Toyota GR Yaris vs Honda Civic Type R 2021 Comparison Test

Yet another massive showdown.

Pocket Rocket (almost) powerhouses, built for speed, decked out with tonnes of tech and spec.

Let’s see what Car Sales had to say in their review of the Toyota GR Yaris vs Honda Civic Type R.


The Toyota GR Yaris reignited the pint-sized performance wars in late 2020 with its introduction, 200 kilowatts, all-wheel drive and a $50,000 price tag to match.

Many people rightly claim the GR Yaris was in a league of its own, but I reckon there’s a perfect opponent in the Honda Civic Type R. Now granted it’s slightly larger, it has five doors and it’s front-wheel drive only, but the Type R doles out similar levels of performance to the GR Yaris and just like that car, it’s manual only as well.

Question is, which of these three pedal options is best?

Here we have two similar yet decidedly different executions of a $50,000 hot hatch, and the 1.6 kilometre Pheasant Wood Circuit in Marulan south of Sydney, to pick them apart.

The GR Yaris is officially the more affordable of these two, we couldn’t quite nab the more expensive and focused GR Yaris rally in time for this comparison. In any case, that GR is not your garden variety Yaris. In fact, there are only three common parts shared with the popular regular runabout, it’s headlights, tail lights and mirror caps.

A big part of the GR Yaris’s appeal is its drive train, 1.6 litres worth of three-cylinder muscle doesn’t sound like an awful lot.

But it’s an engine that’s full of character, it’s an engine that creates power and torque pretty much everywhere. And it’s an engine that’s really quite rewarding, matched with a six-speed manual transmission that really does lend this car an involving and engaging driving experience.

The GR’s fire power is easily exploited via the all-wheel drive system, which apportions torque split depending on which of the three driving modes you’re in. It means the little pocket rocket can blast to triple figures in acclaimed 5.2 seconds.

Braking is facilitated by 356 millimetre disc with four-pot callipers up front and 297 millimetre disc with two piston callipers at the rear. All told, those underpinnings mean the GR is the more forgiving and flattering of these two.

There’s a real playfulness to the GR Yaris. It’s user-friendly and neutral on the limit, and it has no trouble doling out its power, thanks to that all-wheel drive system.

Probably the biggest criticisms of this car are its Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber, and also the fact the all-wheel drive system is occasionally prone to flaring at one wheel. The good news is that you can remedy both of those criticisms by opting for the slightly more expensive GR Yaris rally. But as a base, this is a terrific performance car and one that, invokes all the good things about Toyota and its rally heritage.

Adding a $5,000 premium, the rally is much more effective at harnessing the power and grip on offer from the Yaris’s reworked underpinnings. Although whether that would be enough to change the result of this comparison remains to be seen. Now, the GR Yaris is unapologetically one-minded in terms of its performance, and it shows most inside the cabin.

A tiny 141 litre boot imposed by the all-wheel drive system, scratchy plastics and a high set driver’s chair, which really does go against the whole driver ethos of this car. Now, on that latter point, it’s compounded by a high set centre screen and a low set rear-view mirror, which really does narrow the field of vision. But hey, those are small prices to pay for the performance on offer.

More space, more practicality you say, well the Honda Civic Type R is a proponent for both.

Stretching an additional 500 millimetres longer than the GR Yaris, the front drive Civic Type R is officially the next segment up. We’ve considered passenger ergonomics and a sizeable 414 litre boot.

Additionally, the Civic Type R’s front drive underpinnings means it is only 73 kilograms heavier than the GR Yaris. While its two-litre turbo petrol, four-cylinder, boasts an additional 28 kilowatts and 30 Newton-metres more than the rally-bred pocket rocket.

Now, the Civic Type R’s two-litre engine might only boast 28 additional kilowatts over the GR Yaris, but gee, you can feel it on circuit. The way that this car revs out to its 7000 RPM redline, the way that it simply gathers speed, really does lend the Civic Type R a much more visceral driving experience than the GR Yaris.

And that’s enhanced by the fact that it’s front-wheel drive only. But I think as a driver’s car this stands a little bit taller. There’s a little bit more meaningfulness to the controls, it’s a car that you probably have to respect more than the GR Yaris. It’s not as user-friendly, but when you drive it properly, it really does reward you with a kind of enjoyment that you wouldn’t typically associate with a front-wheel drive performance car.

The Civic Type R rewards driver patience, tip into the throttle too early and you can expect torque steer and some tyre scrambling from the two-litre turbo petrol. But the larger displacement does afford performance over a broader spectrum of revs in this comparison.

Equally, we had very little trouble bringing the Civic Type R to rest, courtesy of its big brakes. Now, thankfully, even though it is bigger, even though it has five doors, there’s no huge weight penalty with the Civic Type R either.

So it’s just as chuckable as the little GR Yaris and yet, out of corners it just develops so much power. You get to about 4000 RPM and suddenly the burst through to redline is almost instant.

It’s really cool the way that this engine makes its power. Now, this is totally subjective, but if you were to pour through the sales data of the Type R over the past three or four years, you’d probably arrive at the same conclusion. The biggest thing holding this car back is its looks, visually it’s a polarising design, and for many people it’s just too much.

But thankfully when you step inside, things get much better.

Honda are fantastic with their interior ergonomics and happily the Type R is no exception.

It’s got a great open glass house, terrific incidental storage and cubbies and first rate safety and technology. Now, granted, it is a size larger than the GR Yaris, but I know which of these two would be easier to live with.

Ultimately, the stopwatch doesn’t lie, the Civic Type R is a whole three seconds a lap faster around the Pheasant Wood Circuit. Posing a massive advantage, in fact, its official time put it within a second of the Mercedes AMG A45 around the same circuit.

As for road driving, we found the GR Yaris the slightly firmer and noisier proposition, while the Civic paid less of a penalty for its go fast focus. Elsewhere, both vehicles are subject to 10,000 kilometre servicing intervals, and are backed by five-year manufacturer warranties.

The Civic Type R is nearly $600 cheaper to service over a three-year turn. There’s no doubt the new Toyota GR Yaris casts new light on the small hot hatch segment. And I think it really does challenge exactly what we can expect from a small performance car.

Withstanding that, if you can get over the elephant in the room, that the Civic Type R looks like Sonic the Hedgehog, it takes the win in this comparison. It’s the more visceral driver’s car and it’s more user-friendly and practical to match.

It wins this comparison by a nose, but you could easily justify ownership of either of these vehicles.


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