2023 Subaru WRX v Toyota GR Corolla v Honda Civic Type R v Hyundai i30 N Review

For decades, enthusiasts have been relying on cars like the Subaru WRX and Honda Civic Type R for a relatively affordable way to fix their cravings for driving thrills. Now these buyers have new options to choose from. Late comers Toyota GR Corolla and Hyundai i30 N join the party with bucket loads of fun to offer.

Never before since the early 2000s has there been so much going on in the compact performance car segment. But this frenzy isn’t going to last for long. As the automotive landscape transitions toward sustainable, electrified motoring, we’re just humbly glad that through fun cars like the WRX, Civic Type R, GR Corolla and i30 N driving enthusiasts have not been forgotten – not yet.

And so, we’ve lined them up here for a shootout to find out which of these cars is the most satisfying to the die-hard petrol head, and the one which will leave a legacy as we dawn on a new era of mobility.

Subaru WRX

Is there a more familiar three-letter acronym to the enthusiast than the WRX? Okay, maybe the EVO… but the WRX was the car that started it all. Born out of Subaru’s “World Rally eXperimental” (hence the WRX name) project of the early 90s, the WRX has since become a global performance icon with a cult following.

The latest generation WRX was launched in 2022, available in both sedan and wagon body style with the option of a six-speed manual gearbox or a Sport Lineartronic (CVT) automatic. On test is the best-spec’ed manual version available, the WRX RS Manual priced at $50,490 plus on-road costs.

Honda Civic Type R

The Civic Type R also has an illustrious history that dates back to the late 90s. It’s well known for its high revving engine and nimble handling.

The current sixth-generation model was introduced in 2022 and remains faithful to its roots by being strictly front-wheel drive and exclusively available with a six-speed manual transmission. It’s the most expensive model here with a drive-away price of $72,600.

Toyota GR Corolla

For many car nuts, the name Corolla has never come to mind when talking about their next upgrade – until now. Yes, Toyota has finally succumbed to temptation and built a go-fast Corolla. And it’s hot!

Tuned by Toyota’s in-house racing outfit Gazoo Racing, the synonymously named GR Corolla has a sticker price of $64,190 plus on-road costs and is only offered with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Hyundai i30 N

Hyundai’s first attempt at a sports car is a much celebrated one. Since its launch in 2017, the i30 N has proven to be one of the best hot hatches on the market. Facelifted in 2020, the i30 N brings sharpened looks and a range of chassis tweaks for improved handling.

Drivers keen on something a bit more special can opt for the i30 N Drive-N Limited Edition model which is what we have on test. Just 180 examples of the special edition model are brought into Australia out of the 800 units available globally, with each costing $53,200 plus on-road costs – a price premium of $2500 over the i30 N Premium on which it is based.

Let the shootout begin…

On the outside

The WRX is the only car here that’s not based on a cooking model, being built from the ground up as a WRX. It’s also the only sedan in this company. While its styling has certainly matured a lot compared to previous generations of WRX, it’s still a WRX from top to bottom no matter from which angle you view it. The trademark bonnet scoop, wide fenders and quad tailpipes are all still there.

But this new design is a controversial one, for it’s got a bit too much black plastic cladding going on all around the car. It’s a confusing look, almost like a cross between a sedan and an SUV. Having some of those cladding colour coded will make the car look much better, we reckon.

The Civic Type R, GR Corolla and i30 N are all based on their respective regular hatchback models. But at least both the Honda and Toyota are hotted up with wide bodykits complete with flared fenders, deep side skirts and bulging bonnets. There’re functional vents that extract heat from the engine bay, with the Civic Type R also getting side vents behind the front wheel arches to relief air from within to aid aerodynamic.

The i30 N is the most restraint looking of the lot with most body panels carried over from the regular i30 hatch. But that doesn’t mean it looks pedestrian. Far from it. N specific details like the beefed up front and rear bumpers, black grille, side skirts and roof spoiler all look pretty hot. Our Drive-N Limited Edition model has added sizzles courtesy of red accent application around the car and bronze vinyl on the sides. The matching bronze wheels look the business, too, so are those bright red brake callipers tuck behind them.

All four cars stand out in traffic, but we’re most drawn to the looks of the Civic Type R. It’s the widest and lowest car here. And unlike the tacky-looking previous generation model, the new car looks so clean yet so aggressive and hunkered down. Many body panels are bespoke and it’s ten out of ten for that black aero-shaped rear spoiler and those matte black 19-inch wheels.

Here’s how they rank on looks (best on top):
  1. Honda Civic Type R
  2. Subaru WRX
  3. Toyota GR Corolla
  4. Hyundai i30 N Drive-N Limited Edition

On the inside

There’s a good progression from comfort to sport with the interior of these four contenders. The WRX has hands down the most comfortable and complete interior. The vertically orientated 11.6-inch centre touchscreen is the largest here and not only does it look good nested neatly within the layered dashboard, it’s also intuitive to use with large on-screen buttons and a straight forward menu structure.

The rest of the WRX interior is just as well sorted, with seats that are as comfortable as they are supportive. There’s good space throughout, too, with it being the most spacious in this company. It’s also the only car here with rear air vents.

What’s practical may not necessarily be the sportiest. And that’s the case with the WRX. The driving position is quite high and apart from the red contrast stitching and WRX embroidery on the front headrests, there’s really not much else that shouts sports car on the inside.

Save for the sport bucket seats and GR steering wheel, the interior of the GR Corolla is mostly carried over from the top-spec Corolla ZR donor car. In other words, it isn’t very sporty, nor is it that comfortable. The driving position is high, the steering wheel doesn’t feel that particularly special and there just isn’t enough sporty detailing throughout to justify its GR badge.

Rear seat space in the GR Corolla is tight, so is the boot – the smallest here. That said, with the rear seats down the space should still be good for a set of track wheels and tyres.

Like the GR Corolla, the i30 N interior is based on a much cheaper donor car. Hence, there’s the inevitable budget feel in certain areas of the cabin. But unlike the Toyota, the Hyundai gets a much higher dose of sporty touches. The Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel looks and feels fabulous. The pair of red N configurator buttons on the spokes are racy. You instantly know you’re in something special the moment you grip the wheel.

There’s more. The front buckets have red stitchings and a very cool illuminated N emblem under each headrest. The red seatbelts are nuts. And for the collectors, there’s a limited edition-specific build plate in the centre console.

The driving position is as high as that in the GR Corolla, but there’s more space for rear passengers and the boot is larger as well.

Regardless of how special the i30 N feels on the inside, it can’t come close to that of the Civic Type R. In fact, no car in this segment can touch the Honda when it comes to interior expression. Those red seats and carpets are hallmarks of Type R and the moment you sink into the driver seat of the Civic Type R you get into one mood and one mood only – the driving mood.

These low sitting buckets are some of the best driving seats in the world – superbly comfortable yet super snug and supportive. The Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel falls into hand with such a nice grip and the aluminium gear shift knob – another Type R trademark – not only looks exquisite but also a joy to use.

The quality of cabin materials is the highest in the Civic Type R, so is the tactile feel of all knobs and switches. It’s the only car here with interior mood lighting strip. Like the i30 N there’s a build plate on the passenger side of the dashboard to convey its exclusivity.

But if you want a five-seater, write the Honda off because its rear seats can only seat two. The middle bit has fixed cup holders and there isn’t a middle seat belt.

Here’s how they rank on interior (best on top):
  1. Honda Civic Type R
  2. Hyundai i30 N Drive-N Limited Edition
  3. Subaru WRX
  4. Toyota GR Corolla

Under the skin

We’re certainly at the peak of the internal combustion engine. How Toyota managed to squeeze a whopping 221kW out of a turbocharged 1.6-litre three-cylinder engine is beyond our imagination. That’s 138kW per litre of engine capacity, putting the GR Corolla on par with the Bugatti Chiron in terms of kW output per litre. The engine is not gruff like certain other three-pots, either, in fact it’s quite refined.

There’s 370Nm of torque peaking from 3000-5550rpm. Again, strong for such a small engine, and enough to propel the 1485kg hot hatch from 0 to 100km/h in just 5.3 seconds.

There’s all-wheel drive at play here and it’s not just any front-drive biased part time AWD. There’s some serious mechanics going on underneath, including Torsen limited slip differentials at both axles and the ability to channel up to 70 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels.

The six-speed manual gearbox is slick, sporty and precise, exactly what you need in a hot hatch. It features auto rev matching on downshift which can be turned off, but you’d want to leave it on as the pedal positioning is not that ideal for heel and toe shifting.

The raw, angry and always-on persona of the GR engine reminds us of the WRXs of yesteryears. Yup, the latest WRX has lost a lot of character in the process of maturing up. There’s a lack of theatric from the turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine, which has also not made much progress in terms of output. At 202kW and 350Nm, it’s the weakest mill here. Granted, peak torque is spread over a wide rev range of 2000-5200rpm, making the WRX the easiest car here to roll off the line and get up to speeds. But it’s 0-100km/h time of 6 seconds is 0.1s slower than the front-drive i30 N. As the biggest and heaviest car here (1516kg), that’s not a surprise, despite the WRX being AWD.

The WRX’ six-speed manual doesn’t feel quite as sporty and precise as the other cars here, but the pedal placement is the best for heel and toe shifting. It’s no wonder Subaru couldn’t be bothered with auto rev matching – the only car here without it.

When we first drove the i30 N, we thought what a complete hoot it was. It still is. There’s just constant entertainment from the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine which punches out a healthy 206kW and 392Nm, the latter available from 2100-4700rpm. In N drive mode, this thing burps and pops on overrun.

With all of that power going only to the front axle, don’t expect a clean launch from standstill. The i30 N will spin the front wheels frantically coming off the line, but after the initial struggle the engine will then punch through to the limiter hard. It’s got the thickest low to midrange torque of all cars here, making it the most effortless to poke around once on the move.

The six-speed manual is a joy to use. Auto rev matching is available if you fancy, though heel and toe shifting is quite easily executable.

The Civic Type R is the most powerful car here. It’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine serves up 235kW and 420Nm, the latter on tap from 2600-4000rpm. It may not be the angriest sounding mill here – the GR Corolla and i30 N share this space – but let’s just say it’s different. The Honda engine feels like it’s been honed to perfection with no rough edges. And it sounds that way – racy and sporty not just for the sake but in a very purposeful and refined way.

Being front-wheel driven like the i30 N, front wheel spin and a little torque steer are part of every hard launch. But once that’s dealt with (quite effortlessly) strap in and hold tight because this thing goes like the clappers. From about 2800rpm right through to the limiter, there’s absolutely no stopping it. It nudges 100km/h in 5.4 seconds in second gear and continues to pull hard even in third.

No doubt, the Civic Type R is the hardest revving car here with the most savage rolling acceleration. It’s six-speed manual gearbox, shifter and pedal spacing are all perfect. Rev matching is available but in a car as precise as the Civic Type R, you’d get more joy DIY’ing.

Here’s how they rank on performance (best on top):
  1. Toyota GR Corolla
  2. Honda Civic Type R
  3. Hyundai i30 N Drive-N Limited Edition
  4. Subaru WRX

On the road

There really isn’t much that separates these four sports cars when it comes to handling. These are some of the most capable cars you could buy today, not just in this segment but overall.

The WRX is a no fuss sharpshooter. Decades of rally-bred AWD prowess endow the WRX with unrivalled traction dry or wet, on sweeping bends or tight switchbacks. The planted, secured handling of the WRX makes it feel almost too easy to drive fast. Full throttle mid-corner, no dramas.

Turn-in is aided by the sharpest steering in this company, though there isn’t much feedback. The ride from the fixed dampers is firm but settles considerably at high speeds. To get adaptive suspension you’d need to go the range-topping tS model.

While the WRX’ AWD hardware still feels a little more resolved than that of the GR Corolla, the latter is better in almost everything else. It feels lighter, more agile and better balanced. The brakes are stronger, too. But the best comes from that cracking little engine, which packs so much performance allowing you to slingshot the hot hatch from one corner to another. It’s a thoroughly engaging drive, every time.

As mentioned earlier, the GR Corolla does not switch off. It’s loud and the fixed dampers give a firm ride – all the time. It’s very much track honed. But oddly it doesn’t feel all that racy on the inside. The upshift indicator is too subtle, there’s a lack of performance gauges, and the digital instrument cluster isn’t all that sporty in Sport mode.

The i30 N driving impression is a straightforward one. It’s an all-rounder. The variable dampers are most effective – smooth and compliant in normal setting, firm and taut in N mode. Grip is plenty around the corners, and despite being front-wheel drive the nose is beautifully locked down. In this car, you choose when to cruise, when to attack and when to be a complete hooligan. It’s so versatile.

The customisable N mode – offering the most customisation amongst its competitors here – makes this all possible. You can mix and match settings, and program each of the two red buttons on the steering for specific function. Have everything in Sport+ and the dampers in Normal are ideal for less smooth back roads, or you can set everything to Normal leaving the exhaust in N to cruise around without losing the soundtrack.

Driving into the first few corners in the Civic Type R, it becomes immediately obvious this is a very different car to the other three. It’s an out-and-out driving machine. From the responsiveness of the throttle to the progressiveness of the brakes, from the weight of the steering wheel to the travel of the shifter, everything is tuned to perfection. Think of it as a Porsche 911 GT3 RS in hot hatch form.

Then comes the rest of the package. The tyres – the widest here – afford virtually unbreakable traction. It may be FWD, but its cornering speeds are higher than the WRX and right up there with the GR Corolla. It’s fantastically well balanced as well. The GR Corolla may have the best engine here, but the Civic Type R definitely has the best handling.

The adaptive dampers are brilliant. In the softest setting the ride is compliant enough for the daily drive, yet road feel is maintained. R+ stiffens up considerably for track use. Speaking of which, the car comes with a lap timer operated through the touchscreen. You can even select which track you’re at and the timer takes care of the rest. Also through the touchscreen is a full handbook on track driving principles for you to self-coach. How cool is that?

Here’s how they rank on driving impression (best on top, but not much in between):
  1. Honda Civic Type R
  2. Toyota GR Corolla
  3. Hyundai i30 N Drive-N Limited Edition
  4. Subaru WRX

Verdict

It’s been one hell of a close shootout, with all four cars proving to be solid performers designed for sporty driving. But if we must rank, here’s how they fare.

Fourth Place:
The WRX has bucket loads of performance to offer. However, it feels as though the potential is hidden under that plush layer of refinement, comfort and maturity. The Rex needs to stop growing up and be a Rex again. And for that it came in last in this shootout.

Third Place:
The i30 N is a hot hatch for the masses. Fast, capable and engaging yet so easy to live with. But the i30 N on test was the Drive-N Limited Edition and it ought to feel a bit more special, even a slight power or chassis upgrade would be good to justify the extra premium in price.

Runner Up:
Cheers for Toyota. The GR Corolla still gives us goosebumps. That engine is small in size but massive in performance. Coupled with that brilliant AWD and non-stop fireworks, the GR Corolla will keep you grinning for the whole drive.

Winner:
The most expensive car here is also the most impressive. The Civic Type R feels like a different league of car. It drives like a racing special yet so approachable and livable. As far as driving is concerned, it gives the purest experience. No doubt, it’s a collectible. We believe this latest generation model will be the last of its kind before it goes EV, which makes it even more special.

Price and Specification

Subaru WRX RS ManualToyota GR Corolla GTSHonda Civic Type RHyundai i30 N Drive-N Limited Edition
Price (Excl. on-road costs):$50,490$64,190$72,600$53,200
Country of Origin:JapanJapanJapanSouth Korea
Warranty:5 yr/unlimited km5 yr/unlimited km5 yr/unlimited km5 yr/unlimited km
Service Intervals:12 mth/15000km6 mth/10000km12 mth/10000km12 mth/10000km
Engine:Turbo 2.4L B4:

202kW @ 5600rpm /

350Nm @ 2000-5200rpm

Turbo 1.6L I3:

221kW @ 6500rpm /

370Nm @ 3000-5550rpm

Turbo 2.0L I4:

235kW @ 6500rpm /

420Nm @ 2600-4000rpm

Turbo 2.0L I4:

206kW @ 6000rpm /

392Nm @ 2100-4700rpm

Transmission:6MT6MT6MT6MT
Drivetrain:AWDAWDFWDFWD
0-100km/h (s):6.05.35.45.9
Fuel Consumption (L/100km) claimed/tested:9.9 / 10.38.4 / 9.58.9 / 9.18.5 / 9.4
RON Rating95989595
Safety:7 airbags7 airbags7 airbags7 airbags
Tare Mass (kg):1516145514061478
Entertainment:10-speaker
DAB+
Apple CarPlay
Android Auto
CD Player
8-speaker
DAB+
Apple CarPlay
Android Auto
8-speaker
DAB+
Apple CarPlay
Android Auto
6-speaker
DAB+
Apple CarPlay
Android Auto
Score:4.0/5.04.3/5.04.4/5.04.1/5.0

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