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TEST DRIVE: Honda Civic Type R

In the latest Sportscar365 “Test Drive” series, David Haueter reviews the new Honda Civic Type R…

Photo: David Haueter

After years of U.S. drivers settling for “Si” models as the ultimate expression of sporting Civics, Honda has finally brought the Civic Type R to America.

Honda has been selling Civic Type Rs in Europe since 1997 but it’s a first for us, and like BMW M or Audi RS models, Honda’s Type R is a step above their standard Civic Si model and is focused more on ultimate performance than practicality or economy, but it has those areas covered as well.

Don’t let the design and styling of the Civic Type R fool you.

At first glance, with its big rear wing, splitters and other appendages, it may look like something that was doodled on a high school kid’s notepad during study hall, but almost everything on the Honda is there for a purpose.

All of the aero bits are designed to reduce lift, create downforce or help cool components like the brakes or engine, and the air scoops and vents are all used to either direct cooling air where it’s needed or remove hot air where it’s not wanted.

Photo: David Haueter

Honda provided unimpeachable evidence for the sporting credentials of the Civic Type R when it released a video of the car lapping the Nürburgring Nordschleife in an impressive 7 minutes, 43.8 seconds, which is a record for a front-wheel drive production car.

Not satisfied with besting everyone at the ‘Ring, Honda also took the Civic Type R to Magny Cours and Spa-Franchorchamps and set lap records there as well.

Powered by a 2-liter inline-four with a single-scroll turbo, the Civic Type R puts out 306hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission available is a six-speed manual with a lightweight single-mass flywheel, and the front brakes feature aluminum Brembo 4-piston calipers with 13.8 inch rotors.

Handling is accomplished with a dual axis front suspension up front and a multi-link setup at the rear with adaptive dampers, along with sticky 245/30 ZR20 Continental SportContact 6 tires.

Torsional stiffness is up 38 percent compared to the previous Type R (which was sold in Europe but not the U.S.), and there’s a helical-type limited slip differential to help put power to the ground.

Photo: David Haueter

As John Hindhaugh would put it, the Civic Type R is a cracking car to drive. The engine is not particularly enthralling like previous high-revving Honda engines, but it delivers a linear rush of power and there’s no torque steer to speak of.

Handling is exemplary, especially for a car with nearly two-thirds of its weight over the front axle, and there’s hardly any understeer when you’re going into corners.

The brakes are nothing short of fantastic, with great pedal feel and stopping power, and the manual gearbox is one of the best I’ve ever driven, with short, precise throws and a wonderful mechanical feel to gear changes that is missing in most modern cars that still have manual transmissions.

Honda provides three driving modes (Comfort, Sport and +R) that adjusts the throttle response, dampers, steering and traction control.

I found myself leaving the car in Comfort mode for highway and around-town driving and Sport mode on fun country roads.

The Type R ride is firm but surprisingly compliant in Comfort mode, with the handling and body control ramped up a few notches in Sport mode. +R mode is best left for the track. The seats are also excellent, providing great support for sporty driving while remaining comfortable for everything else.

Photo: David Haueter

I took the Civic Type R to Monticello Motor Club for some track driving, and the car was equally impressive there.

It was fast on the straights and took corners at impressive speeds, with great balance and minimal body roll and understeer, traits that are often exacerbated when a road car is driven on a race circuit.

The brakes also held up incredibly well over a couple sessions of driving.

Overall, it was one of the best out-of-the-box examples I’ve driven of a road car that is competent at a track day without any additional modifications or upgrades. The only complaint I had at the track is that I wish the exhaust was a little louder.

The Civic Type R’s competency as a road car is also what helps to make it a great race car in Pirelli World Challenge, where RealTime Racing competes with them in the TCR class.

“The TCR cars are pretty amazing,” says team owner Peter Cunningham. “At Lime Rock, the qualifying times for TCR were faster than the GT4 cars (in GTS). Certainly, the nature of the Lime Rock track helped and normally the GT4 cars are a little quicker, but not by much.

“That gives you an indication of the level of performance these cars have and they’re also inexpensive relative to a GT4 car.

“We couldn’t build one for what they sell them for, and the Honda has a great chassis and reliability. We’re still getting to know the car, but right out of the box the car was remarkably well-developed and ready to go.”

Photo: David Haueter

Built by JAS Motorsport in Italy, the Honda Civic Type R TCR race car has a lot more aero than the road car, but it’s easy to see the relationship between the two cars and the road car is much closer in appearance and performance to the race car than some of the other cars racing in the TCR class.

The RealTime Honda’s have had some great battles this year with the pair of Hyundai i30 N cars entered by Bryan Herta Autosport.

At the time of this writing, RealTime driver Ryan Eversley has seven podiums in eight races, including wins at VIR, Lime Rock and Portland. The championship battle in TCR will likely go down to the last race of the season at Watkins Glen on Labor Day weekend.

At $34,700, the Honda Civic Type R road car is a relative bargain. It undercuts rivals like the Subaru WRX STi ($36,595) and VW Golf R ($39,785) in price and is just as practical with four doors and trunk space.

It’s a car you can drive every day that delivers 28mpg on the highway, but it can also be enjoyed immensely at track days as it’s delivered from the dealer. It may not have the more understated appearance of the STi or the VW, but you’ll forget all about that once you get behind the wheel. 

For more information, visit automobiles.honda.com/civic-type-r

David Haueter (@InfoTrends_DH) has been an automotive writer and photographer for the past 20 years. His writing and photos have been published in Roundel, Bimmer, Forza and Excellence and SportsCarInsider.com as well as other automotive and racing magazines.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Dan

    July 19, 2018 at 11:22 am

    I might be alone but I’m not spending 34 grand on a Honda civic. I wonder what the options would bring it up too? It’s cheaper than the Subaru and VW but they are overpriced too. I thought these cars were supposed to be budget friendly not more expensive than a some sports cars?

    • DAVID HAUETER

      July 19, 2018 at 4:02 pm

      Welcome to 2018. Even the Honda Accord can easily get over $30,000 with a few options. The Civic Type R is one of the few cars under $50K on the market that can be driven every day and is also competent at the track without any modifications. That’s what you pay for.

      • Dan

        July 20, 2018 at 8:03 am

        There are plenty of cars not a few that can do that for well under 50K, people are paying ridiculous amounts of money to be flashy and act like a racing driver. People are buying this car to be seen in it and brag.

  2. Ingrid

    July 19, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    Awesome photos! Informative article. Who would have thought that a car this flashy has such impressive power, torque and performance – all for around $30,000. Good to know that I can be equally happy driving this car to the grocery store as on the track. Just hope I don’t break any eggs. 😉

    • Crag keeper

      July 21, 2018 at 4:58 am

      Not to sound crazy, but, I own a 2014 Dodge Avenger V6 283 hp and about the same tq which can probably keep up with any of these turbo 4 cyls around town and on the highways. Because the Avenger weighs in similar. Practical and Fast.
      And after a vigorous outing, the engine isn’t as hot as a charcoal grille in mid Summer. Everyone knows that the small displacement turbo tech is all about fuel efficiency – not increased fun factor.

  3. Crag keeper

    July 21, 2018 at 4:46 am

    The age old problem is that once you’re in the mid thirties price wise, there are so many fine road cars that are available for not much more money. When a car purchase becomes a toy purchase ,you might as well just pay a bit extra and buy a Corvette base model. The odd thing to me is why this category of car flaunts the everyday practicality of four doors and cargo space. It’s like blending two opposite worlds of thought.
    Especially since practicality is silly when you’re looking for such impressive specs. This goes for the Subaru and VW as well. It all exudes a teen aged mentality ,but at a very adult price.
    And this is not even mentioning the reviews that give poor quality fit and Finnish compared to years ago when the name Honda always meant unquestionable overall quality. And in two years the type R will be as forgettable as a Focus RS and others in the hot hatch offerings. Added to which, no one ever talks about maintenance cost on all of these quasi-performance cars. Most young people who finance these things probably would have a mental breakdown when they go to replace the tires on any of these street legal racers.

  4. Mack

    August 4, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    I’m 40 and just bought one. It’s not my daily driver so I can’t speak for that. It’s not going to set the world on fire speed wise but it is a ton of fun to drive! Does the car look a little insane to look at? Yes it does but I personally think the photos don’t do justice. In person it looks a lot better but that is my opinion. I also bought the car as a possible investment as there is a possibility it could be a collector’s car down the road.
    There are plenty of other options other than the R however for those that haven’t driven one I recommend that you drive one before making judgement.
    The car isn’t perfect but every car has a flaw here and there.
    Back roads is where this car shines. It is a totally unique feeling of having a great handling front wheel drive car and being able to put the power down. You can feel the car pulling you out of the corner.

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