New Toyota GR Yaris vs Honda Civic Type R

Toyota has brought top-flight rallying know-how to the road with its all-new GR Yaris hot hatch. But is it good enough to topple the mighty Honda Civic Type R?...

New Toyota GR Yaris vs Honda Civic Type R

The contenders

NEW Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Circuit Pack

List price £33,495
Target Price £33,495

Smaller and less powerful than the Honda Civic Type R but the GR harks back to the glory days of rally-bred specials with a high-tech four-wheel drive system and a lightweight body

Honda Civic Type R 2.0 VTEC Turbo GT

List price £36,320
Target Price £33,582

Updated version of our long-time-favourite hot hatch has already seen off the latest VW Golf GTI thanks to its thrilling performance and handling, plus its surprising usability

You wouldn’t throw a featherweight boxer into the ring with a heavyweight, so why are we putting a diminutive Toyota Yaris up against a physically larger, much more powerful Honda Civic Type R? It’s a good question, and one with a rather simple answer. You see, this is no normal Yaris – it’s a Toyota GR Yaris and those two extra letters make all the difference.

Built from the ground up by Toyota’s racing division, Gazoo Racing, the GR Yaris was designed to satisfy World Rally Championship (WRC) regulations that stipulate that any competition car must share a certain number of components with its road-going counterpart.

Therefore, it shares just four exterior body parts with the standard Yaris, is available only as a three-door (whereas the regular car is a five-door), and features different underpinnings beneath that muscular, lightweight body – the rear section being a mixture of bits from the larger Toyota Corolla hatchback and Toyota C-HR SUV.

Toyota GR Yaris 2021 rear

Meanwhile, the turbocharged 1.6-litre engine is an engineering masterpiece. Producing 257bhp and 266lb ft of torque, it’s officially the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine. It transfers its power to the road via a six-speed manual gearbox (there’s no automatic gearbox option) and a high-tech four-wheel drive system. The result is a car that can accelerate from 0-62mph in a claimed 5.5sec.

So, despite being a similar size to a Ford Fiesta ST, the GR has what it takes, on paper, to go toe to toe with the likes of the 316bhp 2.0-litre Civic Type R, our favourite hot hatch for the past three years. Having recently received a number of tweaks, including, but not limited to, revised suspension, all-new brakes and some choice interior updates, the Type R is fighting fit and has already seen off a recent challenge by the new VW Golf GTI. So, can the GR finally defeat the undefeated?


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

With the Type R packing nearly 60bhp more than the GR, you might expect it to smoke its rival in a drag race. Not so. On a cold and slightly damp day, getting the front-wheel-drive Type R off the line cleanly required a lot of delicacy, and the best time it could achieve to 60mph was 5.7sec.

Honda Civic Type R 2021 rear

By contrast, launching the GR is child’s play. With Toyota’s clever ‘GR-Four’ four-wheel-drive system managing the power, traction is superb, helping the 100kg lighter GR to rocket away from the line with the same level of gusto as Elfyn Evans (Toyota’s leading WRC driver) leaving a rally checkpoint. After stopping to make sure we were reading the timing gear correctly, we noted down an astonishing time of 4.6sec.

The tables are turned when it comes to rolling acceleration, though. With the GR’s traction advantage negated, the Type R not only gets from 30mph up to the motorway speed limit slightly quicker (4.6sec versus 4.7sec) but also pulls harder if you floor the accelerator pedal in each gear, its advantage widening at higher speeds. The GR, with shorter gear ratios, feels very nearly as quick at normal road speeds, though, bounding along with terrier-like enthusiasm.

Like the GR, the Type R comes exclusively with a six-speed manual gearbox – and trust us, this is a very good thing. The Type R’s gearshift is about as tactile as it gets this side of a Porsche 718 Cayman so it’s pleasing to find that the GR’s is almost as polished. Apart from having a slightly longer shift action than the Type R’s, the GR’s gearbox, with its precise, weighty throws, provides you with a great mechanical connection to the car.

Toyota GR Yaris 2021 side.jpg

You’ll find yourself rowing up and down the gears just for the hell of it, enjoying the surprisingly bassy and mechanical growl of the GR’s three-cylinder engine. The four-cylinder Type R, meanwhile, has to make do with a flatter, more one-dimensional soundtrack, but it is at least the quieter cruiser; those lightweight panels on the GR (including a carbon-fibre roof) allow road noise and, in particular, wind noise to feature quite prominently at motorway speeds.

As for ride comfort, the GR is a little firmer than the surprisingly compliant Type R around town, but it never feels lumpy or jarring like the similar-sized Abarth 595 – despite the fact that the range-topping Circuit Pack model (£3500 more than the entry-level GR) includes stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars (as well as lightweight 18in alloy wheels, sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres and traction-enhancing limited-slip differentials front and rear).

If that sounds like an extreme setup, well, that’s because it is. And yet the Toyota is just as composed as the Honda at higher speeds, even along uneven country roads.

Honda Civic Type R 2021 side

While the Type R tackles corners with incredible poise and grip and its steering is impossible to fault for accuracy, the GR manages to deliver a more immersive and interactive driving experience. A big part of this is down to the four-wheel drive system, which allows you to choose how the power is split between the front and rear wheels. Normal mode delivers a 60/40 front/rear split, Sport 30/70 and Track 50/50. The idea of this is that Normal mode gives you an approachable and predictable driving experience, while Sport allows you to steer the car using the accelerator pedal like your favourite rally hero and Track gives you the best balance for quick lap times.

This allows you to enjoy every part of a corner, from entry to exit. It’s not just about carrying speed in and managing power on the way out like it is in the Type R; you can chuck the Toyota GR Yaris into corners as hard as you like and as soon as you get on the power, the differentials hook up and slingshot you out of the bend. It’s a wonderfully addictive experience and gives you confidence to explore the car’s limits in a way that you might not want to risk on the road in something like the Honda Civic Type R.

Both cars have immensely powerful brakes that can cope with hard track work without fading – unlike the Golf GTI’s – and have firm, reassuring pedals. Considering how short it is, the GR’s stability under hard braking is impressive, matching the Type R in this regard and allowing it to pull up in a slightly shorter distance from 30mph and 70mph.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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