With the new 310hp Civic Type R, Honda has introduced one of the most powerful hatchbacks ever built. It’s so powerful, in fact, that calling it a ‘hot hatch’ along with the likes of the VW Golf GTI underplays its phenomenal performance potential – super-hatch seems much more appropriate.
It’s not the only super-hatch to have been launched this year, though, because some very lucky people will soon take delivery of the all-new Audi RS3 Sportback. It costs a lot more than the Honda, but your money gets you even more power and four-wheel-drive grip.
So, has the Honda got what it takes to beat a car that, in terms of power and price, comes from the class above? We’ve driven both to find out…
When it comes to attention-grabbing styling, there can only be one winner here. The Type R sports an aggressive aero package including a ground-hugging front bumper, bulging vented wheel arches, a massive twin-wing rear spoiler and four large exhaust pipes. It’s about as close to looking like a racing car as you can get for £30,000.
As a result, the RS3 Sportback seems a little conservative – which, conversely, might be exactly what Audi buyers want. Its front bumper isn’t as aggressive as the Honda’s, it does without the Japanese model’s race-car inspired wheel arches, has only a small roof-mounted single-wing spoiler and makes do with a pair of (admittedly rather large) exhaust pipes.
While the Honda’s styling delivers the loudest bark, it’s got some catching up to do to match the bite offered by the RS3’s engine. The Audi’s 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit is larger than the 2.0-litre four-cylinder one you get in the Honda and delivers 362hp compared to the Honda’s 310hp. As a result, the Audi can launch itself from 0-62mph in just 4.3 seconds, quite a bit quicker than the 5.7-second sprint offered by the Honda.
But it’s the Audi’s noise that really sets it apart. Opt for the Dynamic Plus package and Audi fits a sports exhaust, which makes the RS3 sound as quick as it goes. Changing up a gear under acceleration emits a pleasing ‘barp’, but it’s the down changes that really put a smile on your face. The exhaust cackles and pops as you drop ratios using the seven-speed DSG gearbox making you feel like one of Audi’s legendary 1980’s rally drivers.
Of the few criticism that can be levelled at the new Civic Type R is that it doesn’t sound as exciting as the old model. Like the Audi, it’s turbocharged but, where the Audi’s five-cylinder motor pops and snarls, the Honda makes do with a powerful whoosh that sounds effective, but not massively exciting.
Running costs are pretty close. The Honda manages fuel economy of 38.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 170g/km (for annual road tax of £205), while the Audi returns 34.9mpg and costs £265 a year to tax.
Honda and Audi have chosen two different paths when it comes to handling. The Civic offers front-wheel drive backed up by a clever differential that helps the car’s front wheels find grip. It delivers a rewarding feeling as the Civic seemingly hooks into the road surface and fires you out of corners at speeds you didn’t think possible.
In fact, it’s more exciting than the Audi. The RS3’s four-wheel-drive system is devastatingly effective on wet, slippery roads where the Audi would leave the Honda struggling, but it’s almost too good – making the Audi feel so manageable it masks the actual sensation of speed. Enthusiasts will miss the six-speed manual gearbox in the Honda – something that’s not an option in the RS3.
Both cars have quick and accurate steering (the Honda’s is the sharpest of the two), but they could both do with more feel to give the driver a better idea of how much grip the front wheels have left.
How practical your ultra-fast hatchback is might seem like a moot point, but everyday usability is what sets the Type R and RS3 out the from sports cars – they’re just as quick (if not quicker) but have room for the family and their luggage, too.
The Civic is the standout champion for cargo space. Its 498-litre boot not only dwarfs the Audi’s 280-litre load bay, but is more than you get in a Ford Focus Estate – a car that’s specifically been designed with practicality in mind.
As far as passenger space goes, however, it’s a win for the Audi. The Honda’s sloping roofline may give it a sporty, coupe-like appearance, but it also eats into back seat headroom – making the RS3 the better bet if you regularly plan to carry adults in the back.
The RS3 may be (arguably) the most powerful production hatchback currently on sale, but it’s also one of the most expensive. It costs around £39,000 on the road but, choose desirable options such as the Comfort and Sound pack (£1,150), Dynamic Plus pack (£2,495) and the sat-nav sporting Technology Pack (£1,795) and it’s easy to send that price sky-high. Indeed, in the specification we tested, the RS3 would set you back an eye-watering £52,000.
In comparison, the Honda could almost be labelled cheap. A sum of £29,995 buys you the basic car and Honda’s offering some tempting PCP deals that mean it could be parked outside your house for just £300 a month! Splash out on the GT model (Honda expects 80 per cent of people to do so) and the price goes up to £32,000, but adds useful kit such as sat-nav and automatic emergency braking.
And the winner is…
Both cars are throughly enjoyable ways of covering ground very quickly, but there can only be one winner and it’s the Civic Type R that we’re crowning king of the super hatches. It may be slower than the Audi on paper, but it feels nearly as quickly in the real world, is more engaging to drive, looks outlandish, and offers a huge boot. The five-year wait looks to have been worth it.
The Audi RS3 will be available to order through carwow soon but, if you’ve been sold on the Honda, pop the Civic Type R in our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save. For more options, head over to our deals page to see our latest discounts.