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Comparison: 2019 Honda Civic Type R vs 2019 Volkswagen Golf R

Today, we put the fun back in the drive. This is for those of you who place road handling and performance ahead of all else, who spend your week thinking of what roads you’ll tear up on the weekend. This comparison is for you.

2019 Honda Civic R

It took eight generations of the Civic before we finally got an Type R-badged one here in Canada. Well known to Europeans and Japanese, this variant was, shall we say, highly anticipated here.

To help it reach a larger audience, the Civic Type R is based on the sedan but features a wider, lower profile and a decidedly more athletic overall style. Large air intakes at the front, a prominent spoiler on the trunk and a triple exhaust complete this unique look. Overall, it’s a look that departs pretty radically from the usual conservative Honda products.

The brand is aiming here at a whole other clientele, one not afraid to be noticed on the road and that grew up watching The Fast and the Furious movies.

Race environment
The Type R comes with body-hugging sport seats, which are complemented by high-end equipment like a 542-watt, 12-speaker audio system compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The instrument panel illuminated in red can display acceleration and braking as a graphical percentage, timed lap time and speedometer lights. A G-force meter provides a representation of the forces of acceleration, braking and turning, making for a futuristic graphic presentation that techno geeks will love - though for everyone else it’s a bit confusing because over-complicated.

Although it’s the most expensive Civic model in the lineup, it doesn’t come with the Honda Sensing active safety suite. All you get is the blind spot display with the LaneWatch camera. However, you have LED headlights and taillights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, navigation, a multi-angle rearview camera and keyless entry.

Photo: Honda

Small muscular engine
Like many others working in this segment, Honda fits in a small 4-cylinder to pull the R. Note that unlike the Golf R, Focus RS or Subaru STi, only the front wheels are at work. The 306 hp from the 2.0L turbo engine with 6-speed manual gearbox all go to the front. There’s no dual-clutch or automatic transmission on the menu, and it's all about keeping all that power on the ground with a limited-slip differential.

It seems like a lot of horses for a FWD-only car, but that's only if you’re not taking into account Honda’s outsized know-how when it comes to engines.

A charm to drive
The balance and rigidity of the body are probably the greatest qualities of the Type R. We put it through some serious testing on the Mont-Tremblant circuit in Quebec, and the car was just brilliant. The fear we felt of having so many horses on the front gear was unjustified.

No question, the Type R distills a beautiful energy and the car steadfastly retains full control. The adaptive suspension is efficient, and the big durable Brembo brakes, grippy 20-inch Continental tires and non-intrusive driving aids all help keep the car firmly planted on the pavement.

Photo: Honda

The adaptive damping system, dual power electric steering, electronic throttle and brake system are connected to the three drive modes: COMFORT, SPORT and +R settings that allow the driver to adjust the behavior of the Type R according to the driving environment. You can even downshift without doing the heel-toe and trying to make like a pro.

Conclusion
The Type R clearly demonstrates Honda’s considerable engineering skills and expertise. Its styling is not the most beguiling, the driving experience it deliver is.

2019 Volkswagen Golf R

At first glance, The Golf R looks like a basic Golf but with some aerodynamic add-ons and 19-inch wheels. It’s this sober and unpredictable style that appeals to many people, unlike the Civic Type R, which looks like a spaceship and announces its colours from miles away.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

An efficient engine
The Volkswagen offers similar horsepower to the Honda. Both vehicles rely on a 2.0L, 4-cylinder turbo engine that in the Golf R delivers 288 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. The 4 Motion AWD offers a choice of 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The R is by far the fastest Golf on the market, but beyond the power, it’s the refinement that really impresses. It does not have the Jekyll-and-Hyde characteristic of a Subaru Impreza WRX STI or Mercedes Benz GLA 45 AMG, but it produces a more comfortable and refined driving experience. Standard adaptive shock absorbers offer three different levels of comfort.

Sober interior
Although the R has the same basic cabin as the GTI, it’s a more discreet and luxurious place. The well-padded and comfortable leather sport seats are standard, while the glossy black trim with blue accent lights on the doors give it a sporty yet chic feeling. The contrasting white stitching on the steering wheel and metal pedals makes this Golf R feel more like a BMW than a standard-issue Volkswagen.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Meanwhile, the R retains all of the Golf’s functionality, including cargo space and generous rear seats. The standard package includes LCD display gauges, LED headlights and tail lights.

When equipped with the optional technology package, the Golf R gets VW's high-end infotainment system, an 8.0-inch screen with proximity sensors, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The group also includes navigation assistance, adaptive cruise control, and parking sensors. The base level display screen is smaller at 6.3 inches, but also includes cellular connectivity and a reverse camera.

Fast and comfortable
Fast, fun, luxurious, sophisticated, practical and ready to attack, regardless of the weather conditions, the Volkswagen Golf R is perhaps the ideal all-in-one car for the man or woman who loves high-performance machines. Despite a starting price of over $40,000, Canadians continue to adopt the Golf R, with demand outstripping supply. The greatest strength of the Golf R is to have been able to combine performance and comfort without compromise. It’s a great car to use everyday and it remains discreet.

Advantage Honda Civic Type R

In terms of pure power and handling, the honours go to the Civic Type R. For those looking for uncompromising performance, you're at the right place. Also worth applauding is the usable passenger space and huge cargo capacity in what is a small sports car. The Civic offers a base price similar to the Golf R, but there are very few costly options, unlike in the Golf R, so advantage there also for the Civic.

Advantage Volkswagen Golf R

I’m not particularly a fan of flashy cars. I’d rather drive in a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing than shout about my car’s big cojones from the rooftops. The Golf R is also more practical on a daily basis and offers all-wheel drive, a not-inconsiderable benefit in wintertime. The infotainment system is much easier to use than at Honda. VW also offers the possibility of a DSG transmission, while at Honda there’s only a manual shifter.

Similarities

If you’re self-disciplined when choosing options, both come in at a similar price. Surprisingly, the driving comfort in both models is high level, and space for both passengers and luggage is very good.

Verdict

It’s a wrenching choice for me make, because from a strictly performance point of view, the Civic Type R is a better proposition than the Golf R. Its capabilities truly impress. It’s faster, more precise, more modern in its behavior and faster in turns; and yet personally I would be embarrassed to be seen driving one.

The Golf R meanwhile combines performance, user-friendliness and comfort in a discreet set-up that looks great. While I admit that the Civic has the upper hand on the Golf, drive-wise, if I’m heading for a dealership to buy one of them for myself I’m going for the Golf R.

2019 Honda Civic Type R

We like

Stiff chassis
Performance meets expectations
Happy compromise between sport and comfort

We like less

In your face styling
No auto or DSG gearbox
Confusing infotainment system

2019 Volkswagen Golf R

We like

Elegant line
Efficient AWD system
Comfortable, well-suited to daily driving

We like less

Some cheap plastics still lurk about
Low profile engine
Turning radius on the wide side
A lot of black inside

Specifications

... 2019 Honda Civic Type R2019 Volkswagen Golf R
 Transmission6-spd manual6-spd manual or DSG 7
 DrivetrainFWDAWD
  manualmanual
 Fuel consumption (city)10.6L/100 km11.4L/100 km
 Fuel consumption (hwy)8.3L/100 km8.2L/100 km
 Fuel tank47 litres50 litres
    
 Engine  
 TypeGasGas
 Output306 hp288 hp
 Torque295 lb-ft280 lb-ft
 Cylinders4 cylinders4 cylinders
 Displacement2,0 l T2,0 l T
    
 Capacities  
 Cargo space727 l493 l
    
 Dimensions  
 Length4519 mm4276 mm
 Width1878 mm1799 mm
 Height1416 mm1436 mm
 Wheelbase2700 mm2631 mm
    
 Warranty3 yrs/60,000 km4 yr/80,000 km
    
 Price$41,590$42,065