Filling in blanks the Veloster N misses.
Hot hatchback shoppers are spoiled for choice at the moment. The Volkswagen Golf R feels like a premium offering with a functional character and clean styling. The Hyundai Veloster N is one of the market’s great high-performance bargains. And then there’s the Honda Civic Type R, which is the driver’s choice of the bunch for us.
The Civic Type R is a more emotional, engaging vehicle than the Golf R and it has an interior that blows the Veloster N’s shabby cabin out of the water. Where that car’s interior feels poorly built and cheap, the Type R has materials and a design that feel like a selling point, rather than an afterthought.
The Civic has its shortcomings, though they're few and far between. For a start, it still looks like a Civic Type R. Even an upcoming refresh doesn't improve matters. Its stellar engine still sounds buzzy and uninspiring. And while it surpasses the Veloster in terms of pure handling sharpness, it does so with a brutally uncomfortable ride.
The Civic Type R's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is a monster of an engine, packing 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. This might be a high-output, small-displacement, turbocharged engine, but it's hard to tell based on the relentlessness of its power delivery. This 2.0-liter is inexhaustible from a standstill on up to its 7,000-rpm redline.
The engine works alongside a classic Honda manual transmission. The feather-light throws of the six-speed; the tiny, ball-shaped shift knob; and a clutch that's beautifully simple to modulate make this powertrain a true great.
The Civic Type R boasts perfect steering, body motions that are as tight as a straightjacket, and a degree of feedback and balance that's unusual in a front-wheel-drive car. Honda tuned the Type R's dual-axis front struts, multi-link rear suspension, and adaptive dampers perfectly. The 245/30 tires have barely a hint of sidewall to protect the 20-inch alloys, but this minimal aspect ratio means incredibly sharp, responsive turn-in. We'd put the Civic Type R up against hardcore, high-dollar sports cars in terms of handling – it's that good.
Weird as it sounds, the Civic Type R's cabin is indeed one of its strongest selling points against the more affordable Veloster N. The Honda carries a $9,200 premium over the Veloster, but have a seat in its cabin and you'll quickly realize that's a fair price. The seats, finished in a garish red fabric, are comfortable and supportive in equal measure. The plastics on the dash and doors feel like quality pieces and lack the creakiness of the rival Hyundai, while Honda's not-so-subtle red accents break up the monotony of the black finishes. Beyond that, the switchgear and primary interfaces feel worthy of the Civic Type R's higher price tag. Put simply, don't buy a Veloster N without at least sitting in a Civic Type R.
Honda is introducing a refreshed Civic Type R to the United States, but that car won't improve on the unattractive, over-styled hatchback. This is an obnoxious-looking car, from its wildly flared arches and overabundance of aero aids to the red accents sprinkled across the exterior. If Honda charged $1,000 for a Civic Type R with a more conventional body that ditched the enormous rear wing, silly three-pipe exhaust, and red accents, we'd consider it money well spent.
There's a reason so few cars feature 30-series tires. Painting the sidewalls on produces incredibly precise and sharp handling but guarantees a back-breaking ride. This is an issue that goes beyond suspension firmness – the suspension's first line of defense against impacts is the sidewall of the tire. Minimize the sidewall to this degree and the ride becomes brutal. There's an added concern if you live somewhere with lousy roads (cough, southeastern Michigan, cough), and it's what happens when you hit a pothole. To be blunt, we doubt we could survive a three-year lease in a Civic Type R here in Michigan without destroying at least one of those pricey lightweight alloys.
The only real issue with the Civic's 2.0-liter engine is that it sounds so poor. This four-cylinder is incapable of making a good noise from the factory. The whistle of the turbocharger dominates the intake note (a fine thing, normally), but the exhaust note lacks character and volume. It borders on buzzy, especially at higher engine speeds. The 2020 Civic Type R will get a new Active Sound Control system, which will hopefully sort out one of this Honda's few issues.
Correction: A previous version of this review listed the Civic Type R's wheels as 19 inches in diameter. This was incorrect. The Type R wears 20-inch wheels. The story has been updated accordingly. We regret the error.