Honda Civic Type R v Toyota GR Corolla 2023 Comparison


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Aug 23, 2023

Honda Civic Type R v Toyota GR Corolla 2023 Comparison

It wasn’t long ago that the Japanese performance car seemed to be going the way

It wasn't long ago that the Japanese performance car seemed to be going the way of the dodo, but it has risen in a manner that would be the envy of Lazarus. Two of the leading exponents of this revival are the Honda Civic Type R and Toyota GR Corolla, a pair of pearly white hot hatchbacks that are both epic expressions of the genre. But which one is best? There is a winner, but you really can't go wrong with either and the answer might just come down to your personality and driving style.

Big performance means big price tags for these two contenders, which are only available in a single specification at launch in Australia.

At first glance the price differential between the 2023 Honda Civic Type R and Toyota GR Corolla GTS looks quite vast, but Honda only quotes drive-away pricing, so in real terms the difference between the $72,600 (drive-away) Civic and $62,300 (plus on-road costs) Corolla narrows to around $5000.

These seem like substantial price tags, but in reality it's about par for the hot hatch course these days when compared with the soon-to-depart Renault Megane RS Trophy (from $63,500 plus ORCs) and Volkswagen Golf R ($66,990 plus ORCs).

We typically focus on interior equipment in this section but for the 2023 Honda Civic Type R and Toyota GR Corolla GTS the mechanical upgrades are arguably even more important.

Let's start with the Honda.

It's the bigger car, 200mm longer than the Corolla as well as being wider, but it's also around 50kg lighter thanks to only being front-wheel drive. It wears very large tyres for a hot hatch with 265/30 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S at each corner wrapped around 19-inch wheels, an inch smaller than those on the previous Civic Type R.

The brakes are suitably impressive with 350mm ventilated discs and four-piston Brembo callipers at the front, while at the rear you’ll find 305mm solid discs and single-piston callipers. Adaptive dampers are standard and the front suspension has a dual-axis set-up to minimise torque-steer.

In terms of interior fit-out the Civic Type R has the basics, including keyless entry/start, auto lights/wipers and dual-zone climate control, but the retina-searing sports seats are manually adjustable.

The GR Corolla has more toys, all the aforementioned plus heated seats, a heated steering wheel and head-up display.

Its contact patch is a lot smaller, its 18-inch wheels using 235/40 Yokohama Advan tyres, but its braking package is more impressive, with two-piece 356mm front discs and four-piston callipers matched to 297mm ventilated discs and two-piston callipers.

Coincidentally, both cars offer exactly the same colour choices – white, black, red and grey – though all are standard on the Honda and premium paint is an extra $575 on the Toyota.

Honda also nabs the honours when it comes to servicing costs, offering the first five visits for just $199 apiece thanks to its ‘one price promise’ with intervals of 12 months or 10,000km.

The Corolla needs fettling every six months or 10,000km with the first six visits costing $300 each.

Both manufacturers have five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranties but Toyota also covers the GR Corolla's engine and driveline for seven, which is quite remarkable for such a performance-focused machine.

Neither the 2023 Honda Civic Type R nor the Toyota GR Corolla GTS have official safety ratings from ANCAP or Euro NCAP as both are specifically excluded from the five-star scores of their base vehicles.

However, given the large degree of similarity in structure and equipment, it seems reasonable to state that both are just as safe.

Multiple airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and rear cross traffic alert are all present, as well as parking sensors front and rear and reversing cameras.

What technology features on the Honda Civic Type R and Toyota GR Corolla?

You can flip a coin when it comes to the infotainment offerings of the 2023 Honda Civic Type R and Toyota GR Corolla GTS.

Screen size is similar, as is the effectiveness of each system, and both includes AM/FM/DAB+ radio, wireless Apple CarPlay, wired Android Auto, in-built sat-nav, Bluetooth and wireless charging for your phone.

Honda does one-up the Toyota, however, with its LogR system that can rate both your everyday and performance driving, display lap times and be used as a data logger, either via the car itself or a smartphone app.

Digital instrument displays are also common to each, providing a digital representation of analogue dials in their regular modes or a horizontal tacho in Sport (for the Corolla) or R+ (for the Civic) as well as shift lights, the Honda's getting the nod for its cool race-car-like arrangement that gradually light up from yellow to red above the dials.

While the respective performance figures of the 2023 Honda Civic Type R and Toyota GR Corolla GTS are neck and neck, their approaches to producing said performance are very different.

The Honda is more conventional with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine sending 235kW and 420Nm to the front wheels through a six-speed manual and limited-slip front differential.

While the Toyota also uses a six-speed manual, it uses a 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder to produce 221kW and 370Nm and sends drive to all four wheels with a limited-slip diff at each end.

Despite the differing approaches, claimed performance is virtually identical, with Honda claiming 5.4sec from 0-100km/h for the Civic Type R and Toyota an extremely precise 5.29sec for the GR Corolla.

Neither is likely to match these claims in the real world, the Civic due to the traction difficulties of front-wheel drive on anything other than a clean, dry surface, the Corolla due to the need to dump the clutch at maximum rpm to achieve that ultimate figure.

There are two sides to the fuel economy question in regard to these cars.

On a highway cruise both are commendably frugal, the 2023 Honda Civic Type R claiming 7.1L/100km and the Toyota GR Corolla GTS 6.8L/100km and both figures are eminently achievable or even beatable.

Official combined-cycle figures are 8.9L/100km for the Type R and 8.4L/100km for the GR Corolla.

However, dip into their vast performance reserves and both cars will soar into the high teens or even 20s and empty their fuel tanks in very short order, as the Toyota has only a 50-litre tank and the Honda just 47 litres.

Be wary of attacking long mountain passes, especially in the Civic, as you might be left literally high and dry.

There will be a winner named at the end of this comparison test, but really you cannot go wrong with either the 2023 Honda Civic Type R or the Toyota GR Corolla GTS if you’re a driving enthusiast.

Both are hot hatches of the absolute highest order, though they go about their business in very different ways.

The Honda sets a new standard for front-wheel drive performance, which is saying something considering how good the previous Civic Type R was.

It is absurdly fast and generates preposterous levels of cornering force, especially considering it's on standard road rubber rather than sticky track-spec tyres.

It feels light and agile with virtually unbroachable limits, nonchalantly dispatching each corner as fast as you can think. You never have to wait; just brake, turn and get straight back on the power, the limited-slip diff pulling you out of a turn and putting all those 235kW and 420Nm to the ground.

At least, that's the case in the dry. In the wet the Civic still generates an amazing amount of lateral force, but the driving experience is dominated by having to put all that power through just the front wheels.

Full throttle results in wheelspin in the first three gears up to and beyond the legal speed limit and it will pull the nose this way and that in response to cambers and bumps.

The Civic Type R's greatest shortcoming is its engine. Certainly not in terms of potency, as it has great response, huge mid-range torque and revs pretty happily to 6500rpm, but the sound is utterly without character bar the occasional choof from the turbo.

It is attached to one of the slickest gearboxes around, though, as you’d expect from a Honda. The rev-matching system also works very well and initial impressions were it couldn't be turned off, but it turns out that if you dig through enough sub-menus you can do so.

And why would you want to do so? Because it's incredibly easy to do it the old-fashioned way.

The steering is wonderful. Its weighting, rate of response – fast but not nervous – and the feedback it provides is top class. Sportier drive modes add extra – unwelcome – weight but one very helpful addition to the new Civic Type R is the ability to create a custom driving mode, so it's possible to pair the most aggressive engine setting with a softer chassis.

This is important as the new Civic feels stiffer than its predecessor. In Comfort it's still perfectly habitable and soaks up nasty road imperfections with impressive aplomb but does seem to have sacrificed some of its predecessor's remarkable ride quality for greater body control. As a result, Comfort is the pick even for sportier driving, Sport only really suitable for very smooth roads.

No such decisions are required in the Toyota GR Corolla. It does offer the ability to mix ’n’ match settings but the options are limited to engine and steering as the suspension is one-size-fits-all. Consequently, it's a compromise but a very successful one.

It's a firm car in day-to-day driving, no doubt, but not jarring in any respect yet it never runs out of answers when driven aggressively. It's softer, rolls more and isn't as pin-sharp as the Honda, but that comes with its own appeal which I’ll get to shortly.

The GR Corolla's engine is better. While not ultimately as powerful, it sounds so much more interesting, is happy to rev towards 7000rpm and it continues to amaze that this tiny 1.6-litre three-pot feels so much bigger and stronger than its capacity suggests.

The gearbox is longer in throw than the Civic's but equally enjoyable to use. Again, it's very easy to heel-toe, which is just as well as Toyota's IMT rev-match system is way too lackadaisical to be effective.

In an effort to compensate for the Corolla's extra 200kg, it uses a shorter diff ratio than the GR Yaris so changes come thick and fast, but it's all part of the experience.

One advantage of the Corolla's all-wheel drive system is the ability to exploit its performance in all weathers. In fact, if you buy a GR Corolla you might even find yourself learning a rain dance.

There's enough communication that you’re not left wondering about grip levels and the stability control's Expert mode allows you to slither and shimmy about while retaining that electronic safety net.

While wet weather requires a combination of patience and tiptoes in the Honda trying to get that power to the ground, the Toyota driver can still apply plenty of power early in the corner, the adjustable all-wheel drive shuffling it around where it's needed most.

On dry roads the GR Corolla trades the Civic Type R's serious precision for a more exuberant attitude.

The steering initially feels slow off-centre compared to the Honda, but it just takes a few minutes of acclimatisation (and obviously isn't an issue if you’re not continuously jumping between the two cars), and while there is more body movement it clearly telegraphs what the car is doing and gives the driver tremendous confidence.

It's fantastic fun.

It's pretty safe to assume that plenty of owners will want to stretch the legs of their 2023 Honda Civic Type R or Toyota GR Corolla GTS on track, so an afternoon at Sandown Raceway provides an appropriate location to see which can take the heat and, crucially, which is quickest.

The positive news is that neither of these cars are in any way fazed by track work.

As long as they are treated with some mechanical sympathy, there are no overheating issues and the brakes will hold up to multiple laps with no dramas whatsoever.

With its long straights and predominantly slow 90-degree corners, Sandown isn't exactly prime hot-hatch territory and yet the GR Corolla remains an absolute blast.

As on the road, there's a degree of pitch and roll but on track there's now the space to drive it on its absolute doorhandles.

The suspension feels strong and compliant enough that a bit of kerb-hopping could net a time saving, but it's not a game to play in someone else's car (or even your own unless a really big trophy is on the line).

The GR Corolla turns in well, especially with a bit of trail-braking to loosen the rear, but a moment's hesitation at the apex is the difference between the front running wide under the power and the rear continuing to rotate with a hint of oversteer on exit.

It's so enjoyable to constantly adjust and alter the balance with the steering, brakes and accelerator that it doesn't really matter what the lap time is. But in case you’re wondering, it's 1min25.6sec.

Now for the Honda.

Given we’re at a racetrack, selecting R+ in the Civic Type R seems prudent, but it takes only a couple of corners to suggest this isn't wise and less than one lap to realise it's a waste of time.

The new Type R is so stiff that with the suspension in R+ it's virtually undriveable.

It's uncomfortable through the slower start of the lap, but through the very-high-speed turn six at the back of the straight the car feels as though it's going to pogo itself clear off the track.

Admittedly, Sandown is quite bumpy as racetracks go, but I’ve driven a lot of cars here over the years – from a Lexus RC F to an HSV GTSR to a Mercedes-AMG GT R – and none have felt like this.

Comfort actually feels once again to be the best setting, but even so, unlike the GR Corolla, avoid the kerbs at all costs. Deactivating stability control is also only possible in R+ so subsequent laps are completed with the traction control deactivated but stability control on, though the system is calibrated finely enough that it doesn't hinder progress.

With the suspension sussed, the rest of the package works beautifully. Power is put to the ground with remarkable efficiency, the brakes are super-strong, there's amazing grip and it all comes together with a lap time of 1:24.4sec, an easy 1.2sec win over the GR Corolla.

Now, the excuses. I’m not a professional racing driver and only a handful of laps could be completed in each car due to some traffic and keeping tyres and brakes in peak condition. With a little more time both cars could go about half a second quicker, maybe more, but crucially both laps felt very similar.

So while the peak times might change slightly, I’d expect the gap to remain fairly static.

It's also worth noting that Sandown certainly didn't play to the Honda's strengths. It would be interesting to sample the car at an ultra-smooth track like Phillip Island or The Bend, especially on the Cup 2 tyres it set its Nurburgring lap record on, as it has genuine supercar-humbling potential.

It's unlikely anyone will buy either the 2023 Honda Civic Type R or the Toyota GR Corolla GTS on their interiors alone, but the Honda does go some way to justifying its high price tag with a cabin that feels quite high quality.

Like the regular Civic on which it's based, there's some nice design touches, it feels very well built and many of the materials verge on premium. Those seats might be hard on the eyes but they’re easy on the body, being supremely comfortable.

The back seat is a pretty barren affair, though, with no air vents or USB charge ports or any creature comforts really and the Civic is only a four-seater. It does have a handy 410L boot, however, which is a huge improvement on the Toyota.

Like all current-gen Corollas, the GR's boot is very compromised at just 210L and severely limits the car's practicality. Like the Civic, its back seat is also sparse, though there is access to a USB-C port and 12V outlet in the back of the centre console.

The Toyota's cabin isn't as premium as the Honda's but, as mentioned earlier, it is better equipped.

Nevertheless, aside from a seating position that could go a fraction lower (though it's way, way better than the GR Yaris) there isn't much to complain about as a driver-focused machine.

The correct verdict here is probably a tie. Both the 2023 Honda Civic Type R and Toyota GR Corolla GTS are fantastic performance cars and which one is right for you will depend on your personality and, to a certain degree, your driving style.

There are everyday considerations: if you need boot space it's the Honda, if you need five seats it's the Toyota, but the easiest way to explain the difference between the two is race car versus rally car.

If you’re the sort of driver who values accuracy and precision and likes to shave tenths from your best lap times then the Civic Type R is likely to float your boat best.

Conversely, if you’re a rally driver at heart and have Colin McRae as your smartphone wallpaper, then it's the GR Corolla that's likely to speak to you.

Personally, it's the Toyota for me. I love the way it can be thrown around rain or shine (or even gravel) and the engine always puts a smile on your face.

But the Honda gets the win.

The new Civic Type R takes its incredible predecessor and improves it with less controversial looks, a better interior, more technology, increased performance and even more absurd handling abilities, in doing so setting a new benchmark for front-wheel drive performance cars.

2023 Honda Civic Type R at a glance: Price: $72,600 (drive-away)Available: NowEngine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrolOutput: 235kW/420NmTransmission: Six-speed manualFuel: 8.9L/100km (ADR Combined)CO2: 203g/km (ADR Combined)Safety rating: Not tested

2023 Toyota GR Corolla GTS at a glance: Price: $62,300 (plus on-road costs)Available: NowEngine: 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrolOutput: 221kW/370NmTransmission: Six-speed manualFuel: 8.4L/100km (ADR Combined)CO2: 191g/km (ADR Combined)Safety rating: Not tested

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2023 Honda Civic Type R at a glance: Price: Available: Engine: Output: Transmission: Fuel: CO2: Safety rating: 2023 Toyota GR Corolla GTS at a glance: Price: Available: Engine: Output: Transmission: Fuel: CO2: Safety rating: