearbox.

The good news is, the more competition there is in this space, the more we enthusiasts benefit in choice and quality. Just between these two manufacturers alone, there's something for everyone, be it rear-drive, front-drive or all wheel drive. Whichever one you manage to get your hands on, I'm confident in saying you're guaranteed a good time.