Is This Quite Possibly “The Best” Honda Civic Ever?
Until the 2017 model year, Honda purists had to wait 20 years for Honda to bring the Type R version of the Civic to the US. The “R” stands for Racing and as we experienced, the Type R is track ready right from the factory. Among the other track worthy improvements, it is the most powerful Civic Honda ever built. That alone should mean it’s the best Civic ever built and right up our alley! Or is it? After all, its credentials are one for the record books. It set the fastest lap time around the Nürburgring in FWD production car at 7:43.80. Power comes from a 2.0 liter direct injected turbo-charged 4-Cylinder engine that produces 306 HP at 6,500 RPM and 295 lb-ft. torque from 2,500-4,500 RPM. This car feels powerful all the way to its 7,000 RPM redline – VTEC YO! This is a lot of power for a FWD only car which is managed by an Helical Limited Slip Differential and electronic aids. Torque steer is barely noticeable and is vastly superior to vehicles like the Mazdaspeed 3 of a decade ago where the torque steer was almost powerful enough to rip the steering wheel right out of your hands. During hard acceleration on dry cold pavement (40 degrees F) though, the 245/30 R20 high performance summer tires weren’t soft enough to grip the road and the vehicle lost its composure once the turbo kicked in. But we recognize that’s strictly due to the tire compound not matching the temperate conditions, and admittedly somewhat enjoyed the traction challenges on the street.
We debate the theory of the Type R being built for the “pure enthusiasts” since it’s only available with a 6-speed manual transmission. What about the other sports car “automatics”? Are they not meant for the pure enthusiasts? Someone say the Jaguar F-Type paddles shifter and Porsches’ only offered it “automatics”? Or even a VW Golf GTI? As we digress…
The manual transmission has auto rev-matching during downshifts which matches engine speed with the anticipated gear. If this is something that you have not learned to do yourself, we admit is a pretty cool feature for this car to be equipped with it especially at this price point.
The car comes with an aluminum shifter, which is precise and has a mechanical feel. Some critics may say that it’s temperature sensitive where it can get real hot on hot days and cold on cold days. While technically true, this is a Honda Type R which is going after its tradition including the adored Honda S2000 sports car features. The clutch is light enough to learn on, has a hill hold feature, and allows for heal to toe downshifts.
You can choose between three different drive modes (Comfort, Sport and +R) which retune suspension, adjust throttle response and change steering settings. +R mode is the most aggressive with the stiffest dampers, quickest throttle response and most sensitive steering.
The steering has a variable gear ratio which changes the weight and ratio based on driving modes. For the street, it feels just right in Comfort and Sport modes, but overly responsive in +R mode. What this means is a tiny change in steering wheel position results in a large direction change that might be greater than expected for the typical driver.
The Type R has a front Macpherson Strut suspension, with a multi-link suspension in the rear. It’s an Adaptive Damper System that changes based on mode which means that the ride is comfortable enough to live with as a daily driver. There’s more travel in comfort mode and surprisingly does not beat you up in +R mode, especially when compared to the Focus RS, which is so over-damped it ruins the whole driving experience. However it’s stiff enough and so well controlled that it was extremely confidence inspiring when I drove it on the track at a previous driving event.
The Type R needs powerful brakes to slow it down properly, especially for those long track days. The 4-wheel disc brakes with Brembo front brake calipers are extremely potent and have a firm pedal feel. Our testing was done on public roads though as we did not have enough lap time to test fade after repeated hard stops.
The front bucket seats are race inspired with high bolstering and Red/Black Suede-Effect Fabric. They keep you in place during hard cornering while still being comfortable enough for your daily drives. They are firm, grippy and supportive and include a Type R logo and cutouts for racing belts. However, they are not designed for larger people so if you fall into this category, you’ll need to see for yourself if these will work for you.
The one thing though that turns us off about the Civic Type R more than anything though is its overly aggressive exterior styling. The nice thing to know that is items such as the hood air intake actually assists in cooling. And the air curtains in the front bumper reduce drag. But we find the super high rear wing spoiler particularly unattractive as well as the non-functional plastic front vents in front and in rear. Its looks are polarizing to say the least and it probably worst attribute that many people will have trouble overlooking.
Honda notes that the reason why they included the rear wing spoiler though is because it produces 66 pounds of downforce at 124 MPH which helped it achieve the fastest lap time around the Nürburgring in FWD car, so Honda has to sell this car with the wing. Thankfully it also doesn’t obstruct rearward visibility from the driver’s seat. Hopefully it can be deleted from future trims of the Type R though.
Despite its polarizing looks, the Civic Type R is undoubtedly the fastest, most powerful and most exciting FWD car we have ever driven on the road or track. In addition, it has two usable rear seats that also split and folds flat and its practical enough to live with on a daily basis. Although it’s not perfect, it’s by far the best Civic ever and was definitely worth the 20 year wait.
25 Combined MPG
2019 MSRP: $35,700
Destination and Handling: $895
Total MSRP: $36,595