There’s quite some intrigue in the 18 th letter of our Latin alphabet. Italians tend to roll it, the French tend to drop it, and carmakers love using it in names for their hottest models. Fun fact: the letter R has been referred to by some etymologists as the littera canīna, so referencing its often-trilled spoken sound reminiscent of a growling dog.
But neither of these hot hatchbacks in our test are dogs — not in the pejorative sense of the term, anyway. Both of these five-door lunatics represent some of the best fun-per-dollar propositions this side of a circus-fairground ride, though we’re confident neither the 2024 Honda Civic Type R nor the Toyota GR Corolla were hastily assembled by operators so strung-out they think they can taste the alphabet.
These two cars have more than a skiff of similarity in terms of size and power — and price — setting up an old-school donnybrook between a pair of the world’s best hot hatchbacks.
We’ll start with the GR since it’s a newer proposition and represents a company that’s (finally) letting its hair down like it used to in the Good Old Days. Under the hood we find a turbocharged 1.6L engine whose trio of cylinders deliver 300 horsepower and up to 273 lb-ft of torque, stunning numbers considering the diminutive dimensions of this mill. This is matched to a six-speed manual transmission hooked to a short-throw lever; rev matching, engaged via a recessed button on the lower dash, is on tap for those who want it.
Power meets the pavement by way of Toyota’s GR-FOUR all-wheel-drive system, a marketing moniker familiar to anyone who remembers the ‘90s or has ever turned a virtual wheel in anger on Gran Turismo. Developed in collaboration with the Gazoo Racing WRC crew, this system permits drivers to funnel torque with the twist of a dial — from a 60/40 front-rear split for everyday driving, 30/70 for maximum fun on winding roads, or a balanced 50/50 for gonzo grip on a circuit.
At 315 horsepower, the Civic Type R is the most powerful Honda production vehicle ever sold in this country. Its turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine also cranks out 310 lb-ft of torque, banishing the Bad Old Days in which hyperstrung Hondas corralled outsized ponies but were thin on twist. A six-speed manual is the gearbox, featuring a lighter flywheel than the last-gen car plus a rev-match system for those who want it.
The biggest difference from the GR is, of course, the presence of front-wheel drive. A retuned dual-axis strut front and multilink rear suspension are said to improve straight-line stability compared to the old Type R, while a helical-type limited-slip differential attempts to put the engine’s power to the pavement effectively instead of wrenching the steering wheel from its pilots’ sweaty palms.
The Toyota delivers its power while emitting an exhaust note with a distinctive three-cylinder thrum — as if it’s trilling an R, come to think of it — accompanied by entertaining psssh sounds from the underhood turbo gubbins. The latter trait is enough to make any gearhead wantonly provoke said noise, eliciting either grins from like-minded passengers or eyerolls from annoyed spouses. If you can get the latter to do the former, by the way, put a ring on it.
Speaking of rings, the six-speed manual’s rev-matching system works a treat, prompting burbles and burps from the crackling exhaust. Even if you can fiddle like Fangio on a manual transmission, the resultant entertainment is worth leaving the system activated. As for power delivery, suffice it to say the GR Corolla is a stunningly quick three-cylinder whose GR-FOUR system can be provoked into lurid behaviour on a CTMP handling course, particularly when set to the 30/70 mode. It’s a tremendous feature.
Honda isn’t bothered by such delightful complexity, sticking with front-wheel drive and doing a good job of making it work. The CTR definitely exhibits some wheel tramp on pockmarked surfaces during a hard 1-2 shift and will even do so while grabbing third if the driver is sufficiently on the beans. But make no mistake — the handling of this thing isn’t great ‘for a front-driver,’ it’s great full-stop. A jumbo front sway bar and active damping tricks keep the CTR competent but not clinical.
A good example of the latter is the VW Golf R, whose capable but frigid personality means its driving experience is like dating a real hottie who unfortunately is totally not into you. The Type R’s six-speed has great tactile management, a term your author just made up and subjective measure this writer will now be employing on the regular. From the hand-on-metal feel of its gear selector (though the Integra Type S does an arguably even better job) to the sharp manual engagement, the CTR bests the GR rival in this important but unmeasurable metric.
This is always the most subjective of observations, with any preference sure to induce outrage in at least one half of his readership, folks who then proceed to send indignant emails inviting me to perform impossible acts upon myself. Nevertheless, I will opine that Toyota has done a good job in bulking up the Corolla for GR duty, as if your staid high school math teacher suddenly hit the gym and started wearing t-shirts to class. As for the Honda, mark me down as one of the few who preferred the juvenile and over-the-top boy-racer looks of the last-gen Civic Type R compared to the more rounded and matured appearance of this model.
Driving these two competitors back-to-back was even more illuminating than those new lights they’re installing in left field at the Rogers Centre Skydome. One immediately finds the CTR far more inviting than the GR , with far better seats in terms of both upholstery and overall shape. Vivid red cloth in the CTR doesn’t hurt matters in these extroverted eyes, though there are wallflowers who will surely disagree. Your six-foot-six author found ample headroom in both cars and could definitely fit with a track day helmet in the Honda. This is no small matter, especially since the same cannot be said for cars like the Nissan Z.
You’ll appreciate those comfy thrones in the CTR if ‘yer commute or favourite back road is pocked like a teenager’s face. The ride is so flint-like in the Honda that it would indeed take some acclimation, especially if a new owner had traded out of a more pedestrian vehicle. The GR isn’t what one would call cushy, not by a long shot, but it is more forgiving on frost heaves and bridge abutments than the hyperactive Honda. Fortunately the seats — and overall interior space for humans — forgive (some) of this teeth-rattling sin.
Tech nerds will enjoy the GR’s entertaining gauge cluster far more than the rather staid screen in the CTR, at least until they thumb the latter’s +R mode which finally unleashes some Xbox-style graphics. By combining a comfortable and attractive cabin with such performance at this price point, it feels as if the true gearheads at Honda have gotten one by bedwetting company accountants, almost like the guy in Quebec who managed to sneak the word ‘smegma’ past the license plate censors at that province’s DMV.
Both the Honda Civic Type R and Toyota GR Corolla start right around $50,000 including freight, making this comparison all the more apt. Stepping up to the Circuit edition of the GR will add over ten grand to the bill, making it a tough sell since Canadian Core models already comes with the upgraded front/rear Torsen diffs and the trick AWD system. The presence of a carbon-fibre roof and brake cooling ducts on the more expensive trim may sway some, but this driver will simply pocket the different to fund future (and frequent) tire replacements.
Ceteris paribis, the GR gets a nod from this writer, thanks to its riotous all-wheel-drive power delivery options and turbo sounds in spite of packing a starker interior than the Honda. The CTR has matured, and while that’s attractive and more livable on the daily for some, I prefer my hot hatchback to kindly ask me about my day but then delight in sticking its hands down my pants and rummaging around a bit. The GR retains all the practical cabin features I desire while delivering entertainment in spades.
Turns out the 18 th letter of our alphabet comes in different flavours, after all.2023-12-07T11:17:43Z dg43tfdfdgfd