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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.

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