The Honda Civic Type R Is the Rip-Roaring Pocket Rocket That’s the Most Fun You Can Have for Under $35K
This little beast is finally coming to the States.
Differences in markets and regulations are forever causing some cool rides that set the world aflame to be unavailable in the U.S., leaving fans to learn about them online and drive them virtually in racing games.
This was the way of the Subaru WRX, the Nissan GT-R and the Honda Civic Type R, and now the Type R is finally joining the others as a U.S. model you can buy.
The closest we’ve come is the Civic-based Acura Integra Type R that debuted back in 1994, a high-winged, Competition White-only model. But since that time, Honda has denied us Civic Type Rs in America.
Until now. In the Honda fanboys can finally have the car of their dreams and all the rest of us gain a worthy addition to the Ford Focus ST/RS, Subaru WRX/STI, Volkswagen GTI/Golf R milieu.
This new 306-horsepower 2017 edition of the Type R trumpeted its capability by smashing the front-drive lap record at the Nurburgring with a time of 7:43.80.
What we have here is a turbocharged front-drive bottle rocket capable of both taming tracks and comfortably cruising the street, with none of the typical shortcomings that have made turbocharging and front-drive a notorious combination.
Electronically adjustable active shock absorbers give the Type R appropriately crisp, accurate handling response for the track when set to “+R” mode, and then let it switch to a pothole-tolerant setting when the car is in “Comfort” mode. This range of capability is an impressive accomplishment, considering that the Type R rides on springs and anti sway bars that are as much as 200 percent stiffer than those on the base model.
Honda’s engineering wizards applied a sophisticated front strut suspension design (seen previously as General Motors’ HiPer strut and Ford’s RevoKnuckle) that corrals front-drivers tendency to let the engine’s power also yank the steering wheel. That disagreeable torque steer common to high-performance front drivers is thankfully absent in the Type R, letting you point the car where you want it to go, even with the gas pedal matted.
And turbo motors’ inclination to stumble out of the gate and then hit with the full force of their boosted power is also largely tamed. In the case of the Type R there is not so much turbo lag as the exponential increase in power that naturally results from increasing revs and turbo boost.
Similarly, while there is no torque steer, that increased power channeling through the front tires inevitably consumes the available traction, leaving less for the front Continental SportContact tires to turn the car. Understeer is the result, as the Type R’s helm becomes vague, with the front tires sliding instead of turning the car until you ease off the loud pedal.
The Type R’s 2.0-liter turbo motor is less lyrical than naturally aspirated Honda performance engines have been, due to the turbo’s muffling effect on the exhaust and the engine’s lower 6,500 rpm redline. It sounds good, but the intoxicating effects of earlier engines’ sound is gone. Consider the note an excellent soft drink to the beer of naturally aspirated Honda hot rods.
The car’s six-speed manual shifter is also very good, but maybe not quite as slick as some other Honda shifters have been. But with the Type R’s automatic rev matching on downshifts, you’ll never notice.
Other examples of rev matching, like that on the Nissan 370Z, are prone to over revving the engine on the downshifts, slightly upsetting the car’s balance at inopportune times. Honda’s rev matching is the best we’ve seen yet, goosing the throttle just the right amount to keep the car rolling smoothly.
The Type R’s styling is going to be an issue for some potential shoppers. Probably the younger the buyer, the better its busy, cluttered styling will play. With the squared off-fender flares and high rear wing, the Type R will remind many of these shoppers of the Subaru they’re also considering.
The question will be “Which Subaru?” The $33,900 Type R is front drive, but it packs more power and a bigger price tag than front-drive alternatives like the WRX, Focus ST and VW GTI. It costs less than the Subaru STI, Focus RS and VW Golf R, but it also lacks those cars’ all-wheel-drive.
It will make choosing a highly personal choice, as buyers balance each car’s attributes against the others. The Civic Type R’s predictable, driver-flattering handling will weigh heavily in its favor during test drives. Plus, it has that red Honda “H” badge, which everyone knows is worth a few extra miles per hour.