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 both have new and improved sports cars on the market at the same time for the first time in forever. Great, let the best car win! Well, hold tight. You’ll need to expand your expectation of what a sports car can be. Sure, the latest two-door Toyota Supra coupe, revised for 2021 and in its newly introduced four-cylinder base form, fits the bill. The Honda Civic Type R? Look past its four doors and practical appearance, and the recipe and spirit are there. But, hey, rivalries aren’t about logic—or even similar vehicle shapes—they’re about passion. If you want Japanese performance at a price the average household can afford, should there be an H or a T on the hood, two doors or four, front- or rear-wheel drive?
The Same, But Different
Both the Honda Civic Type R and the entry-level Toyota GR Supra 2.0 have 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-wheel-drive, the Supra rear-drive. The Civic only employs a six-speed manual, the Supra only an eight-speed automatic. The Civic seats four to the Toyota’s two, yet the four-door weighs 96 pounds 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 least-expensive Supra (Toyota also sells the more powerful six-cylinder Supra 3.0). They also both have a hatchback-style cargo area, so they’re both surprisingly practical, although only the Civic wears that capability on its sleeve.
Type R Performance vs. Supra 2.0 Performance
The Civic Type R is nearly as quick, too, as you might expect given its lower weight and higher power. With a limited-slip differential aiding traction, the slower-shifting but more satisfying manual transmission doesn’t slow it down much versus the Supra and its automatic. The health crisis still interrupts much of our regular testing, so we’re leaning on our past data and a lot of math to tell us the Honda will hit 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. The Supra, we estimate, will just beat Toyota’s expectations and do the deed 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 horsepower. Bombing around town and terrorizing the local highways, it gets up to speed plenty quickly. Push it for all its 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 both up- and downshifts are smooth and clean and never upset the car. The transmission never lets the engine fall more than 100 rpm or so below 3,000, so you’re always in the meat of the engine’s torque curve.
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 is 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 Honda’s 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 redline. 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?
In the Honda, it is 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 SportContact 6 rubber grips back up. Beyond that, the Civic is delightfully neutral and ridiculously grippy, not only for a front-driver, either.
The Supra is grippy, too, with its Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires—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, a 2020 example, 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 electronic-adaptive suspension (unavailable on this four-cylinder Supra 2.0), 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 incorporated into the new entry-level model. Then I drove this car, and it felt like driving a very marginally improved version of the original 2020 Supra that came in dead last at Best Driver’s Car. Our swings in opinion on this matter are as roller-coaster as the Supra’s rear end tuning.
The rear suspension’s 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 midcorner you feel it in your neck as the g-loads spike every time it crashes down. Thankfully, the sticky Michelins can cope with the load changing multiple times in a corner without losing grip. That’s double good, because the Supra’s handling balance is still biased toward oversteer. 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 the Supra ultimately obliges.
This being the entry-level Supra, you don’t get the six-cylinder model’s limited-slip differential or the adjustable dampers. Everything’s set from the factory, so any fine-tuning will 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 midcorner 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.
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 staying in total control. Every tire feels confidently planted on the pavement at every moment, even when the pavement sucks. Like Features Editor 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 that 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 that better dissipate heat. 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 Toyota’s pedal feel wasn’t as good as the Civic’s, 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 Type R, which needs no fixing, starts and basically ends at $37,950 unless you want some carbon-fiber dress-up pieces or a wireless phone charger. Even with the extra kit, you still have 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, an equally quick 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 an attractive rear-drive alternative to the Type R, it just ain’t even close.
|POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS||2020 Honda Civic Type R||2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD hatchback||Front-engine, RWD hatchback|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.8 cu in/1,996 cc||121.9 cu in/1,998 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||306 hp @ 6,500 rpm||255 hp @ 5,000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||295 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm||295 lb-ft @ 1,550 rpm|
|REDLINE||7,000 rpm||7,000 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER, MT EST||10.1 lb/hp||12.5 lb/hp|
|0-60 MPH, MT EST||5.1 sec||4.9 sec|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual||8-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks; anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks; anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||13.8-in vented, drilled disc; 12.0-in disc, ABS||13.0-in vented disc; 13.0-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||8.5 x 20-in cast aluminum||9.0 x 18-in; 10.0 x 18-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||245/30R20 90Y Continental SportContact 6||255/40R18 96Y; 275/40R18 100Y, Michelin Pilot Super Sport|
|WHEELBASE||106.3 in||97.2 in|
|TRACK, F/R||63.0/62.7 in||62.8/62.6 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||179.4 x 73.9 x 56.5 in||172.5 x 73.0 x 51.1 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||39.5 ft||34.1 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT, MT EST||3,104 lb||3,200 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R, MT EST||62/38%||51/49%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||39.3/37.4 in||38.3/- in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.3/35.9 in||42.2/- in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||56.9/55.0 in||54.4/- in|
|CARGO VOLUME||25.7 cu ft (46.2 cu ft w/seats folded)||10.2 cu ft|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$37,950||$47,485|
|AIRBAGS||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||8: Dual front, side, curtain, knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/36,000 miles||2 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||12.4 gal||13.7 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||22/28/25 mpg||25/32/28 mpg (MT est)|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/120 kW-hrs/100 miles||135/105 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.80 lb/mile||0.70 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|
|* Horsepower and torque values measured using Premium fuel, fuel economy measured using Regular fuel|