Honda Civic Type R (EP3) vs. Peugeot 306 GTi-6 Review

honda civic type r vs peugeot 306 gti 6

Both the Honda Civic Type R (EP3) and Peugeot 306 GTi- 6 have been hailed by journalists as the dominant hot-hatch of their decade and there's no mistaking that both these cars still tick all the hot-hatch boxes - fantastic handling, a decent power-to-weight ratio, bags of character and of course practical enough to fulfil all the needs of a daily driver.

As someone who has owned both these cars and often wrestles with the question of which one is better, I thought I would write an in-depth head-to-head review to help me decide. Please leave your comments below, you don't need to register.


Peugeot GTi-6 Honda EP3 Type-R
BHP 167bhp @ 6500rpm 197bhp @ 7400rpm
Torque 145lb/ft @ 5500rpm 145lb/ft @ 5,900rpm
Weight 1214kg 1204kg
BHP/Tonne 137bhp/tonne 158bhp/tonne
Top Speed 130mph 146mph
Gearbox Close ratio, 6 speed Close ratio, 6 speed
Engine 4 cylinder 1998cc (XU10J4RS) 4 cylinder 1998cc (K20A2)
0 - 60mph 7.1 secs 6.4 secs
30-70mph 7.4 secs 6.5 secs

Engine & Gearbox
There's no mistaking the XU10J4RS is a classic engine which, when partnered with the close ratio 6 speed gearbox, covers ground at an astonishing rate. The torque curve is incredibly flat and after driving the GTi-6 for a couple of years the EP3 noticeably lacks torque and this does impact driveability. The book figures may both be 145lb/ft but if you can find rolling road graphs there's no mistaking the GTi-6 has the upper hand.

Now that I'm driving the EP3, there are often times in the morning commute when I reluctantly have to change down a gear and sigh as I know the GTi-6 would be powering through.

It is when you take a drive out of the city and onto the open road where the Honda Civic Type R comes into it's own. The increased power at the top of the rev range is noticeable and keeping the engine in VTEC is an absolute pleasure due to the rifle-bolt gear change which makes the Peugeot feel like the gear stick must be made out of wet cardboard.

I think this is where a distinction can be drawn between the two cars, whilst the 306 GTi-6 has a sweet engine with lots of grunt which is great for making effortless progress, it can feel a little asthmatic at the top end of the revs as you feel the torque tail off. Comparatively, the EP3 is a caffeine fuelled maniac who just wants to be driven to the maximum - lively is an understatement and it will head butt the rev limiter without the smallest sign of slowing down.

As it happens, even after owning the Civic Type R for 8 months I still find it quite hard to know when to change up a gear because there simply isn't that subtle torque drop which most engines have to let you know they are past peak power. This can result in accidental rev limiter action, guaranteed to get a frown from my partner.

The advantage of the GTi-6 is that it doesn't have to be driven to quite the same 1/10th as the Honda Type R to make good progress - you can get away with the odd short shift or lazily not changing down before a corner and it won't impair the driving experience much.

In comparison, the lively Honda is all or nothing, it demands you take it to the rev limiter on every occasion and if you don't - well don't expect to be in VTEC when you shift up, instead you are greeted by a frustrating delay whilst the engine winds up to the VTEC engagement point.

Despite how similar they may look on paper, these are very different engines to drive and both have their strengths and weaknesses. It's very hard to say which one is "better" as it's more a question of your preferred driving style.

Engine noise is also worth a mention as it's a large part of the driving experience for petrol heads. As standard the 306 GTi-6 has a lovely induction noise which is not hugely loud but very sweet and satisfying. This is easily washed out if an after market exhaust is fitted so watch out for this when buying. However, in my opinion, the Honda EP3 wins in this department as the K20A2 sings a more refined tune out of VTEC and sounds completely berserk on VTEC.

Indeed, there are fewer things sweeter to the ear than charging down the road in VTEC and the audible changeover as VTEC engages undoubtedly adds to the excitement (as does the shove of torque in your back).

Neither are fantastic cars for driving in heavy traffic. The rawness of the Civic can get a little tiresome, mainly due to the light flywheel (which was made even lighter in the facelift model) and lack of torque. Whilst the Peugeot drives smoother in that respect, the heavy clutch and steering are less than ideal. However, in my opinion this is less tiresome than the light flywheel which requires delicate driving to avoid being jerky. Peugeot wins here.

A sort of criticism of both cars is that they don't really get going until over 60mph which puts you at dangerous speeds and potentially in trouble with the law. Why is this? Well, for the GTi-6, both 1st and 2nd gear are long, which means it can feel a little sluggish off the line and at low speeds. For the Civic EP3 Type R, unless you are really in the mood and fancy some 2nd gear VTEC action, the real power in 3rd gear doesn't happen until about 60mph.

Handling
As the staple foundation on which a good hot-hatch is built, handling deserves a decent sized section of this comparison for the Honda Civic EP3 Type R vs. Peugeot 306 GTi-6.

As with all the classic Peugeot's, the 306 GTi-6 received much praise for it's agile and responsive handling and after driving one for 3 years in all road conditions, there's two words I would use to describe what makes the little Peugeot so special - steering feedback. Whilst heavy at low speeds, the hydraulic power steering is perfectly weighted when you get going and you can feel everything the front wheels are doing. This inspires so much confidence that making progress on fast b-roads is effortless and it makes it possible to drive the car to it's limits and beyond whilst feeling in complete control.

If you get the opportunity to drive a GTi-6 which has been well looked after (new rear beam mounts, front wishbones, dampers etc) I'd strongly recommend it as you will not be disappointed.

For the record, my EP3 is lowered 30mm, has modifications to allow for front/rear camber adjustment and has had a full road set up alignment (FRSU) which is meant to improve steering feedback and handling considerably. There is no doubt the Honda Civic handles well - it feels very stable at high speed and turns in well. However, and the Honda fanboys are not going to like this, the steering feedback really let's this car down and it's never given me the same confidence when pushing on that the GTi-6 has.

The Civic has bags of grip, the steering is tight and when you do push too hard, it seems to progressively understeer in a non-alarming way. But if I'm driving at speed down a twisty road I want and need to feel in complete control, with the Type R, I have to put my faith in the tyres and suspension components. I think, and hope everything is ok, but I don't know it's ok like I did in the Peugeot.

Of course, I would have a different viewpoint in a track day scenario where you can explore the limits of grip in relative safety and a mishap simply means a wheel in the gravel or a missed apex. Maybe I have just matured since buying the EP3 but public roads are not as forgiving and I always felt this lessened my enjoyment of blasting down a good B-road.

Ride comfort is barely worth discussing as the Peugeot wins hands down. It's lovely 195/55/15 tyres absorb the pitted and pot-holed road surface in a way I can only dream of whilst dodging anything lumpier than a cat eye in the Type R.

N.B I really wish manufactures would stop putting ridiculous low-profile tyres on everything.

I was undecided before writing this section but I think now I've accepted the conclusion that for use on public roads the Peugeot GTi-6 handles better. This could be a controversial statement but...it just does and that's not an easy thing for me to admit considering I traded my GTi-6 for a Type R 8 months ago.

Interior
This is one area where the Civic is the clear cut winner. The seating position is lower and there's plenty of leg room (even if you're 6' 4" like me) with all the controls easily accessible/visible. The steering wheel is smaller than the Peugeot and has a racier feel to it which is nice.

The half leather, half alcantara seats of the Peugeot are comfortable and supportive although when really pushing on I did feel like the seats would have greatly benefited from being deeper as you did tend to move around quite a lot, even with the grippy alcantara helping to hold you in place. In contrast, the EP3 seats are low and deep and really hold you in place.

Compared to the GTi-6, the Honda Civic feels much better built and I'm reminded of this with every interaction I make with the controls. From the indicator stalk to the gear stick and hazard warning switch - everything has a firmer, more positive feel. The Peugeot 306 interior doesn't look cheap - it just feels it.

As you would expect, the Honda has all the standard electric goodies but to be fair to the Peugeot 306 GTi-6, it has a great spec for a 17 year old hot hatch which is equal to the Honda:
  • Electric central locking
  • Air con (even though 80% of them won't work now due to pipes corroding)
  • Heated and electric adjustable wing mirrors
  • Front electric windows
The back seats of both cars fold down to create a large boot space big enough to fit lots of luggage or a bike.

Overall I think the cabin design of both cars do exactly what a hot-hatch requires however the Type R does it substantially better. The biggest thing I miss from the Peugeot is the interior clock - why oh why did the designers at Honda omit this incredibly practical feature?

Exterior
A topic so subjective I almost didn't bother including it. The Type R has the slight advantage of being designed almost 10 years later so it's bound to look fresher than the Peugeot which unfortunately just misses out on having that classic boxy 80's styling (like the 205 and BMW E30 for example) but instead has that early / mid 90's look when everything started to get a bit soft and curvy.

To give credit to Peugeot, the 306 has aged extremely well (as long as it has the phase 3 facelift crystal headlights) and from most angles still looks pretty damn good and does not immediately stand out as a car released in 1997 (phase 2 model). This is especially apparent when you compare it to other hot hatches of the same era.

The big difference between the exterior of these two hot hatches is in what I am calling the 'loudness' factor. Amongst other things, the Type R has 17" low profile tyres, a red Honda badge and a large roof spoiler which is far from subtle. Like it or not, it is hard to argue the EP3 Type R does not have a 'boy racer' image and this normally provokes two responses depending on what kind of person you are 1) "Stuff what other people think, it's my car." or 2) "Hmm, I would prefer something a bit more 'under the radar'.

Comparatively, at a glance, the Peugeot GTi-6 looks like a completely unremarkable 90's hatchback to your average joe - the fact that only petrol heads recognise and appreciate the little Peugeot for what it is gives you a smugness in the knowledge that you could surprise all sorts of modern machinery on the motorway slip road dash.

I think ultimately they are both good looking cars and which one you prefer to drive on the road will  depend on your personality just as much as taste.

Conclusion
It's almost too close to call. For me the stand out differences could be boiled down to:
  • The Civic is a nicer place to be in.
  • The Peugeot handles better.
  • The Civic looks better.
  • The Civic has a great reputation for reliability, the Peugeot...not so much.
  • Neither are very good at casual driving.
  • The Civic is more fun.
In my opinion, the difference comes down to how you are going to use the car - if it's 90% commuting and school runs and 10% trips down your favourite A-road then perhaps the Peugeot is the better buy?

Saying that, if I had to put my trust in one car to drive across the country and get me there without issue it would surely be the Civic.

At current market prices (March 2015) you could buy approximately four decent condition GTi-6's for the price of one decent Civic Type R (facelift). Is the Type R a better all-round package - perhaps. Is it four times better - of course not. But then it never works like that, does it?

Have you driven a Peugeot GTi-6? Or a Type R? Or even better - both? Leave your comments below and join in the discussion (there's no need to register).

3 comments :

  1. Great write up, I've had both (either side of an M3 & a WRX STI) and would find it just as hard as you to separate them and choose my favourite. With the Civc I found myself learning the rev limits in order to stop myself accidently bouncing off the limiter. Eventually I could do this with sound alone so I didn't need to keep such an eye on the Rev meter. The Pugs limiter tails off nicely so you know when to change.

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    1. Hi Jonathan, glad you agree they are so closely matched. It's a shame the Peugeot's don't age very well (mechanically) or i'd love to have another one at some point. I think most of them are getting tired and unless you're a competent home mechanic, are going to cost a lot to keep going. Fantastic cars though, will never forget mine!

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  2. Great write up! I've just rebuilt and started my gti 6 for the first time today in 1 1/2 years and this review has got me itching to take it for a work out.

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