Does the VW Golf or Honda Civic have a greater legacy?

Does the VW Golf or Honda Civic have a greater legacy?

JDM fans and Euro-tuners typically don't have much crossover, and in each of their respective scenes they have their own front-wheel-drive King. For fans of Japanese cars it is the Honda Civic, while Euro car fans hold the Volkswagen Golf aloft. Interestingly both cars have viable claim to the FWD King crown, but who really sits atop the pantheon of legendary bum-draggers?

The Civic beat the Golf to market by two years, launching in 1972 versus 1974. Japanese car fans laud the CIvic as the progenator of the modern front-drive hatch, but that ignores the BMC Mini which launched in 1959 and revolutionised how the world saw small cars. 

The Civic brought Honda's legendary engineering prowess to small cars, which was a big deal as Honda were more well-known as a motorcycle manufacturer in those days. It's not overstating the Civic's importance to say it built the legend which Honda enjoyed through the '70s, '80s and '90s. 

The addition of the twin-cam B-series four-cylinder in the '80s, with its amazing VTEC cam control, suddenly meant not every naturally aspirated front-drive hatch was easy pickings at traffic lights... or race track... or twisty road.

When Honda introducted the EK9 Civic Type R, the third model in their storied line-up after the NSX-R and Integra Type R, they redefined how special and how good an aspirated front-drive hatch can be and for many, myself included, it is still the greatest aspirated FWD hot hatch of all time.

But would we even have an EK9 if it wasn't for the Volkswagen Golf, and specifically the GTI - its creation is as important as Pontiac creating the 60s Muscle Car boom with the GTO mode, or Lamborghini kicking off the Supercar Wars with the Miura. And it wasn't even an official project at first [READ MORE HERE]

The basic Golf and Civic models are much of a muchness, but the performance models are truly worth celebrating and here is where the legend of each model is built. The Golf GTi turned up during the OPEC fuel crisis, when the freedom-loving gas-guzzling V8s of the '60s were suddenly uncool, and a sharp-handling, practical and fun hatchback was the ticket.

The MK2 model which followed is regarded as one of the best European hot hatches of the 80s and paved the way for the Golf GTI to become a cult hit in both Europe and the USA. The Golf GTI made performance small cars cool long before any Civic landed on the cover of Import Tuner magazine. 

The Mk3 and Mk4 Golfs may have softened in their middle age, though the V6 AWD Mk4 R32 was a killer, hand-built piece of weaponry, but things changed with the new-generation Mk5 GTI. The King was back and VW have maintained the rage since. 

The turbo Mk5 GTI and later AWD Mk6 Golf R arguably launched a new era of sophistication for hot hatches. Since then everyone had to step up or fold their hand, and most of the Japanese brands took the latter. 

The Golf R has become the current generation's supercar-slayer. Very few cars combine beautifully appointed interiors which feel upper-premium, AWD grip and brutal turbo performance... and before Subie fans chime in they just don't feel as comfortable or polished as the go-fast Golf. *WATCH MOOG SLAY SUPERCARS IN HIS HERE*

Thankfully, one brand didn't and they keep turning out go-fast Type R models... which is ironic as they didn't have a volume-selling Civic performance model during the import tuner scene's heyday. 

The Civic went on to spearhead 90s tuner culture in the USA and Australia, as the cheap entry price, brilliantly engineered platform, and ease with which the B-series could be juiced up, made them super-attractive to young car enthusiasts. Any fast Civic knows one of the greatest moments in life is watching the face of a boomer get their old muscle car taken to Gapplebees by a fast Civic.

More than 27,000,000 Civics have been sold, compared to over 36,000,000 Golfs, but trackday enthusiasts would point to the recent Civic Type R models as being far more hardcore as a performance car offering than the top-of-the-pops Golf R.

So who has the better legacy to claim the title of FWD King?


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