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  • Writer's pictureMark Webb

Japan’s making great fast cars again – but you can’t have one

Honda and Toyota are on a roll. Gutting, then, that the new Honda Civic Type R and GR86 are impossible to get hold of…

Remember when you could rely on Japan for affordable performance cars? Machines like Toyota’s underpowered but drifty GT86 and Honda’s Civic Type Rs were a common sight on UK roads, and their bloodlines stretched back to modern classics like the MR2 and Honda’s exquisite Integra Type R and CRX hot hatches.

But something weird has happened – and it started with Toyota’s GR Yaris. That car arrived with two things going for it: it was awesome; and, at £35,610 with the all-important Circuit Pack, it was cheaper than VW’s considerably less interesting Golf GTI. It sold like a Supreme collab, and soon had a waiting list running to years, not months.

It’s the same with Japan’s latest fast metal. Toyota’s new GR, a thorough overhaul of the GT86 badged GR86, is a bargain at £29,995. Too cheap? That the UK’s allocation sold out in just 90 minutes would suggest so.

And new 2023 latest Civic Type R? That’s not cheap. Honda’s redrawn the economics around its hero hatch, slashing volume, targeting enthusiast buyers and upping the price to an eye-watering £47k… Yep, £47k. That’s the same as Porsche’s base-model Cayman, and represents a £12k increase over the outgoing (and similar) Type R. What’s more, the UK’s initial allocation numbered just a few hundred cars, meaning each dealer had just a handful to sell. All the 2023 cars were gone in a heartbeat.

For most of us, then, it’s too late. So, are we missing much?

The latest Civic Type R takes the guts of the superb, previous-gen car, fits them into the bigger – and prettier, inside and out – new-generation Civic bodyshell and, like a 911 GT3 Porsche, bolts in some performance goodies the car’s lofty new price point can justify: uprated steering and suspension, lighter aluminium body panels, an improved turbo (for a shade more power) and a far stiffer and wider bodyshell that sits lower on fat Michelin rubber.

Sounds like detail stuff, but the result is the best hot hatch, well, possibly ever. Quick in a straight line and blessed with one of the finest manual gearboxes on sale, the real magic of the new Type R is in the precision of its controls, outrageous grip and poise even as you hustle to its limits, and an adjustability that outstrips just about any other front-wheel-drive car you can think of. Comfortable and usable on the road, it’s hugely impressive on a racetrack. And if that kind of versatility makes you think of Porsche’s GT cars, you’re not alone. In that context, perhaps £47k is a bargain…

The GR86 can’t stick with a charging Civic Type R. At £17k less and with just 231bhp to the Honda’s 320bhp, you wouldn’t expect it to. But the Toyota’s just as exploitable, just as fun, and throws in the possibility of cheeky slides thanks to its rear-drive layout and newfound actual torque (the old GT86 always lacked the power to exploit its chassis).

This, then, is a golden era for Japanese performance cars – for the lucky few.

Honda Civic Type R: £46,995, 325bhp turbo inline-four, 5.4sec 0-62mpm, 170mph

Toyota GR86: £29,995, 231bhp flat-four, 6.3sec 0-62mph, 140mph


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