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Used test: Honda Civic Type R vs Volkswagen Golf GTI interiors

Two of the most iconic names in hot hatch history go head-to-head in used form, but should you buy a Honda Civic Type R or a Volkswagen Golf GTI?...

2020 Honda Civic Type R dashboard


Driving position, visibility, build quality, practicality

A good driving position is important in any car, but especially so in rampantly quick hot hatches. Thankfully, the VW Golf GTI and the Honda Civic Type R both 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 you can sit in a natural position – although you're higher up from the road in the GTI. Only the GTI comes with adjustable lumbar support from new, 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 (from new) rear-view camera – an extra the GTI's original owner would have had to pay extra for – and Sport Line versions have a smaller wing.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 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 VW Golf Mk8, the GTI has small, touch-sensitive pads instead of buttons, including for the temperature settings. 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 activate by mistake. To make matters worse, the touchscreen itself is laggy and unresponsive a lot of the time. 

The 2020 Type R 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 system using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring. Both of these systems are glitchy in the GTI.

2020 Honda Civic Type R gearstick

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 metal highlights and a decent level of fit and finish, but you also get way more scratchy plastics than you might expect in a Golf.

The GTI and Type R are among the most practical hot hatches to come out in recent years. There's lots of front space, as well as numerous cubbies for cups, keys and phones. You even get a wireless phone-charging pad as standard from new in each.

2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI rear seats

True, it’s a shame that seatbelts are provided for only two passengers in the rear of the Type R, and six-footers will find their hair brushes the ceiling if they sit upright in the back. However, it offers significantly more rear leg room than the GTI, allowing you to stretch out.

Both cars’ seatbacks split and fold in a 60/40 arrangement. With them up, the Type R’s boot is far longer and taller than the GTI’s and can swallow seven carry-on suitcases – two more than its rival’s. However, unlike the Type R, the GTI comes with a height-adjustable boot floor and a ski hatch for added flexibility.

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