2023 Civic Type R vs. 2023 GR Corolla Circuit vs. 2022 Golf R

From the April 2023 issue of Car and Driver.

Early in the indoctrination process, a car enthusiast learns of the impossibility of a single vehicle that excels in every area. A low-slung, lightweight sports car is inherently at odds with cargo and passenger space. That’s why we’re all dreaming of and scheming toward having a diverse fleet at the ready, right?

But these three cars are about as close as you can get to the do-it-all ideal, with adult-habitable back seats, hatchback cargo spaciousness, and track capability that lets them hang with sports cars from not that long ago. Plus, their mid-$40,000s prices are no higher than the new-car average.

The newest nameplate in this bunch is the GR Corolla. It represents the third vehicle in Toyota’s increasingly impressive Gazoo Racing division arsenal. Based on the Corolla hatchback that we know and don’t love, the rally-bred GR packs a 300-hp wallop from a 1.6-liter three-cylinder, a snicky six-speed manual, all-wheel drive, and a mechanical parking brake ready to heave it hatch first into the next corner.

Honda overhauled the Civic Type R for 2023, building upon the excellent previous generation, which brought the red R badge back to the U.S. in 2017. The Type R is more harmonious this time around, though, with mature exterior sheetmetal to match the chassis’s extreme polish. Power from the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is up ever so slightly to 315 horsepower, and, like in the Corolla, the only transmission is a six-speed manual.

How These Cars Fared at Lightning Lap

Rounding out the group is the grandfather of performance hatchbacks, the Volkswagen Golf. A GTI has been part of the lineup since Europe got one in 1976, but in 2004, VW added an all-wheel-drive performance model above the GTI and called it the R32. Today’s Golf R makes a Type R–equaling 315 horsepower from its 2.0-liter four-cylinder and features a torque-vectoring rear diff that can send 100 percent of the rear torque to either wheel and actually does in the Golf R’s new Drift mode.

As tested, these cars sticker within $800 of one another—groupings don’t get much tighter. And as a reminder to the country whose automakers are increasingly abandoning cars and no longer produce anything like these, the trio arrived painted red, white, and blue. We drove them hard (see our observed fuel economy) on well-worn Southern California canyon roads and at the Streets of Willow Springs road course, and we came away loving them all. Seriously, even the last-place finisher is on our 10Best short list of favorite cars this year. But some come closer to the do-it-all ideal.

3rd Place: Toyota GR Corolla Circuit

As the great ones often do, the GR Corolla starts to feel special even at parking-lot speeds, its high-boost three-cylinder chuffing and snorting. The shifting, too, is more mechanical and higher effort than the other two. At elevated rpm, the engine tickles the pedals and sings the most honest and pure-sounding racket, which is not electronically enhanced like the others. While the GR’s engine makes the most linear power of the bunch, it doesn’t really wake up until mid-tach, about 4000 rpm. On the Streets, it needs second gear in places where the others are happy with third. While there’s the ability to alter the front-to-rear torque split, we couldn’t feel a difference between 50/50 and 30/70 when powering out of a corner, and we had to be patient and wait out more understeer than in the Honda and VW. The GR Corolla rotates way more with a big lift than it does on power, but you can also use the nuclear option and pull the only hand brake of the group. On the track, the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires sometimes seemed to make more squeal than grip, although they performed second best on the skidpad with a solid 0.97-g effort. Still, they make the Civic’s Pilot Sport 4Ss feel like R-compound rubber.

HIGHS: Mechanical tingles, unfiltered engine note, direct shift action.
Stiffest ride, smallest back seat and cargo space, least nice interior.
VERDICT: It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally a great car finishes last.

Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

The Corolla has the widest pricing spread of the group and is the only one to offer multiple trim levels. Ours was the model in the middle of the lineup, the Circuit, which for a $7000 upcharge adds front and rear limited-slip differentials, a forged carbon-fiber roof, and interior upgrades.

While the Corolla trips the quarter-mile lights first, with a 13.3-second run, it falls well behind the other two above 100 mph. The transmission was no match for our shifting arm, as we beat its synchros and ground gears into second, third, and sometimes fourth during testing. The auto rev-matching feature is a handy addition, especially since the pedals are spread too far apart for optimum heel-and-toe shifting. In the practicality measures of rear-seat and cargo space, the Corolla scores lowest, largely due to the relocated battery (it’s in the back) and a chunky rear bumper that intrudes on the hatch opening. This car also places last in observed fuel economy and interior materials. It has the most jittery, unsettled highway ride, which isn’t surprising considering it’s the only one in the test without adaptive dampers. The tacked-on cladding on the rear doors and quarter-panels looks aftermarket, although the GR earns kudos for being the only contender with fixed brake calipers front and rear. Granted, some of these aren’t the most critical categories for putting a smile on the driver’s face, which the GR does reliably, but there’s another car that steers and handles better and also beats it in all the softer skills.

2nd Place: Volkswagen Golf R

The Golf R’s maturity can be lulling. This car is the quietest at highway speeds by a wide margin, with the most coddling ride quality. Its engine sings a much mellower and far softer tune, the stiffness of the iron block from the long-serving EA888 turbo four likely contributing to its smoothness. The Golf R weighs the most and, by a small margin, put up the worst braking and cornering results.

HIGHS: Quietest, smoothest ride, most features.
LOWS: Least engaging to drive, too-large shift knob and vague shifter feel, maddening interior controls.
Mature, with a wild side.

That’s why its liveliness on the track was a pleasant surprise, with the Golf R rotating way more under power than the Corolla. The Volkswagen doesn’t ever come around, but the torque-vectoring diff helps it take an initial step out. Nürburgring mode—officially, Special mode—relaxes the dampers while dialing up everything else and was our favorite setting on both track and street. The engine hits the hardest during acceleration out of corners, and the Golf tied for the quickest to 60 mph, with a brutal redline clutch dump giving it the swiftest skedaddle off the line. By 100 mph, the Golf pulls clear of the others. Yet it still averaged the best fuel economy.

When our hands started to sweat while lapping, we realized we had accidentally bumped the steering-wheel heater button. It’s happened to us before and is a perfect segue into what we like least about the latest Golf: its controls and infotainment, everything from fussy seat-heat toggles to an illogical settings-menu layout. While there’s all manner of lighting inside the cabin and out, including the unibrow between the headlights, Volkswagen neglected to illuminate key volume and climate controls on the center stack.

Although the Golf has the highest-quality steering wheel, with perforated leather at 9 and 3 o’clock, the steering itself is our least favorite. The knob atop the shifter is too large, and its motions aren’t as crisp as the other hatches’. Clutch engagement is grabbier than the other two, and the brake pedal is softer.

2022 volkswagen golf r

Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

Proving that usefulness is not only about size, the Golf’s back seat (second largest of the three) is by far the most accommodating. With excellent contouring that provides lateral and lumbar support, these rear seats are the only ones that are heated and get their own climate-control zone. There’s sufficient headroom, kneeroom, and under-seat foot space, along with the best view out of the side glass. There’s a reason European families buy Golfs.

Even though the Golf lacks the rev-matching feature present in the other two, it otherwise dominates in our comprehensive tallying of features. It’s the only one with ventilated power seats (with memory), rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking assist, and a sunroof, which made the Corolla look basic by comparison.

1st Place: Honda Civic Type R

In last month’s dispatch from Virginia International Raceway, we reported that the Type R is the quickest front-driver we’ve ever run around the big track. It also beats these two all-wheel-drivers, not to mention outrunning a 2006 Ford GT, matching a C6 Corvette Grand Sport, and running just a half-second behind a current-generation Porsche Cayman S. At VIR, both the Corolla and the Type R were wearing optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s, but the Civic’s standard tire is barely a downgrade, with a 1.04-g skidpad assault.

HIGHS: Best steering, handling, shifting, and seats; livable ride quality.
LOWS: Light on features versus the Golf, noisy over the road.
VERDICT: Unfathomably great, with no “for a front-driver” qualifier needed.

You sit lower in the Civic than the other two, and the view over its flatter hood could almost pass for that of a rear-driver. Far from a cold speed machine, the Type R quickly convinces it’s more involving and easy to drive fast. It corners flat, turns in crisply, and, through the magic of its dual-axis struts, can put down the power early without corrupting the steering. It also tucks in and rotates under braking, with far less understeer than the Corolla.

The Civic loses points for ditching a middle back seat, and the rear cabin, while larger, isn’t nearly as comfortable as the Golf’s. The Type R is also lacking in features compared with the Golf, but its LogR function, which overlays data on top of video taken with a phone, is something neither of the others have. It’s like General Motors’ Performance Data Recorder but without the built-in camera.

This is an image

The Type R’s logr feature makes videos like this, using footage shot with a smartphone merged with data recorded from the car.’

Strapping into the Type R’s seats makes every errand feel like a time attack. They’re super supportive from thigh to shoulder yet comfortable for lengthy stretches. You’ll find the best shifting here too, with a lever that scythes through its short throws. However, the shift knob is metal, so as comedian Jim Gaffigan says about Hot Pockets, it tends to be either frozen or burning hot.

The most aggressive +R mode is unusably stiff; there’s little need to forsake the versatile Comfort mode on the road or track. But even in this softest setting, the Type R will occasionally get into a pogo bounce through lumpy corners.

2023 honda civic type r

Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

While improved from before, the engine note can be a little buzzy and kazoo-like. But our biggest reservation is the roar that reverberates up from the tires. There’s a lot of rolling noise and severe ponging from the tire cavities over broken pavement. That can make the ride, which is firm but perfectly livable and better than the Corolla’s, seem stiffer than it is. We’re curious what another 50 pounds of sound deadening might do.

But almost every way you slice it, the Type R is the winner: lap time, handling, steering feel, driving engagement, shifting, plus cargo space. This thing is stacked.

2023 honda civic type r, 2023 toyota gr corolla circuit, 2022 volkswagen golf r

Car and Driver

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2023 Honda Civic Type R
Vehicle Type: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 4-door hatchback


Base/As Tested: $44,390/$44,845
Options: Championship White paint, $455

turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 122 in3, 1996 cm3
Power: 315 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 310 lb-ft @ 2600 rpm 


6-speed manual


Suspension, F/R: struts/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 13.8-in vented disc/12.0-in disc
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4S
265/30ZR-19 (93Y) DT1


Wheelbase: 107.7 in
Length: 180.9 in
Width: 74.4 in
Height: 55.4 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 55/44 ft3
Cargo Volume, Behind F/R: –/25 ft3
Curb Weight: 3173 lb

30 mph: 2.3 sec
60 mph: 5.0 sec
100 mph: 11.7 sec
1/4-Mile: 13.5 sec @ 108 mph
130 mph: 21.2 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 5.8 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 10.0 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 6.3 sec
Top Speed (mfr’s claim): 169 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 151 ft
Braking, 100–0 mph: 307 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 1.04 g 


Observed: 14 mpg 


Combined/City/Highway: 24/22/28 mpg 

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit
Vehicle Type: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback


Base/As Tested: $43,995/$44,420
Options: Supersonic Red paint, $425

turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-3, aluminum block and head, port and direct fuel injection
Displacement: 99 in3, 1618 cm3
Power: 300 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 273 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm 

6-speed manual


Suspension, F/R: struts/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 14.0-in vented, grooved disc/11.7-in vented, grooved disc
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4
235/40ZR-18 (95Y)


Wheelbase: 103.9 in
Length: 173.6 in
Width: 72.8 in
Height: 57.2 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 50/35 ft3
Cargo Volume, Behind F/R: 35/18 ft3
Curb Weight: 3252 lb

30 mph: 1.5 sec
60 mph: 4.9 sec
100 mph: 11.9 sec
1/4-Mile: 13.3 sec @ 105 mph
130 mph: 22.9 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.4 sec.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 6.3 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 10.2 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 7.0 sec
Top Speed (gov ltd): 143 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 156 ft
Braking, 100–0 mph: 313 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.97 g 


Observed: 13 mpg 


Combined/City/Highway: 24/21/28 mpg

2022 Volkswagen Golf R
Vehicle Type: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback


Base/As Tested: $45,185/$45,185
Options: None

turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 121 in3, 1984 cm3
Power: 315 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 280 lb-ft @ 1900 rpm 

6-speed manual


Suspension, F/R: struts/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 14.1-in vented, cross-drilled disc/12.2-in vented disc
Tires: Hankook Ventus S1 Evo3
235/35R-19 91Y +


Wheelbase: 103.5 in
Length: 168.9 in
Width: 70.4 in
Height: 57.7 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 51/41 ft3
Cargo Volume, Behind F/R: 35/20 ft3
Curb Weight: 3380 lb

30 mph: 1.4 sec
60 mph: 4.9 sec
100 mph: 11.4 sec
1/4-Mile: 13.4 sec @ 106 mph
130 mph: 20.4 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.2 sec.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 6.0 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 8.7 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 5.8 sec
Top Speed (mfr’s claim): 155 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 161 ft
Braking, 100–0 mph: 317 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.95 g 


Observed: 16 mpg


Combined/City/Highway: 23/20/28 mpg 


Headshot of Dave VanderWerp

Director, Vehicle Testing

Dave VanderWerp has spent more than 20 years in the automotive industry, in varied roles from engineering to product consulting, and now leading Car and Driver’s vehicle-testing efforts. Dave got his very lucky start at C/D by happening to submit an unsolicited resume at just the right time to land a part-time road warrior job when he was a student at the University of Michigan, where he immediately became enthralled with the world of automotive journalism.