I'm not sure what it is about this coronavirus situation, but it's made me appreciate good food more. Call it a coping mechanism for the very real stress of self-isolation, but having a little bit more of a tasty meal satisfies in a way it never did before the world turned upside down. The 2020 Honda Civic Type R is the automotive equivalent of a second plate: more of the same, but every bit as satisfying, especially during this live-action apocalypse.
The Civic Type R's light refresh for 2020 includes the usual nips and tucks, adding the same sort of visual enhancements introduced on the standard Civic and Si. That means a new grille and fascia, for better cooling, along with updated headlights, which, fine. It's all good. But the Type R's enhancements, fittingly, go much further
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The cabin features a new Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and a gorgeous aluminum gear knob, which sits atop a revised shifter with shorter throws. Under that freshened skin sits a revised suspension with new dampers and firmer rear bushings. Honda hasn't tweaked the engine – it still produces 306 horsepower – but the Type R is in a better place to control that straight-line performance with new two-piece brake rotors and improved pads. But not all the changes are good. In fact, one is very poor.
Setting The Table
Honda made some notable updates to the Civic's interior. I dig the new Alcantara steering wheel and its fetching red and black color scheme, but I also realize there's a rather vocal contingent of the market that can't stand Alcantara (weirdos of every sort exist). Honda isn't currently offering the old leather-wrapped steering wheel, so if you want a 2020, you're getting the suede-like materials. The shifter boot also features the material.
My immediate concern with the finish is how Alcantara ages if the owner doesn't properly maintain it. Artificial, suede-like materials such as Alcantara tend to soak up the oils in the driver's hands, which makes the material grimy and unpleasant. Honda would be wise to offer the leather-wrapped wheel as an option, or at least a dealer-installed accessory.
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Beyond the Alcantara finish, Honda made some notable equipment changes. The high-performance Civic adopts the entire Honda Sensing suite as standard. The technology works just as well in the Type R as it does across the rest of the lineup. That addition aside, though, this is the same Type R cabin, with its borderline garish red seats and an unlikable touchscreen infotainment system. I really wish Honda had taken the Civic's refresh as an opportunity to update the smallish 7.0-inch display.
The company didn't tweak the infotainment, but it did make an addition that should appeal to enthusiasts with the new LogR, a performance datalogger that draws information from the car to display on an iPhone or Android device. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to sample the tech during my weekend-long test. But it sounds plenty promising, like a more affordable version of General Motors' Performance Data Recorder.
The Civic Type R was already the most agile, entertaining front-wheel-drive car in North America. The 2020 model is even better. Honda tweaked the Civic's adaptive dampers so they're even more responsive to road conditions, promising sharper, more precise reflexes. On Michigan's limited twisty roads, the 2020 remains effortlessly engaging, encouraging its driver to push and prod the forgiving chassis' limits. This is an easy car to explore.
But it's also one that rewards careful driving. Despite the front-wheel-drive layout, which features a 62/39 weight distribution, the Type R is impressively neutral, preferring precise inputs rather than the driver simply grabbing it by the scruff of the neck. Improvements to the steering complement this character, with new bushings and ball joints that enhance feedback. The weighting is natural and builds beautifully as the steering angle increases.
The 2020 Type R remains effortlessly engaging, encouraging its driver to push and prod the forgiving chassis' limits.
Honda’s upgraded brakes look good on paper, but good luck feeling the difference on anything outside of a racetrack, where the two-piece rotors show off the design's improved heat dissipation. Pedal feel is excellent – it's not heavy but is still easy to modulate. As for the stopping power of the four-piston Brembo front calipers, the setup can easily bring all 3,121 pounds of hot hatchback to a halt.
But despite all these dynamic enhancements, I spent the bulk of the drive in Comfort mode. It's not that the default Sport or the hardcore R mode is too severe – in fact, even on Michigan's pockmarked roads, the overall level of composure is far better than I’d expect of a car with huge 20-inch wheels and 30-series tires. But Comfort is, well, better. In fact, set to the relaxed mode, the Type R does a fair impression of its more relaxed siblings. This is unquestionably a car that works in daily life (which is a prerequisite of a hot hatch, after all).
A land of painfully straight roads, southeastern Michigan is a fine place to test a car's acceleration. In the Civic Type R's case not much has changed for 2020. There's still a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, a setup that's more than enough to motivate a 3,100-pound car. Power is effortless and torque is seemingly never ending.
But it's the way the CTR's engine revs, more than the power, that makes standing on the gas pedal so enjoyable. The turbocharged 2.0-liter lacks the character of Honda's old naturally aspirated VTEC engines, but it's eager and energetic in a way even those old engines weren't, zipping rapidly toward the 7,000-rpm redline.
Honda's revised six-speed manual contributes mightily to the fun of running the Civic Type R. The updated gearbox's throws are short and the gates tight and easy to find. The weighting of the lever, thanks in large part to the new aluminum gear knob and a 3.1-ounce counterweight, is substantial – you can feel the mechanical elements at work – but it's also the sort of thing you can manage with a flick of the wrist. In other words, this is another excellent Honda manual transmission.
Waiter, There's A Fly In My Soup
One of the more intriguing additions to the 2020 Civic Type R is its new Active Sound Control, which “enhances the natural sound” of the 2.0-liter engine by way of the audio system. Sounds great (pun intended), right? Wrong.
Active Sound Control might work for an engine that sounds nice, but one of my prime criticisms of the last Civic Type R I drove was that the four-cylinder sounded shrill and buzzy – amplifying those characteristics results in an obnoxious drone in all but the Comfort driving mode. It's annoying in the default Sport mode and horrid in R mode, particularly on rev-matched downshifts (which the automatic rev-matching feature encourages), where there's a sudden spike in the boomy, artificial noise.
During a Zoom briefing with Honda ahead of the loan, one journalist jokingly asked about fuse-box markings so he could deactivate Active Sound Control. After this test, I believe he had the right idea.
Prices for the upgraded 2020 Civic Type R start at $36,995 and can only increase by $955, due to the destination charge. Those figures represent a negligible jump over the 2019 Type R, which started at $36,595 and added an $895 destination charge. Neither the 2019 nor the 2020 is available with any additional factory-installed options. As mid-cycle hikes go, and considering the new equipment and active safety gear, the new Type R's price seems very reasonable.
Whether you'll find the rest of the 2020 Type R's additions as reasonable is a more personal question. The enhancements Honda made to the driving experience are by and large excellent – hell, I’d pay the extra $460 just for the new gear knob and updated shifter. But Active Sound Control and the artificial drone it creates in the cabin, along with the long-term commitment of caring for the Alcantara-wrapped wheel are admittedly minor things that would give us pause. Am I picking nits? Possibly. Honda has built an excellent hot hatchback, but when a car is this good, small issues such as these are all the more grating.
Gallery: 2020 Honda Civic Type R: First Drive
2020 Honda Civic Type R