Don’t let that big wing fool you – Honda’s aggressively styled Type R is a refined hot hatch with great poise.
– Mirabel, Quebec, Canada
The 2017 Honda Civic Type R recently laid down a 7-minute, 43-second lap at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, making it the quickest front-wheel-drive car to ever run the Green Hell. Don’t get me wrong, that’s damn impressive. But to focus on this one achievement is to miss the point entirely. Yes, the Civic Type R is a very capable car on track. But it’s also comfortable, easy to drive, and far, far more mature than its overly aggressive boy racer exterior would lead you to believe.
It’s also finally coming to the U.S.; the first Type Rs are making their way to showrooms as you read this. With an out-the-door price of $34,775 including destination, the Civic is less expensive than its key competitors, the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI, and Volkswagen Golf R. But “less expensive” does not mean “cheaper” or “not as good.” On the contrary, the Civic Type R offers a very premium experience.
You can turn the rev-match feature off if you feel like being super pro heel-and-toe guy, but Honda’s system is so smooth and so good, I never had the desire to shift without it.
That’s evident while tossing the Type R along the hilly, tree-lined roads of Quebec, just outside Montreal. Truth be told, I expected a harsh ride and twitchy dynamics, but the Civic instead rewards me with impressive composure – a behind-the-wheel experience that feels more Grand Touring than Gran Turismo.
The star of the show is Honda’s new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, making 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Power delivery is predictable and linear, with no weird “turbo moments” of unexpected boost. But I do notice a lack of low-end power. Floor it in third gear from about 1,500 rpm, and you’ll wait a second before all that brute force starts to rush back in; peak torque is delivered between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm. On the other hand, this bad boy likes to rev: The 2.0 will happily run high all day long, with a real sweet spot around 4,000 rpm. My one big wish is for more aural presence out of the tri-tip exhaust. You can hear the brappy sound a little bit, but during spirited driving, you’ll mostly be listening to a revvy four-cylinder.
The Type R only comes with an excellent six-speed manual transmission, with short throws and a nicely weighted clutch. A lot of my colleagues have criticized the base Civic’s vague, too-light clutch feel, and I’m happy to report that isn’t the case with the Type R. There’s a clear take-up point, with good weight under your left foot. What’s more, Honda employs a rev-match feature on the Type R, allowing for quicker downshifts while braking hard coming into a tight corner. You can turn this off if you feel like being super pro heel-and-toe guy, but Honda’s system is so smooth and so good, I never had the desire to shift without it.
The limited-slip differential and adaptive suspension are very good, and keep everything copacetic despite 306 hp being dispatched to only the two front wheels.
Yes, the Civic Type R is a front-wheel-drive car – a possible disadvantage in a class of all-wheel-drive hot hatches. On dry surfaces, whether on winding roads or while lapping Quebec’s ICAR circuit, the front-wheel-drive setup doesn’t limit the car’s capabilities. The Type R exhibits the tiniest bit of understeer if you carry too much speed while entering a turn, but typical front-drive traits like torque steer or rear-end skittishness are nonexistent here. The helical limited-slip differential up and adaptive suspension are very good, and keep everything copacetic despite 306 hp being dispatched to only the two front wheels.
Up front, the Type R has a dual-axis suspension with adaptive dampers, with increased negative camber compared to a normal Civic. The front track is nearly 2.5 inches wider on the Type R than a standard Civic Hatchback, spring rates are up by a whopping 200 percent, and stabilizer rates are up by 170 percent. At the rear, a multi-link setup keeps things under control, with similarly increased negative camber, a 1.6-inch increase in track width, and spring and stabilizer rates that are increased by 160 and 240 percent, respectively, compared to a base Civic. In other words, serious work has been done to the original chassis to prime it for Type R duty.
The Civic Type R is a lot easier to drive quickly than the bouncy, twitchy Ford Focus RS.
The adaptive dampers make this Civic Type R a lot more comfortable and daily-livable than its predecessor, a car that a lot of people described as being way too harsh. The R’s setup is much like the system used on the softcore Civic Si, with different driving modes that change the damping characteristics based on environment. In Comfort mode, the Type R is fantastically smooth – I mean it, even on 20-inch wheels with low-profile, 245/30-series Continental SportContact tires, this car has a lovely ride quality. It’s not bouncy on the freeway, and won’t kill you if you hit a pothole. Sport mode stiffens things up to a point of offering a bit more stability, but doesn’t ruin the ride quality – this is the mode I find myself using during the majority of my test. A final +R mode offers the stiffest settings, perfect for track driving, but it’s not so harsh that you couldn’t dial this up for a particularly engaging bit of canyon road.
These drive modes tweak steering feel, as well, with Sport again having the best balance. The steering feel is typical Honda stuff: comfort mode offers smooth response with light action; Sport rewards you with the best balance of immediate response, added weight, and good feedback; and +R’s focus on directness is welcomed while sprinting between apexes out on the ICAR course.
On track, there is never a want for more grip or more power. Keep the engine on boil in third and fourth gears, and the Type R rewards your smooth inputs with flat cornering and lots of communication through both the steering and chassis. It never feels like I’m fighting with the car – there’s no weird shifting required to make the most of the power, no strange throttle mapping to overcome. Get in, floor it, and go; let the car work with you as you gradually rip off faster and faster laps. It's a lot easier to drive quickly than the bouncy, twitchy Ford Focus RS. I didn’t initially expect the Type R to drive with Golf R levels of refinement, but, well, here I am. For a car that looks like it’s going to bite your head off and laugh maniacally while doing so, the very angular and aggressive Civic Type R is actually quite refined.
Every Civic Type R has the same interior, so if bright red isn’t your thing, you’d better look elsewhere.
Of course, you have to get past that prickly exterior in order to find the goodness within. Depending on who you ask, the Civic Type R either looks rad or revolting, and nothing in between. Honda says the “racing aero” design is part of this car’s identity, all those creases and points and lines and angles working together to convey a message of sportiness and aggression. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I’ll let you reach your own conclusions about whether this car is hot or not. But if the Volkswagen Golf R represents the subdued, under-the-radar version of the 300-ish-horsepower hot hatch package, it’s safe to say the Type R is the opposite bookend.
But it’s not all for show. Every vent and crease and bulge is designed to improve aerodynamics, aiding with airflow around the car and improving downforce as much as possible. Those vertical air intakes that sit outside the foglamps help cool the brakes. The ridges in the lower aero kit create channels that direct air around the body. That massive rear wing keeps the Type R’s rear end planted, and actually doesn’t impede visibility. Yes, it’s huge, but it’s so huge that, from the driver’s seat, the rear-view mirror’s vantage point passes right through the middle. Neat.
Speaking of the driver’s seat, it’s a fantastic place to spend time. The front chairs aren’t Recaros, they’re Honda-designed seats that are, as far as my butt is concerned, more comfortable and more supportive than what you get in the Ford Focus RS and Subaru WRX STI. They’re bright red, too. And since every Civic Type R has the same interior, if bright red isn’t your thing, you’d better look elsewhere.
Honda’s new Type R is a joy to steer, hugely capable both on road and on track, and offers all the creature comforts you’d want in a daily driver.
Beyond the model-specific seats, the Type R gets a unique, thick-rimmed, flat-bottom steering wheel (with more red); sport pedals; and an aluminum shift knob. Otherwise, you get all the same kit and caboodle as a Civic Touring: touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, heated seats, dual-zone climate control, automatic LED headlamps, and more. Plus, don’t forget, the Type R is based on the Civic Hatchback, so you can still fold the rear seats down and find 46.2 cubic feet of usable storage. Though, word to the wise, that huge wing makes the hatch a bit heavier to open.
I firmly believe that any sports car is only as good as the model it’s based on, and so much of the Type R’s inherent greatness comes from the fact that the tenth-generation Civic is such a well-thought-out package. The Type R’s biggest challenge will be convincing cold-climate, all-wheel-drive fans that they can live a front-drive setup. But remember, the several thousand dollars you save by buying the Civic over any of its competitors can buy a couple nice sets of winter tires. Honda’s new Type R is a joy to steer, hugely capable both on road and on track, and offers all the creature comforts you’d want in a daily driver. I’m wholly impressed, and if you can get past the styling, I promise you will be, too.
Photos: Steven Ewing / Motor1.com & Honda
Gallery: 2017 Honda Civic Type R: First Drive
2017 HONDA CIVIC TYPE R