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Look no further than the driver’s seat to understand Honda’s intentions with the Civic Type R. Heavily bolstered on the seat bottom and even deeper for the seatback, you can hide the width of your hand behind them. Settling your butt into it is like sinking into a bean bag chair and feeling material envelop you. It’s snug, not tight.
More critical is what Honda didn’t add. There’s no heat or cooling capability and nothing silly like a massaging option or 37-trillion-way adjustability. In fact, the fore-aft, incline and seat height are set manually, like the good old days, which makes them light, too.
Elemental and purposeful, the Type R’s front seats are the business.
Moreover, the steering wheel thickness makes a nice resting place for your palms at nine and three. Wheel diameter measures spot-on for leverage without concern of knocking knees with 90 degrees of lock dialed in. Views from the seat are vast and unobstructed. Even the short-throw, six-speed manual shifter is placed perfectly. And I have an inch of spare headroom — with a helmet on.
When seated, it’s obvious Honda built a proper driver’s car. Inside, you don’t see all the flashy bits: stacked rear wings, front splitter, rear diffuser and bevy of additional flaps and flares and winglets. But you know they all serve either a cooling or aerodynamic purpose: not to look fast, to go fast. And it’s not just surface stuff: Honda applied over 42 feet of structural adhesive to the frame of this version of the 10th-generation Civic hatchback, which increases torsional stiffness by 3 percent. Plus, horsepower. 101 more than the not-at-all-slow Civic Si.
Inside, all you see is all you need to see.
Underneath the aluminum hood (which is 11.7 pounds lighter than a steel example), Honda bolted a turbocharged, 2.0-liter stump-puller. Its four-cylinder core is an aluminum block and head, with a forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods. The compression ratio is 9.8:1, quite high for a motor that needs to withstand 22.8 psi of boost from the mono-scroll compressor. To cool all that pressurized air, it travels through a “Fast & Furious”-size intercooler below the front bumper before entering the intake. There’s variable valve timing on the intake side and variable timing and lift on the exhaust. Honda dubs this valvetrain trickery “i-VTEC.”
Output? 306 hp at 6,500 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm. That’s nuts! Winding the motor out from a standstill puts a force on you equal to a 60-mph wind gust, which the Type R body will also feel in about five seconds or so. It’s quick, and help from the turbo gives midrange grunt never before felt in a Civic. I do miss the neck-hair-raising thrill of Honda’s 8,000-rpm (even 9,000-rpm) redlines of naturally aspirated yore and the glorious noises they produced. Alas, it’s not to be in today’s world. Besides, this lump willingly spins to its 7,000-rpm redline and makes power all along the way.
Unlike many of its contemporary rivals, Honda eschewed the idea of all-wheel drive. This is, by a big margin, the most powerful front-wheel car in the hot-hatch world, so you’d expect epic torque steer. There’s virtually none. Honda credits this to what they call a dual-axis front strut system. In basic terms, the hub has additional ball joints to separate the steering from the drive, which mean motions from the steering system play a significantly smaller role in how drive torque gets to the wheel. And, with a multilink setup in back, the Type R, like all Civics, has a fully independent suspension. This one, however, uses much stiffer springs and thicker stabilizer bars, and incorporates an aluminum front knuckle and A-arm. That combines with an adaptable damper system to keep tight control of body motion.
Stopping power comes courtesy of four-piston Brembo calipers clamping on 13.8-inch vented and cross-drilled rotors in front. More importantly, two of the several air inlets are for brake cooling ducts. In back, more standard but plenty capable single-piston calipers clamp on 12-inch solid rotors. Twenty-inch wheels with a black finish and red pinstripe around the edge hold 245/30R-20 Continental SportContact 6 tires. A lot of attention was paid to mitigating the limitations of front-wheel drive, and software also steps in to help. Called Agile Handling Assist, the system applies the inside brake while cornering to prevent understeer.
The Type R’s trick torque-steer-killing dual-axis strut is on the left, a standard civic strut is on the right.
It works. It all works. The first moment behind the wheel of the Type R came at a racetrack. From the factory, Honda built a car capable of setting a new record lap at the Nurburgring for front-wheel-drive cars, which makes most other tracks cake. The seats, wheel placement, everything is appropriate for lapping. The car, with its sticky rubber and fancy suspension, grips the road tenaciously, yet, even with just a lap belt, I didn’t move inside. This is the first road car I’ve driven that didn’t leave me wanting for a race seat.
Upon corner entry, Agile Handling Assist works well to help rotate the car with less steering input, mitigating understeer. Yet, all you feel is crisp response. Beautiful. It’s all hardware on corner exit as a standard helical limited-slip diff keeps power distributed, leaving the driver free to mat the gas. Another track-friendly feature is the three-way adaptable shocks. They’re part of the adjustments made between the comfort, sport and +R driving modes. +R has the tightest dampers, heaviest steering, quickest throttle and most out-of-the-way stability and traction control. Brakes: no fade, no worries. Pedal modulation is linear. Everything works in concert to offer a cohesive, satisfying driving experience. Honda built a factory track car that just happens to be street legal.
Then, switch the Type R into comfort and drive home. It’s here you first think of the word “compromise.” Honda included plenty of luxuries to use on the road: a 7-inch display audio, navigation and information screen; two-zone climate control; a lower and upper center console shelf with a power and USB port; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability; and two deep cup holders. But clearly, priority one was to build a track car. Even in comfort, the dampers hold tight, so bumps in the road are felt and can jostle the car around occasionally. And Agile Handling Assist, while brilliant on the racetrack, makes initial turn-in during spirited driving unnaturally quick. I imagine my 21-year-old self would find it perfect. It’s good. Very good. Just harder-edged than expected.
The Civic Type R costs $34,775. You choose among five colors (white, red, gray, black or blue); everything else is standard. No automatics or luxury packages — it’s a purebred driver’s car, take it or leave it. And it’s the only super-hot hatch without all-wheel drive. Both the Volkswagen Golf R and the Focus RS send power all around –and take a weight penalty for it. The Type R weighs just over 3,100 pounds, 200 and 300 less than the Golf and Focus, respectively. You can argue about rally prowess, inclement-weather capability and dragstrip performance, but there’s no denying weight is the enemy of track performance. The Type R also costs less.
This is the first time Honda will sell the Civic Type R in the U.S. But it comes with 20 years of experience from Europe and a lap-record set at the Nurburgring. True-grit track rats may demand rear-wheel drive, but even they will have to tip their helmets. The Type R is a legit track car. It just happens to seat four and have nearly 26 cubic feet of storage in back.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $34,775
As Tested Price: $34,775
Drivetrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4; FWD, six-speed manual
Output: 306 hp at 6,500 rpm; 295 lb-ft from 2,500-4,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,117 lb
Fuel Economy: 22/28/25 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Fantastic on the track, with fantastic seats
Cons: A little hard-edged for a bumpy commute
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