2023 Honda Civic Type R vs 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Comparison

Mike Schlee
by Mike Schlee

Remember the 1990s?

Performance cars were everywhere, especially in Japan, where seemingly every model had some sort of sporty special. Two of the main brands leading this charge back then where Toyota and Honda. Cars like the MR2, NSX, Supra, Prelude, and Celica were some of the most in demand performance vehicles on the planet.

Fast forward 25 years and Honda and Toyota are at it again. The Honda Civic Type R and the Toyota GR Corolla are two of the most talked about vehicles of 2023. After our Best Performance Car AutoGuide Shootout brought to you by WeatherTech, we naturally had to get these hot hatches together for a more in-depth 2023 Honda Civic Type R vs 2023 Toyota GR Corolla battle.

We collected the combatants and headed to Toronto Motorsports Park to put each car through its paces. Our goal isn’t to see which car sets the quickest lap time. The point of this head-to-head is to see which car is more fun, engaging, and the better overall choice. Similar, yet quite different, after a week of evaluating, we declared a winner.

2nd Place – 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Core

Words by Mike Schlee

The GR Corolla may not actually be born from a rally car, but we can feel a rally influence in almost every aspect of the car. First, there’s a turbocharged three-cylinder that measures the same 1.6-liter in size as the engines used in the World Rally Championship up until 2021.

In this car, the turbo 3-banger creates an impressive 300 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. It’s a very rev happy engine that makes most of its power at the top end. Once power builds, it accelerates quickly well into triple digit speeds. That said, it can’t quite compete with the larger Type R’s engine though, as the Honda pulls harder at all engine speeds. If we’re to rate the acceleration of these two cars out of ten, the GR Corolla gets a 9 and the Type R gets an 11. Maybe even a 12.

Rally-Inspired Feel

The GR Corolla has a triple exhaust set up with two conventional exhaust tips at either side and a larger, oval tip dead center. They let out a throaty burble that’s unique in sound and one can adjust them, volume wise, through the drive modes.

The Toyota’s clutch is light and easy to engage, with moderate travel. We find it’s easier to find the uptake point here than on the one in the Type R. The Corolla’s six-speed manual transmission is precise in engagement, but very mechanical in feel and not as refined as that found in the Civic. Both cars can engage automatic rev-matching downshifts for the manual transmission, and we like how easy it is to turn this feature on and off in the GR Corolla. It’s simply the push of a button under the steering wheel. In the Type R, it needs to be enabled or disabled through a menu screen that can only be accessed when the parking brake is on.

Unlike the Type R, the GR Corolla has a traditional pull lever parking brake. The meaty handle is perfectly placed beside the driver just begging to be pulled to enable a drift around a dirt chicane.

Small Package

Although the GR Corolla features a widebdy, the Civic is still a few inches wider. The Honda is also longer and has a shorter roofline. This gives the GR Corolla more of a traditional hatchback profile when the two are parked side by side.

Being the smaller car, it’s no surprise the Toyota has less headroom, legroom, and cargo capacity. That said, our six-foot-tall tester easily fit in the front seat of the car with a lot of headroom to spare. The front seat itself is supportive and comfortable enough, but can’t touch the awesome seats in the Type R. Maybe the upgraded seats in the GR Corolla Circuit would be a better match, but we have the entry level Core model on hand here.

When it comes to the rear seats, they offer little space and is the domain of smaller humans. Headroom isn’t too bad, but legroom is lacking. The GR Corolla is not about hauling people or stuff though, it’s all about the massive amounts of fun behind the wheel.

Fun Package

This car is easily the more approachable one to drive at speed. There’s hardly any learning curve here and I feel so confident driving it around the track almost immediately. It’s a car that a greater range of skill levels will enjoy driving. Quick switchbacks, slow tight corners, or long sweepers – it’s simply a matter of point the GR Corolla and go. If overdriven, it has a tendency to washout rather than snap around, which is more predictable, and more importantly, easier to control for most drivers.

The sheer power, pace, and grip of the Type R on the other handle requires greater concentration, planning, and skill. It’s more hardcore and definitely benefits from a more experienced driver.

Part of the reason it’s so easy to drive the GR Corolla fast has to do with the all-wheel drive system. Power splits by default front to rear at a 60/40 ratio. Drivers can manually switch it to 30/70 for a more rear-wheel drive bias or use the track mode which gives a 50/50 split. During our time with the vehicle, we mostly had it in the 30/70 and that, combined with the standard Torsen differentials front and rear, provided all the grip we ever needed. But, and this is an important but, we never did get to try the car out in snow, rain, or dirt. We think this would only increase the fun quotient.

Functional, Not Pampering

Now on to the weakest part of the GR Corolla, the interior. Inside, the Toyota is full of non-premium materials. It has an overall design that’s about as blah as it comes. The Civic Type R has that fantastic honeycomb grille design across the dashboard and contrasting trim elements throughout. Inside the Corolla, many parts of the design feel a decade or two old already, like the shiny plastic doors, toggle switch heated seats, and the roof liner. It doesn’t feel like a nearly $40,000 car, that is, until we start driving it. But at this price point, a bit of interior flash is appreciated.

Feature wise, the GR Corolla Core can’t really match up to the Civic Type R either. It does have a customizable digital gauge cluster, buttons to control the drive modes and center differential, automatic climate control, and large infotainment screen.

2023 Honda Civic Type R vs 2023 Toyota GR Corolla: Verdict

It’s clear Toyota put all the money in the GR Corolla into the mechanical bits and we give them full credit for doing so. The small wheelbase, fantastic all-wheel drive system, quick steering, and rev happy engine are a perfect combo for fun.

It’s easily the more irrational choice between the 2023 Honda Civic Type R vs 2023 Toyota GR Corolla, It’s the most purpose-built, impractical, enthusiast special. It may not be as well-equipped, functional, or premium feeling compared to the Civic Type R, but it’s also over $7,000 cheaper in price as tested. That’s a good savings, especially for those living where the benefit of all-wheel drive is a huge bonus.

1st Place – 2023 Honda Civic Type-R

Words by Jeff Wilson

If I’m honest, the previous generation of the Honda Civic Type-R always left me a little cold. I had tremendous respect for its capabilities, but it was so precise, so clinical, that I always imagined a room full of the smartest, emotionless wizards on the planet who worked tirelessly (and joylessly) on that car. Their sole mission was to create the fastest front-wheel-drive machine possible, and nothing more. It was strictly an engineering exercise, and Honda did exactly what they sought out to do, with no smiling whatsoever.

The result was a wickedly quick car that handled better than any front-driver should, but did it without any fanfare or fun, it just succeeded. Plus, its over-the-top styling was, well, just a little too overt for many folks, including yours truly.

Styled for Business

The good news is that this new Civic Type-R exceeds the old model, objectively in terms of performance, but it now has a personality, too, and if you can ignore the obnoxious wing, its dialled-back styling looks pretty sensational.

In fact, parked next to the GR Corolla, it makes the little Toyota look like the proverbial weakling about to get sand kicked in its face by the bully Honda. The Type-R’s oh-so-appropriate Championship White paint looks richer and creamier compared to the stark white on the GR Corolla. As well, blacking out all the trim and badging that isn’t red, suits this car so well. The overall shape of the Civic is more fastback than hatchback and the vents and flares are all functional here. And those wheels! They’re so wide that even the steamroller-like 265-width rubber stretches out to reach the rim, and they look perfect.

Rich, Functional Interior

Like the GR Corolla, the Type-R is based on a rather more affordable hatchback. But the current generation Honda Civic even in its most basic form, has a pretty nice interior. Using that as the baseline, the Type-R gets retina-searing red carpet and suede-like racing buckets that look ready for a racing harness. There’s dramatic bolstering, and comfort, but there’s no cooling units or even heating elements in them. The rear seat (finished in black instead of red like the front seats) is comfortable and provides ample room for a pair of adults. And under the hatchback, there’s a deep and spacious cargo hold. We can’t say the same for the GR Corolla.

The digital gauge display can be set up for track mode with all sorts of performance measures, plus a sequential shift light that lets a driver know the 7,000 rpm redline is approaching. Honda has also added their LogR application to the infotainment system with all sorts of telemetry-gathering performance data. It’s all stuff to remind a driver that this is a serious performance machine.

The Right Mechanics

Serious, yes, but tons of fun, too. Like the GR Corolla, the Civic Type-R comes only with a six-speed manual, and Honda has carried over its trademark aluminum shift knob. If you can get past it feeling like shifting an ice cube in the winter, and threatening to brand your palm in the summer, it reinforces the focus on precision.

While stick shifts are threatening extinction with every new model year, the Type-R’s shifter will be regarded as among the best of all time. There’s not another that comes to mind that’s so direct, so precise, and with such a perfectly spaced gate. But the shifter plays only one part in this band, and the way that the throttle is calibrated and the clutch is weighted, it makes one wonder: if every shifter had always been this good, would automatics have ever taken off?

Not to be outdone, the wizards who conjured the steering did an equally impressive job. The steering wheel is chatty, letting the driver know if those massive Michelins are about to relinquish their grip on the pavement. The steering itself is quick, but also incredibly precise, seemingly responding via telepathy instead of subtle movements. Fingertip inputs are almost all that’s ever needed to steer this car, even on the track.

Razor Sharp and Stiff

The GR Corolla is fun and playful, and its steering happily babbles away too, but there isn’t the level of razor-sharp precision in the Toyota’s steering as in the Honda.

The suspension utilizes adaptive dampers, but even in comfort mode, the Type-R feels as poised and connected as anything else in the class dialed into its highest performance settings, and the grip is remarkable. The downside is that the Civic’s ride is pretty firm and will jostle occupants a fair bit over rough roads.

Peak Front-Wheel Drive?

The Type-R’s engine largely carries over from the last generation. It’s still a 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder, but it now throws down 315 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, which is a bit more power, and significantly more torque than the GR Corolla. Factor in the Honda’s lighter mass and it’s no surprise that the Type-R is immediately and obviously quicker in a track setting than the Toyota. The standard mechanical limited-slip differential helps the Type-R manage its power better than expected for a front-driver when exiting corners, but when the pedal is mashed, a driver still needs to wrestle the wheel to keep the torque steer in check.

Honda has given the new engine a lighter flywheel, helping allow it to rev more freely. As a motorcycling fan, I love the way this engine quickly gathers revs, and its high-pitched wail are about as close to the experience of wringing out a sport bike as I can recall on four wheels.

2023 Honda Civic Type R vs 2023 Toyota GR Corolla: Verdict

Fans of compact performance cars have some great choices now. Toyota’s GR Corolla is a tremendously fun little car that behaves like a tireless, scrappy puppy, but its spartan interior make it feel a class below the Civic Type-R.

Honda has done the unimaginable and dynamically improved what was already the world’s best performance front-wheel-drive car and given it better looks, a better interior, and a sparkling personality. Although we are spoiled with two absolutely amazing choices here, when comparing the 2023 Honda Civic Type R vs 2023 Toyota GR Corolla, it’s the car with the red H logo that wins.

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Mike Schlee
Mike Schlee

A 20+ year industry veteran, Mike rejoins the AutoGuide team as the Managing Editor. He started his career at a young age working at dealerships, car rentals, and used car advertisers. He then found his true passion, automotive writing. After contributing to multiple websites for several years, he spent the next six years working at the head office of an automotive OEM, before returning back to the field he loves. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). He's the recipient of a feature writing of the year award and multiple video of the year awards.

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