“What’s the big deal about this car? It looks fast even when parked because of that crazy big wing”, says my neighbour, owner of a fully-loaded 2016 Honda Accord V6 Touring. He’s someone whom I’d like to think of as an example of the typical bread-and-butter Canadian Honda customer.
There are Honda Civic fans and then there are JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) Honda Civic Type R fans. The Civic Type R has actually been around since 1997, originally based on the 6th generation Civic known as the EK9.
Previous Type R’s were not available in North America, and the very first Civic Type R had a lot of bespoke go-fast bits such as a hand-ported engine, front limited slip differential, and a close ratio gearbox. The engine, known as the B16B, boasted one of the highest ratios of power output per litre at the time. The chassis was also different with the monocoque being strategically seam welded to improve chassis rigidity.
To make it extra special, red accents were used inside and outside to give Civic Type R models a special sporting distinction that was separate from other Honda models.
The Civic has been the best selling car in Canada for over 20 years now. With nearly 40 per cent of the brand’s total annual sales being attributed to the model, the Civic remains a key pillar to Honda Canada’s success.
Over the course of 10 generations, the Civic has continuously evolved to meet the changing needs of Honda customers in North America and around the world and has consistently set the bar for fuel efficiency, driving performance and design innovation in an affordable compact-class vehicle.
In fact, most Civics are built by Canadians for Canadians at the Honda plant in Alliston Ontario. However, we’re not talking about “most” Civics in this review. We’re talking about the very special Civic Type R. The forbidden fruit that was denied to hardcore Canadian Honda Civic performance enthusiasts until recently.
Officially Fast and Furious
The 1990’s and early 2000’s were regarded by certain gearheads as the golden age for JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) sport cars. JDM performance cars from this era had certain mythical status. They’re thought of as rare, high-performance Japanese jewels instilled with the best of each company’s motorsports know-how.
Many kids that grew up in this era are now in their 30s and early 40s, and many worshipped the Type R, its lineage, and also its connection to the Honda brand. The older Type Rs were stripped-out machines which sacrificed most creature comforts in order to improve power-to-weight ratio.
But Honda Canada knows that this sort of lightweight vehicle cannot be made anymore in today’s climate of stringent crash regulation. Therefore, the only way to improve upon the power-to-weight ratio is to add more power. And add more power they did indeed.
The 2018 Honda Civic Type R s in fact the fastest and most powerful car the company has ever sold in North America. In fact, Honda claims that the new Type R is the fastest front-wheel-drive car around Germany’s famed Nurburgring.
Although the Type R is the heaviest model ever with a curb weight of 1,415 kg, the Type R has a unique-to-it 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 306 hp at 6,500 rpms and 295 lb-ft of torque from 2,500-4,500 rpms. Fuel economy is shockingly reasonable, officially rated at 10.6L/100 km in the city, and 8.3L on the highway.
While these are mostly lab numbers, I managed to achieve within 10-15 per cent of those figures during my time with the Type R. Not bad at all for a performance monster.
More than just mechanical tweaks
Although the Civic Type R is ultimately a four door family hatchback, it’s dressed up more like a superhero character.
Every panel bulges. It’s jagged and pointy. There is an angry-looking front grille, red Honda badges, vortex generator spokes above the rear window like Sonic the Hedgehog, and a massive rear wing. There are also not two, not four, but three centre mounted exhaust pipes.
Honda has proven that the car is not just a showboater either, as pro racing driver Christian Menzel calmly clocked in a time of 7 mins and 43 seconds round the 154 turns of the 12.3 mile Nordschleife circuit. You can actually enjoy a back-seat view of his lap by watching the footage from his onboard camera.
It’s astonishing, especially if you keep an eye on his G-Force monitor!
In order to make the Type R handle like it does, the engineers have completely overhauled the front suspension layout adding beefy anti-roll bars, aluminium knuckles and lower arms. In order to reduce torque steer, there is a dual strut design that separates the steering and suspension forces. Rounding off the package is a set of sticky bespoke Continental SportContact 6 tires and 20-inch rims. Dubs…on a factory Civic. Who would’ve thought?
Technology has also come a long way in the last 25 years since the first Civic Type R made its debut. There are three electronic drive settings that you can toggle through in order to adjust the drive dynamics on the fly: Comfort, Sport, and +R. Each selection active unique pre-set changes to steering weight, throttle response, damper valve settings, and traction and stability control.
It may be a bit nitpicky, but unfortunately there is no way to create your own custom preset similar to what the VW Golf R allows for. For example,I would’ve liked to keep the steering weight and dampers are comfort, but everything else at +R mode even during every day driving. Sport mode, which is the default mode when the car starts-up, is a bit too firm on poor roads, and the steering a bit too weighty for me in day-to-day traffic situations.
How does it drive?
Aside from testing the Civic Type R in day-to-day gridlock traffic situations, I also took the car on a longer journey down South of the border to do the famed Chuckanut Drive loop in Washington state. While far from the Nordschleife, this stretch of road is well loved by driving enthusiasts due to its twist and turns.
Overall, the Type R is a pleasure to drive even on longer road-trips. While the Continentals were a bit noisy on certain parts of I-5 (thanks to the concrete surface), the sheer amount of usable torque from the turbo engine is just fantastic. It’s eager, alive, with imperceptible turbo lag, and much less high strung than I expected.
As far as front-wheel-drive cars, this is probably as good as it gets. Unpleasant torque steer is all but eliminated and Honda has prioritized balance through the Civic Type R’s wonderful chassis tuning. There is a gigantic amount of grip, and words can’t fully describe what the Type R is like to drive.
There is only one transmission choice, unlike the VW Golf R, and it’s a good one. The short-throw six-speed manual is precise, and Honda’s typically easy and light clutch action as perfectly synchronized together, like a pair of ballet dancers. The automatic rev-matching makes downshifts perfectly lurch free every single time.
Perhaps the only performance downside is that the Type R’s mechanical soundtrack is slightly disappointingly anti-climatic. While I found this to be delightful in day-to-day traffic, even in +R mode the engine fires up with a muffled hum and the triple-pipe, centre-exit exhaust isn’t anywhere close to as loud as the exterior styling exudes. I would’ve loved for more roar in a car that looks and drives like this one, at least in Sport or +R modes.
Driver-assistance-wise, in the name of weight savings, means that the Civic Type R passes over adaptive cruise control and automated emergency braking, both of which are available on the “regular” Civic models. On the track, lighter means faster, and as such, the Type R favours ultimate performance as that’s what customers want…bragging rights to accompany proven track numbers.
Interior and Infotainment
Step into the Civic Type R’s interior and the racy red seats are impossible to miss. They’re done up in red, by the way, due to a Type R tradition. While the vibrant colour may offend some, the front seats themselves are grippy and surprisingly comfortable despite the aggressive lateral bolstering.
Like the seats, the 7.0 inch central digital gauge cluster has a red theme and a distinct appearance for each drive mode. If you’re looking for a physical turbo or VTEC gauge, you’ll be disappointed. But at least Honda offers virtual/digital alternatives for both which you can set as your default display in the multi-function display.
Infotainment system-wise, my original frustrations with the touchscreen-based system have been mostly alleviated thanks to the addition of an actual volume knob and some physical buttons. This system was one of the first on the market to support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Honda’s integrated GPS navigation system is based on the very popular and easy-to-use TomTom system.
As previously mentioned, the Type R is a practical travel companion with all of the modern conveniences and excellent ergonomics afforded by the latest generation Civic hatchback. It ties with the Subaru WRX STI for the same amount of carry-on luggage capacity. That being said, the Type R is strictly a four seater, with the centre rear seat base having been replaced by a cubby and a couple of cupholders.
Only a few years ago, it seemed unfathomable that anything close to 200 hp and front wheel drive make desperately happy bedfellows. But yet here we are exceeding 300 hp and front wheel drive thanks to some mechanical and electronic trickery.
The Civic Type R has grown up now and is equal parts reliable daily driver and Nurbergring track star. Haters may think that it’s too outlandishly styled to own, but true Honda Type R fans back it as being too fantastic to miss.
While I was perhaps not a total fan of its in-your-face styling initially, as they say it, don’t knock it until you try it. And while words cannot fully describe what the Type R is like to drive, I suggest that you definitely don’t judge this wicked winged hot hatch by its cover alone!