Rodrez: Comparing a Honda Civic hatchback to a Toyota Supra while both remain in completely stock form would make absolutely no sense in the mid-90s. Back then, the MKIV Supra was enjoying its reign as the bully it was, backed by the legendary twin turbo 2JZ-GTE powerplant and traditional front-engine, RWD layout to support the 320hp/315 lb.-ft. of torque. The Civic hatchback on the other hand, as it transitioned from its 5th to 6th generation lineup, was in a completely different segment. The Si hatchback was finishing its final run in '95, powered by its 125hp single cam that wouldn't be fit into another hatchback model. Instead, the '96 hatchback was entry-level at best, with no "hotter version" in the cards unless of course, you were living overseas and had access to the EK9 Type R. Add to that its FWD layout and the fact that it was but a fraction of the cost of purchasing a MKIV Supra and you get why the comparison makes absolutely no sense.
That was then and today, that comparison actually makes perfect sense—hear me out. After the launch of the A90 Supra last year, Toyota would go on to unveil a 4-cylinder model that still relies on that tried and true front-engine, RWD layout and turbo motivation. Now, you're well acquainted with Honda's FK8 Type R as we've covered it every step of the way, from its secretive sneek peek prior to SEMA to its mid-cycle refresh, and even its new limited-edition model. It's been a media darling since inception and beyond the internet cries to "fire the design team" and "bring back the EK body style," the Type R is wildly popular.
Both cars pick up and continue a long-running heritage and both have as many detractors as they do fans. Old school mentality will tell you that rear wheel drive is always better and that the more expensive car should be better, right? Here's how MotorTrend saw it.
Scott Evans: It makes total sense, and none at all, so it must be a good idea. Honda and Toyota have been rivals for decades, and they've both got new and improved sports cars on the market at the same time for the first time in forever. Great, let the best car win! On the other hand, the only thing the 2020 Honda Civic Type R Touring and the 2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0 really have in common is turbocharged four-cylinder power. But rivalries aren't about logic. If you want Japanese performance at a price the average household can afford, should there be an H or a T on the hood?
The Same But Different
They've both got turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines under their hoods, and they even make the same amount of torque: 295 lb-ft of the stuff. The Civic makes more power, though, 306 ponies worth to the Supra's 255, and the differences only grow from there. The Civic is front-drive, the Supra rear-drive. The Civic only employs a six-speed manual, the Supra only an eight-speed automatic. The Civic seats five to the Toyota's two, yet weighs 96 lbs. less and offers more interior space and cargo room. The Type R is the ultimate expression of the Civic, while the 2.0 is the entry level Supra.
Type R Performance vs Supra 2.0 Performance
The Civic's quicker, too, as you might expect with less weight and more power. With a limited-slip differential aiding traction, the slower but more satisfying manual transmission can't slow it down. We still can't test stuff because of this interminable virus, but past testing and a lot of math tell us it'll hit 60 in 4.1 seconds. The Supra, we estimate, will just beat Toyota's expectations and do it in 4.9 seconds.
You can feel it when you drive them back to back. The Civic feels stronger and pulls harder at high RPM. The Supra is no slouch, though. Its quick-shifting eight-speed auto is geared right, so the car always feels quicker than you'd expect for just 255 hp. Bombing around town and terrorizing the local highways, it gets up to speed plenty quick. Pushed for all it's worth, though, and you start to notice it's a little flat on the top end. Above 5,000 RPM, it just doesn't pull that hard.
Short-shifting on those occasions is really the only time you'd consider pulling the steering wheel paddles, though, because otherwise, the Sport mode transmission programming is perfect. It downshifts under braking and is always in the right gear by the time you get to the corner and shifts in both directions are smooth and clean and never upset the car. It never lets the engine fall more than 100 RPM or so below 3000, so you're always in the meat of the torque.
That's all well and good, but the Civic's transmission is actual perfection. Only Porsche makes a manual gearbox as good. The gates are tightly spaced and the shifter action perfectly lubricated. You move the gear lever in the approximate direction of the gear you want, up or down, and it finds its way home quickly and precisely every time. You really, really have to try to blow a shift in this thing. The pedals, likewise, are perfectly aligned for heel-toe downshifting. If you can't do it in this car, you'll never be able to do it. When people talk about driving a manual because it's more enjoyable, they're talking about cars like this.
The power doesn't hurt, either. The Civic's engine never falls flat. When you exit a high-speed sweeper nearing the top of a gear, it'll still pull hard right to red line. You'd think shunting that much power to the same wheels steering you out of said corner would be a surefire recipe for understeer, and you'd be wrong. That limited-slip differential crammed between the gears and axles puts the power down and the suspension has no issue keeping the wheels pointed where you want them.
Type R Handling Good, Supra Handling Bad
It's actually the low-speed corners you keep an eye out for, as that's when you can provoke a wee bit of power understeer if you're oafish with the throttle. Back out slightly and the Continental SportContact6 rubber grips back up. Beyond that, the Civic is delightfully neutral and ridiculously grippy.
The Supra is grippy, too, with its Michelin Pilot Super Sports, and thank goodness for those because a lesser tire would have you all over the road. The Supra, much to my frustration, continues to be a wildly inconsistent product. The very first six-cylinder model we drove was brilliant...on a smooth road or racetrack. When we drove another one on a bumpy road, the rear end was all over the place. Not drifty and fun, but oscillating and never settled, always feeling like it was going to jump off the road. Then we drove the updated 2021 model with the revised suspension, steering, and differential, and it was great again. We finally drove the 2021 Supra 2.0, too, and it sure felt like all its big brother's improvements had been handed down. Then I drove this car, and it felt like driving a very marginally improved version of the car that came in dead last at Best Driver's Car.
It's all in the rear suspension, still. The rebound damping is just too soft for bumpy roads. Take a smoothly paved corner fast and the Supra leans in nicely and is well-controlled. Introduce even a small bump while cornering and the rear end flops over, springs back up, and flops down again. On anything but a perfect stretch of road, the rear end is constantly bouncing up and down, and mid-corner you feel it in your neck as the g-loads spike every time it crashes down. Thankfully, the tires never leave the road surface (compression damping must be ok), and again, they're sticky Michelins that can cope with the load changing multiple times in a corner without losing grip. That's double good, because the Supra is still oversteer biased. Be ready if you're taking a decreasing radius corner at the limit, because that late steering correction as the corner tightens up will be met with an "aye aye, captain" at the front and trailing throttle oversteer at the rear. You have to try a lot harder to induce power oversteer, but it'll do it.
This being the entry level Supra, you don't get the limited-slip differential or the adjustable dampers. Everything's set from the factory, so any fine-tuning is going to require a hardware change.
There are bright spots, though. When the road is smooth, the Supra really is fun to drive even without the fancy speed parts. Even with all the bouncing around, it doesn't need mid-corner steering corrections because the front grip is fantastic. The nose doesn't really feel any lighter or nimbler despite the smaller, lighter engine, nor does the steering seem to impart any additional feel, but the front half of the car works.
But then, all of the Civic works. Its steering is a little less talkative than the Supra's but given all that's going on at the front wheels, that's understandable. The damping is a million times better, getting just a teensy bit bouncy on the biggest bumps but otherwise in total control. Every tire feels confidently planted on the pavement at every moment, even when the pavement sucks. Like Christian Seabaugh said to me after driving it: if Porsche made front-drive cars, this is what they'd drive like.
Doesn't the Civic have its own shortcomings? Cooling has been an issue in the past, but it's one of the key fixes Honda made for 2020. With more airflow through the front end, the computer never pulled power to cool the engine. The Civic was down to rip all day long, which is more than can be said for the Supra. This yellow car had a transmission overheating problem which would crop up after about five minutes of hard driving. A replacement car suffered no such issue.
Honda also addressed the Civic's brakes for 2020, with new pads and rotors for better heat dissipation. They work, stupendously. The brakes are powerful and they don't slack off, even when they're good and hot. I worked them to the point of smoking at the end of a run and never felt the pedal fade. I did get great feedback from the pedal the whole time, though.
The Supra did pretty well braking, too, despite the 2.0 getting a significantly downgraded system. The pedal feel wasn't as good as the Civic, and it got a little wooden when the pads got hot, but a minute of lighter driving was all it took to bring them back. Considering they had a heavier car to stop, they performed admirably.
Pricing The Civic Type R And Supra 2.0
If you're still thinking the rear-drive Supra would be the right call with a set of aftermarket shocks, there's one other factor you ought to consider. Even with the little engine, the Supra 2.0 costs $44,000, and ours came in even higher at nearly $47,500 as-tested. The Civic, which needs no fixing, starts and basically ends at $37,950 unless you want some dress-up pieces or a wireless phone charger. Even with the extra kit, you've still got two grand in your pocket compared to a bare-bones Supra.
Someone reading this is no doubt shouting at the screen that it's unfair to compare the top-dog Civic to the no-frills Supra. If there were a way to get the good performance parts on the four-cylinder Supra, we would, but you can't. All this goes to show what a performance bargain the Civic Type R is. For thousands less, you get all the speed parts, a fundamentally better suspension, a faster car, a better driving car, and the ability to bring friends and their stuff with you. However much the Supra 2.0 might seem like a rear-drive alternative to the Type R, it just ain't'.