New Volkswagen Golf GTI vs Honda Civic Type R: interiors

Is the all-new Volkswagen Golf GTI the best hot hatch you can buy? To find out we're pitting it against our current champion, the Honda Civic Type R...

2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI dashboard

Behind the wheel

Driving position, visibility, build quality

A good driving position is important in any car, but especially so in rampantly quick hot hatches. Thankfully, both of our contenders feature figure-hugging driver’s seats that hold you tightly in place through corners. These are placed nicely in line with the pedals and steering wheel, too, so allow you to sit in a natural position – albeit farther from the road in the GTI. Only the GTI comes with adjustable lumbar support, although the Type R is still relatively comfortable over long distances. 

You get adaptive Matrix LED headlights and LED front foglights on the GTI, so making progress in tricky conditions should be less taxing than in the Type R with its standard LED bulbs. The GTI also offers better over-the-shoulder visibility, thanks to its tall side windows, while the Type R’s huge rear wing limits rear visibility. Mind you, that’s mitigated somewhat by a standard-fit rear-view camera.

2020 Honda Civic Type R dashboard

Historically, it would be at this point where the layout of the GTI’s infotainment system and secondary controls would net it a number of points over the Type R, but no longer. As with the standard Golf Mk8, the GTI eschews physical buttons in favour of small, touch-sensitive pads, including for the temperature settings, and they’re incredibly distracting to operate on the move, forcing you to take your eyes off the road to find them. And unlike cheaper Golfs, the GTI doesn’t even get physical buttons on the steering wheel; instead, it has touch-sensitive ones that are worryingly easy to brush by mistake and change something. To make matters worse, the touchscreen itself is laggy and unresponsive a lot of the time; it’s a real disappointment. 

The 2020 Type R, meanwhile, gets a lightly updated infotainment system with a new physical knob to help you adjust the volume of the radio, and additional buttons for the air-con controls. Disappointingly, the standard 7.0in touchscreen is still slow and clunky to operate and is surprisingly low in resolution, but it’s far less distracting to use on the move than the GTI’s, especially when you bypass Honda's own operating system using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. Both of these systems are glitchy in the GTI.

In terms of build quality, the GTI is the plusher-feeling car, but not by the margin you might expect. This is in part due to Honda stepping up its game with the revised Type R, introducing a lovely Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and a beautiful egg-shaped aluminium gear knob. But it’s also to do with the GTI going backwards in terms of quality compared with its predecessor. There are some nice metal highlights and a decent level of fit and finish, but you also get way more scratchy plastics than you would typically expect in a Golf.

Infotainment systems

Volkswagen Golf GTI

2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI infotainment screen

Not only is the GTl's infotainment screen clearer than the Type R's, it's also 3in larger. However, as we found in the standard Golf, the software looks like it has been designed to look good – showing Gran Turismo-esque images of the car that rotate as you swipe – rather than operate well. The screen will often lag after you’ve made an input and the menus are confusing, with features buried in nonsensical places; traction control, for example, is hidden under a sub-menu for the brakes. It ultimately feels like a large step backwards compared with the previous model.

Honda Civic Type R

2020 Honda Civic Type R infotainment screen

We've never been fans of the Type R's infotainment and with good reason. It has a low resolution screen, poor graphics and tiny icons that are tricky to hit on the move, but in this test, we actually found the overall usability of the Type R's system to be better than the GTI’s. That’s because the updated unit in the 2020 Type R has gained physical buttons that allow you to flick between menus, change the volume of the radio and alter the climate control. This is far less distracting than having to hunt for the touch sensitive buttons in the GTI.

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