From the December 2021 issue of Car and Driver.
Just in case you couldn’t figure this out on your own, the R in both the Civic Type R and the Golf R stands for racing. It could also stand for revvy, rapid, and (surprisingly) refined. Oh, we’ve got two more: recurring rivals. The fiercest fish in the hatchback tank, the Type R and the Golf R can’t be in the same place without a fight breaking out. Things were peaceful in 2020, as Volkswagen took a year off from the Golf R. But as soon as the 2022 eighth-gen Golf showed up, it was on like a nitrous bottle in a Fast & Furious movie. (There, got that out of the way. An F&F reference is legally required in any hot-hatch review.)
A redesigned Civic Type R will come out in 2022, but since we’ve already waited more than a year to get these cars back in the ring, we didn’t want to delay. Last time we set these two at each other, the conclusion was nebulous, with both getting such high points for performance and driving characteristics that choosing between them became all about their divergent exteriors—the Civic’s origami aggression versus the Golf’s more subtle angry-eyed egg. The buying decision basically came down to: How old are you, or how old do you want people to think you are? Coming into the rematch, we expected a similar result. When two competitors are this closely aligned, a few small user-experience details can result in a victory.
In their base forms, the Civic Type R has the edge in value: $37,950 compared with the Golf R’s $44,640. We narrowed that gap considerably by choosing the track-focused Type R Limited Edition, which should be called the Type RR, for racy race, or maybe richy rich since it comes at a $45,010 price. Still, our Volkswagen went higher since it came with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission—the only option available—bringing its price to $45,440.
Other than the transmissions—the Type R remains six-speed manual only—the Volkswagen and Honda are similar under the hood. Both employ a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a 7000-rpm redline and similar horsepower and torque output. The Golf has a slight advantage, with 315 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque to the Civic’s 306 ponies and 295 pound-feet. But the all-wheel-drive Volkswagen is also heavier, weighing in at 3360 pounds, 276 more than the front-drive Honda. To be fair, the Limited Edition is Honda’s lightest Type R, having dumped such frivolous items as some of the sound-deadening material, the cargo cover, and the rear windshield wiper in a quest to shave a claimed 46 pounds off the standard Type R.
The Golf still has some luxuries the Civic doesn’t offer, including power seats, heated rear seats, and a head-up display. But when it comes to action goodies like summer performance tires (note the Civic’s R-comp rubber), adaptive damping, adjustable drive modes, and huge disc brakes, the two cars are well matched and growling at each other from across the parking lot. Well, the Golf has a bit of growl. The Civic’s polite exhaust note feels out of character; maybe Honda thought just looking loud was enough.
When accelerating in a straight line, the Golf R gives the Honda a good look at its new rear end, glossy black diffuser, and four exhaust tips. With launch control and the grip of all four tires, the VW moves out without a hint of wheelspin and sprints to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds, hitting the quarter-mile in 12.5. The manual Type R just can’t put its power down, requiring a gentle feathering of the clutch to avoid excessive wheelspin even at the rev-limited 3500 launch rpm. It takes 4.8 seconds of managing wheelspin to reach 60 mph and 13.3 to complete the quarter-mile.
On the skidpad, the Civic’s track-focused Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires have the advantage over the Golf’s Pirelli P Zero PZ4s. The Type R pulls 1.02 g’s to the Golf R’s 0.99 g. In braking, the two stopped from 70 mph in an identical 151 feet.
Numerically, this puts the Golf in the lead, and subjectively, we’d give it a better grade in the looks department, too, if only because “totally inoffensive” seems better than “you either love this or you wouldn’t drive it in daylight.”
No matter when you drive them, the Volkswagen and the Honda are sweethearts on the road. One would expect high-strung shenanigans and a rough ride on low-profile tires, but there’s none of that. The sharp steering and responsive braking that both enjoy on the track translates to cheerful willingness on the street. The Volkswagen has traded some of its unsmiling Audi-like maturity and refinement for ferocity. One of our testers thought the Golf was borderline too stiff to commute in, but we think he’s just getting old. The Civic is gracefully potent in every situation. And despite its lion’s-mouth red interior, you’ll be as comfortable as a kitten. Even the rear seat is roomy, although it’s very noisy back there at highway speeds. If you’re buying based on how much stuff from Target you can cram in, it beats the Golf on cargo space. The big omnipresent wing in the rearview mirror is a key reminder that you’re in something sporty.
Anyway, the Civic wins. Wait, what? The Golf has a major flaw, and it sits front and center in the dash. The new infotainment interface looks cool, a glassy screen with an animated car and clickity haptic feedback. But using it is like trying to bake in a stranger’s kitchen. Where is everything? Why won’t this drawer open? It’s pointlessly complex and frustrating in a car that’s all about the simple pleasures of driving. Also, for as good as the dual-clutch automatic is at picking and shifting gears, clicking the tiny nub of an automatic shifter is physically unsatisfying, especially when put up against the Civic’s perfectly weighted clutch and easy-throw manual. Satisfaction across the driving experience is where the Honda has the edge on the Volkswagen. The Civic Type R knows exactly what its mission is and delivers all it has promised, with a few extra comforts thrown in. The Type R gets an A.
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