There are some seriously talented rivals it needs to overcome if it wishes to steal top spot in the class, including the brilliant Volkswagen Golf R. So, which should you choose? We compare the two to decide.
Think you know which you want? Pop the VW Golf R in our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save or look at the Honda Civic Type R in the configurator to see what discounts are on offer.
Although their aim is much the same – to squeeze performance car thrills into a practical family car body – the styling approach each manufacturer took couldn’t be more different.
The Golf R looks how you might expect a Volkswagen to look – clean and crisp, with large alloy wheels and four exhaust pipes poking out of the rear bumper. Its design subtly hints at its mighty performance potential.
The Civic, on the other hand, is as subtle as a slap in the face. A front splitter juts out from the deep front bumper’s lower edge, while the wide front air intake lends the Civic’s face an ever-so-slightly psychotic smile. Flared wheel arches house black 19-inch alloy wheels with a red pinstripe around the rim.
The back is dominated by a rear spoiler so outlandish it would make the iconic Ford Escort Cosworth blush, while the rear diffuser-mounted quad-exhausts add even more drama. Those cartoonish looks aren’t just for show, however, Honda says the car generates genuine downforce at speed – just like a real racing car.
The first thing passengers will notice when stepping inside the Civic are its bright red sports seats. The aluminium ball gear knob is mounted quite high on the dashboard, so it’s close to the flat-bottomed steering wheel – perfect for performance driving.
The Golf, on the other hand, takes a slightly more subtle approach to interior design. Like the Type R, the Golf R has a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a lovely set of sports seats keep the driver gripped in place during enthusiastic cornering. The quality of the Civic’s plastics and build are impressive, but they still can’t match the class-leading Golf in this regard.
The Volkswagen is marginally more spacious for rear seat passengers, but the Honda has the much more generous boot (380 litres plays a whopping 485). The Golf R’s offered in an estate version, too, which increases the load bay volume to 606 litres. The Type-R is currently only available as a five-door hatchback only.
In a radical departure from the high-revving non-turbo Type-R engines of old, the Civic features a 2.0-litre turbocharged unit with a 7,000rpm redline. It may lack the race car soundtrack of the old model but, in every other way, performance has been vastly improved.
Its 306hp is impressive but it’s the 295lb ft of torque available across the rev range that delivers the crushing real-world performance. The 0-62mph sprint takes only 5.7 seconds, and it’ll max out at 167mph.
Like the Civic, the Golf also gets a 2.0-litre turbo motor. It’s 296hp fall slightly short of the Civic’s but it sends power to all four wheels, as opposed to the Honda’s two. This means the Golf blitzes the 0-62mph dash in only 4.9 seconds – faster than many supercars from the ’90s.
Enthusiasts will be pleased to hear both cars come as standard with a six speed manual gearbox (the Civic’s in particular has a wonderful shift action). A rapid-shifting dual-clutch DSG automatic can be specced as an option on the Golf.
With power divided between two extra wheels, the Golf offers traction and security that the Civic can’t match – especially in the wet. That downforce-inducing bodywork, however, allows the Type R to deliver stunning grip levels, particularly at speed. Around a circuit, there would be no contest – the Honda is the driver’s choice.
While they might occasionally go for a blast on a race track, it’s how they work on the road that’s more important. Like the rest of the Golf range, the R feels very grown-up when you’re just cruising. The suspension is firm enough to feel sporty but is well damped so it never feels uncomfortable. The steering inspires confidence and body control is tight and reassuring.
The Civic’s adaptive dampers mean the sporty suspension can be relaxed somewhat over broken surfaces, so it never feels fidgety or harsh. If you enjoy punishing yourself, however, select the +R mode. It stiffens up the suspension by 30 per cent, and offers a fairly extreme, track-biased set up.
Value for money
When it comes to price, there’s only £155 between them in favour of the Honda. On a pair of thirty grand cars, however, we’re sure you’ll agree that isn’t going to be a deal breaker.
Being the respective top-spec models of each range, both are very generously equipped, with all the sat navs, cruise controls and safety systems you can shake a stick at.
They’re both closely matched in terms of running costs, too. The Golf is the marginally more economical car, returning a claimed 40.9mpg to the Civic’s 38.7mpg. Both are highly impressive figures for such rapid family hatches, though.
The Volkswagen Golf R and Honda Civic Type R arguably make up the pinnacle of the hot hatch market, but it’s likely both will appeal to different types of buyers. The Golf’s more grown-up appearance will please more people, but there’s a definite appeal to the outrageous Civic which is the enthusiast’s choice.
From a driving point of view, there’s little to separate them. Both are hugely impressive performance cars, albeit ones capable of transporting the family in practicality and (relative) comfort.
So it’s up to you – do you prefer the wild style of the Civic Type-R or the more rounded approach of the Golf R? Either way you won’t be disappointed…
R you ready?
Head over to our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save on either car. Read the VW Golf R or Honda Civic Type R review to see what the UK’s motoring press thinks of them or, for more options, check out our deals page.