THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Impressive power, brilliant manual gearbox, master of corners.
- What’s Bad: Display audio system in need of a redesign, funky styling not for everyone.
It only took me a few minutes behind the Civic Type R’s red and black leather steering wheel to realize that this wasn’t just another hot hatch but rather something a bit more special than that.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since you already knew the Type R was good—even if you haven’t driven it. Because every car magazine, car show, and auto journalist told you its good. And here’s the thing, they were all right.
The Type R name is a bit of a legend in the car world but North Americans were deprived of most of them. In fact, we only ever got one: The Acura Integra Type R (Honda Integra for the rest of the world) from the late 90s. It was probably the best front wheel drive car the world had ever seen with a razor-sharp chassis and a fire-breathing 1.8 L dual-cam 4-cylinder that spun up to 8400 rpm and sounded like a nest of infuriated hornets.
Honda didn’t make that many of them and clean unmolested examples have been selling for big bucks lately.
Sadly, over the years those jewel-like motors and intensely focused driving dynamics seemed to disappear from Honda’s lineup.
That is, until now.
The 5th generation Civic Type R was introduced as a 2017 model and marked the first time North Americans were able to order one from their local Honda dealer.
There really is no mistaking it for your garden variety Civic. Fins, wings, and vents appear haphazardly placed as if drawing its inspiration from the rebellious Japanese Bosozoku subculture. The designers basically saying, “we don’t care if you don’t like the way it looks.”
I know many people that absolutely hate the styling, but most of the reactions I got on the road were positive. People of all ages were drawn to it, with many questions, wondering if it was some sort of new supercar that cost a small fortune.
The striking Rallye Red paint—new for 2018—makes it stand out even more and while the styling is busy, all those extra pieces are functional aero save for the large cheese grater grilles on the front and rear bumpers. This is a $40,000 car that creates real downforce for increased grip during high-speed cornering.
On the inside, it’s mostly standard Civic, except for some carbon-fibre look trim that really isn’t fooling anyone, red accents, and aggressively bolstered sport seats that are ultra supportive and surprisingly comfortable over the long haul.
The ergonomics are excellent as per Honda’s usual standards and the spherical shift knob hewn from a solid ingot of aluminum feels cold to the touch. The Type R can only be specified with a manual transmission, and rightly so, because this car wouldn’t be half as much fun with an automatic.
That gearbox—another Honda strongpoint—is easily one of the best in the industry with a light frictionless shift action that snicks through its gates with a well oiled mechanical precision seldom felt in cars of this price range, or any price range for that matter. It features auto rev-matching on both up and down shifts, and it works very well. But if auto blip isn’t your cup o’ tea, you can turn it off.
Doing so requires you to take a deep dive into the sub-menus of Honda’s Display Audio system that’s a bit outdated with its clunky, sometimes unresponsive interface and lack of physical controls including that all important volume knob. Thankfully there’s Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatibility and unless you’re still holding on to that Blackberry, you can just plug in your phone and be done with it.
So the infotainment is below par, but does that really matter in the grand scheme? Not in this car. If you buy a Type R, these quips are trivial. What matters is that you just bought the fastest production front-wheel-drive car in the world—a veritable record setter. Its 7:43 second time around the Nurburgring is unbelievable. To put it into perspective, that’s faster than a Pagani Zonda C12 and just under a second slower than a 996 era Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Two mega-priced exotics trumped by a 4-cylinder econobox using only its front wheels. It is a remarkable achievement in a car that’s as easy to drive as, well,… a Civic.
I’ve heard over and over again, “ It needs all-wheel-drive bro,” and to that, I say, “why?” AWD would have added weight, killed the steering feel, and hurt your wallet more at the gas pumps. It’s faster than a Zonda for chrissakes! What more do you need?
Forget about all the performance for a minute and focus on the fact that the Type R is a 4-door hatchback which comes with all the practicality you’d expect of that type of economical conveyance. Lift the trunk with its multiple wings and you’ll find 727 litres of cargo space behind a rear seat that can comfortably seat 2 people. You can fold those seats down and nearly double the load carrying volume if you want to haul something like a small horse, or a really big dog.
So its completely practical too but if you’re the bashful type, and not 18, then walking up to it at the grocery store parking lot can be a tad bit embarrassing. More so, if you’re buckling up your one-year-old into what looks like an Initial D racer that got lost on its way to Mount Akina.
Powering this spicy hatch is a 2.0 L direct injected 4-cylinder pressurized by 23 psi of boost courtesy of a mono-scroll turbo. A 9000-rpm screamer this is not, but what it lacks in top end it makes up for in sheer grunt. With 306 hp at 6000 rpm complimented by 295 lb-ft of torque between 2500 and 4500 rpm, this little 4 banger doesn’t feel so little when you explore the range of the gas pedal’s travel.
On a particularly rainy day, heavy throttle application left the 245 section front tires scrambling and clawing the surface for every last bit of grip that the cold wet pavement just wasn’t going to provide. Nevertheless, the helical limited slip differential helped find what grip it could and propelled the Type R down the road on an unrelenting surge of torque and power that held strong right up to the redline. The Type R uses a unique front suspension with trick aluminum steering knuckles that completely eliminates torque steer, meaning that even with all that power flooring it does not cause you to careen off into the nearest ditch. This is one application where sending over 300 hp to the front wheels is not a bad move, but a great one.
On a nice day, the Civic will charge to 100 km/h in about 5 seconds and will keep going till it hits 273 km/h (170 mph), a speed irrelevant anywhere in North America, outside of a track, but one that’s indeed worth mentioning.
A tri-pipe exhaust emits a gruff noise that sounds better in the lower rev ranges but doesn’t come close to the high rpm Honda engines of yore. But this is a happy gem of a motor that doesn’t feel turbocharged and just loves to be wound up to redline, over and over again. The best thing is that the power, while still a lot, is accessible on the street allowing you to wring it out in the first few gears without heading into serious demerit point territory.
The real magic happens when you turn that steering wheel. The front end reacts immediately and can be placed with perfect accuracy. Electric power steering is millimetre precise, perfectly weighted, and delivers a good amount of feedback. If you chuck it into a corner, the Type R’s electronic brain will brake the inside wheel, an effect that is noticeable right away as it feels like the car is being vacuumed into the corner. There’s no understeer to speak of and the near neutral handling balance through tight transitions gives you the confidence to push it harder than you thought possible.
Big Brembo brakes are strong with a reassuring pedal feel that will stop the 1400 kg Civic from highways speeds about as quickly as Honda’s new $200,000 supercar NSX can.
The Type R feels like it can endure the abuse of high performance driving all day long. And you just know that because it’s a Honda, you won’t be spending much time in the shop.
I had to to do a bit of soul searching on this one. Forty thousand dollars gets you what is easily the best car you can buy for the money today and there are virtually no options to tack on, so it just comes with everything. I went rushing to Honda’s online build configurator and built one of my own. In black.
I didn’t end up pulling the trigger but, let me tell you, I wanted to.
What Honda has done here is brought back that magical feel of their cars from the 90s using technology available today. The Honda I knew and loved as a kid is back in a new and exciting way. This new Civic Type R is Honda’s return to form.