Car reviews - Honda - Civic - Type R
Brilliant mix of stunning athleticism with daily usability and practicality, one of the best manual shifts on the market right now, heaps of safety and driver assistance tech, smooth, tractable engine is also surprisingly fuel-efficient
Room for improvement
Feels too tame and benign to be truly exciting, droning exhaust note can be annoyingly boomy
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4 Dec 2017
THE Honda Civic Type R is famed for its outlandish, hardcore looks and for being the fastest front-drive car around the Nurburgring Nordschleife. So its performance credentials were never in doubt when we were handed the keys.
What we never expected was just how practical, comfortable and easy to drive the Type R would be. Looks really can be deceiving.
Further surprises emerged when we drove it as Honda’s engineers intended, too.
Read on to find out why.
Price and equipment
There is only one Civic Type R variant and it costs $50,990 plus on-road costs, with the only option being premium paint at $575. This levy applies to our car’s Championship White, along with Crystal Black, Brilliant Sport Blue and Sonic Grey. Rally Red is the only no-cost paint option.
Weighing just 1393kg, the Type R has understandably foregone some of the standard equipment that is lavished on the VTi-LX that formerly served as range flagship and costs $17,400 less.
Like the VTi-LX, the Type R has a 7.0-inch touchscreen providing vision from the LaneWatch blindspot and reversing cameras (the latter with animated guidance lines), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, DAB+ digital radio (plus AM/FM tuner), Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB audio input.
This go-fast Civic, however, does without the 452-watt 10-speaker audio system, satellite navigation, eight-way electric driver’s seat adjustment and front seat heaters.
Rather than leather upholstery of a VTi-LX, the Type R has a pair of bespoke manually adjustable sports bucket seats trimmed in a grippy, bright red suede-like fabric that is complemented by red accents around the cabin such as on the steering wheel, dashboard, gear lever boot and carpets. But the rear seats are plain black cloth.
Presumably to save further weight, Honda also binned the rear-central seating position, so while there is still a full-width bench in the back, the car has only four seatbelts.
But Honda’s Sensing suite of safety and driver assistance technologies is present and correct, comprising lane departure warning, with lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking.
Clearly, most of the $17,400 price increase over a VTi-LX, plus the cost savings from lower equipment levels, have been spent on making this car go fast.
Headlining all that is the 2.0-litre turbo engine that is exclusively paired with a six-speed manual transmission. This is the only manual Civic in the range and there is no automatic option.
We’ll discuss this powerhouse in more detail later, but for a little perspective the Type R is as powerful as the combined outputs of a base-spec Civic VTi and a top-spec VTI-LX.
Helping put all the additional grunt to the ground, reduce torque steer and maximise front-end traction is a helical limited-slip differential, along with a unique dual axis front suspension system featuring steering knuckles and lower control arms made from aluminium rather than steel.
As well as an electrically assisted power steering system that uses two pinions and a variable gear ratio there is adaptive dampers with three firmness settings as part of the Type R’s uprated suspension setup that has received spring, damper and bushing adjustments all round compared with the long-awaited but short-lived ninth-generation version that never made it to Australia.
Then there is the comprehensive aerodynamic package that may look over-the-top but Honda swears blind is absolutely functional, including the massive rear wing, roof-mounted row of vortex generators, bonnet scoop, front splitter, side skirts and rear diffuser. The latter three items are finished in faux carbon-fibre, while hidden from sight is the flattened underbody.
Finishing off the effect are black 20-inch wheels with red pinstriping, shod with 245/30 Continental SportContact 6 tyres, while stopping is handled by 350mm ventilated and drilled discs with four-piston Brembo callipers, while the rear wheels make do with 305mm solid discs and twin-piston callipers.
So that’s where they spent the money, and to us it sounds like a pretty potent recipe.
The Type R cabin has lots of the red trim, as has long been the convention for performance variants of everyday cars.
In addition to the crimson faux suede sports front seats with hard backs made from faux carbon-fibre are red seatbelts, some cheesy looking red leather on the lower half of the steering wheel to go with the red contrast steering wheel on the upper half, metallic red piping along faux carbon-fibre trim strips, more red stitching on the faux suede central armrest, and yet more on the plain black cloth of the two-seater rear bench.
Apart from all the red, the lack of a central seating position in the rear and a few custom details on the excellent digital instrument panel, the greatest difference in the Type R cabin is the presence of a manual gear lever and clutch pedal.
Beside the manual shifter is a new rocker switch for selecting from the three driving modes: Comfort, Sport and +R. The car defaults to Sport every time it is started, which is a bit annoying if most journeys are a commute.
And the Type R is a performance hatch that can do the commute better than most.
As we will cover later, its beautiful manual shift and light, smooth clutch pedal are easier to use than some automatics and the suspension setting in Comfort mode lives up to its description.
For all their purposeful appearance, the big red bucket seats up front are sublimely comfortable, with soft side bolsters that hold occupants firmly enough for the hard cornering this car is designed for without feeling intrusive or rib-and-hip crushingly tight as is the case in some performance models.
Oddly, the Civic’s usual low-slung seating position is prevented by these seats and we found ourselves attempting in vain to lower them on a couple of occasions. It helped with forward visibility but perhaps hampered the feel of sportiness a little.
But little of the brilliant Civic hatch practicality has been lost in the conversion to Type R tarmac shredder. Unless, of course, you need three rear seats.
And despite the fact Honda could have used the central position deletion to save further weight by installing a solid rear bench, it still has a 60:40 split-fold function to expand the already big 410-litre boot.
In terms of everyday liveability, the Type R really shines. For example, we did lot of travel with three adults and an infant on-board, for both motorway trips and around the suburbs. No worries at all.
Even installing a child seat is easy. In fact, the thin rear seat fabric of the Type R means the Isofix anchorages are easier to access than in the leather-clad VTi-LX.
However, the bulkier sports front seats with their unyielding plastic backs reduce the room for a rear-facing infant capsule slightly, forcing the occupant in front of them to slide their seat further forwards than in a standard Civic hatch.
Cabin noise levels are understandably higher than a normal Civic, but considering the huge 20-inch wheels with 245mm-wide tyres and their liquorice-strip 30-section sidewalls, road noise is still acceptable. The boomy exhaust note gets a bit much, especially on the motorway, but overall the additional Type R noise is more minor irritation than intolerable.
Although we missed the inclusion of native sat-nav in the otherwise excellent touchscreen, almost everything we like about the Civic hatch interior in terms of materials quality, layout, storage and usability is present on the Type R.
The inclusion of adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist simply adds to the daily-driver appeal of this hyper hatch.
Downsides over the standard Civic hatch include the Type R’s big rear wing extending the big C-pillar blind spot and the harder ride in Comfort and +R modes uncovering a few cabin rattles on poor surfaces.
And of course the Civic’s swoopy shape compromises rear headroom, but at least the Type R lacks a sunroof, so it wasn’t as bad in here as some variants.
Engine and transmission
Under the Civic Type R bonnet, with its Subaru WRX-style functional air scoop, beats a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine developing 228W of power at 6500rpm and 400Nm of torque between 2500 and 4500rpm.
These outputs are similar to a WRX STI, which displaces an extra half-litre over the Civic, and against which it produces 7kW less at 6000rpm and 7Nm more at 4000rpm.
Both cars have similarly wild exterior styling and seem to compete on the size of their rear wings. But the engines and transmissions are otherwise chalk and cheese.
The Subaru is boosty and laggy, with a difficult clutch and a gearshift that is heavy and notchy. The Civic is delightfully tractable and amazingly smooth, with the slickest, most satisfying and most positive manual gear change you can get without spending six digits.
We’re not saying the Type R powerplant is linear, oh no, it is a surprisingly characterful unit except for the boomy, droning and generally uninspiring noises it makes.
Unlike a Golf R or Focus RS that will pin occupants into their seats from low revs, the Type R does take a moment to really get going. But it rarely falls into a low-rev torque hole and has a beautifully docile character when pootling around town – aided by the perfectly weighted, smooth and cooperative clutch pedal action – but you certainly feel the turbo coming on strong as it approaches 3000rpm.
And little can prepare you for the way the Type R tacho needle whips around the gauge between 5000rpm and its 7000rpm limiter. Yes, VTEC does kick in (yo), except redline is 2000rpm lower than Honda’s best naturally aspirated screamers.
In this upper rev range, at full throttle under load, the manic, hard-edged and violent ripping noise emanating from the trio of exhaust tips sounds as though the Type R is tearing apart the very fabric of space and time. It’s so angry sounding and the accompanying surge of acceleration makes you want to visit this end of the tacho again and again. Like the quality of the gear change, it’s an experience unrivalled without spending big, big money.
But it’s all too brief in first and second gear. In third, well, you’d better be on an unrestricted road in the Northern Territory. Elsewhere, vastly illegal numbers arrive on the digital speedo faster than you can say, “how can I help you Officer”.
Coming back down the gears, the Type R automatically blips the throttle so you can concentrate on braking rather than trying to be a heel-and-toe hero.
Purists might scoff, but it works well and forms part of the Type R’s impressive accessibility. Turn off the auto-blip if you insist.
Other than the VTEC-related histrionics, some interesting sounds are produced when driving the Civic Type R hard. The turbo can be heard huffing and chuffing, as expected, but the Darth Vader noises coming from behind the dash were a surprise.
We could only put it down to the air-conditioning being shut down to reduce drag on the engine under heavy throttle applications, then being reinstated with a whoosh as we lifted off to brake for a corner – or avoid a date with the Magistrate.
But under general driving and when not pinning the throttle through the upper reaches of the rev range, the Type R fails to make any evocative sounds whatsoever. It grumbles quite nicely a bit on start-up but sounds flat, with regular journeys accompanied by a boomy drone that can be wearing on the nerves.
That’s the only downside. The Type R has to be the most user-friendly manual car to drive around town bar none. It has to be experienced to be believed.
Apologies for the plain language here, but it’s just nice to drive.
And fuel-efficient, too. The average fuel consumption rating of 8.8 litres per 100 kilometres is easily achievable. In fact, we got 8.7L/100km over 315km of mixed driving. On the motorway we bettered the official 7.1L/100km by some margin and even schlepping through suburbia and conducting our dynamic fast-road test resulted in a respectable 13.1L/100km (official urban consumption is 11.1L/100km).
Simply staggering numbers for a car that is so very, very fast – and feels it too.
Ride and handling
Consistent with the everyday-usable drivetrain and practical cabin, the Civic Type R rides beautifully. Slackening off the dampers by selecting Comfort mode also makes the steering light and the throttle a little less responsive. In this mode it feels very natural to drive, with a little body-roll that is almost entirely absent in Sport or +R modes.
There is a slight mismatch between the damping and spring rates in Comfort mode, occasionally causing the rear of the car to bounce along following a ridge or bump in the road, but this occurs rarely enough for us to deem it an acceptable compromise.
For some reason the Type R defaults to Sport mode every time the engine is started, but we don’t really mind the slightly more nuggety ride when using this setting, even around town where there is still a decent level of compliance despite the almost complete lack of body movement making the Civic feel rather go-kartish at low speeds. Only the heavier steering prompts us to switch back to Comfort.
So far so good.
But apart from marvelling the speeds it can achieve and the sheer capability of this front-drive hyper hatch to put its prodigious power down, when we headed out to the twisty country lanes of our dynamic test there was little to leave us sweaty palmed and buzzing.
The Civic Type R feels aloof and a bit vague when driven with vigour. Perhaps we’re being unfair, but we were not expecting such a lack of involvement at legal, responsible public road speeds. It’s just a bit tame.
On the other hand, from the car’s looks, Nurburgring lap record and on-paper performance we were not expecting it to feel so accessible and unintimidating either.
It starts with the fantastic forward visibility, inherited from the standard Civic. In fact, the slightly higher driving position than the standard car probably aids this as it prevents the temptation to peer over the dash from a low-slung seat.
The steering is an odd one. At no point were we unsure as to whether the Type R would go where we pointed it and even in some soaking we conditions we were constantly aware of grip levels – prodigious regardless of rain – but there was a dimension of excitement missing, as if the experience was digital rather than analogue.
It’s a shame, because the steering is beautifully progressive and supremely accurate. It feels natural enough but never alive in your hands.
Clearly, with such high limits, wet or dry, the Type R doesn’t approach its envelope of interaction on the public road. We can’t even provoke it with daring mid-corner lifts that would elicit a bit of rotation from most hot and hyper hatches on the market. The Type R simply sticks to its line regardless.
The same applies to poor corner surfaces, where the hot Civic stays resolutely on our chosen line. Steadfast and composed, it is at least as impressive as an Audi S4 costing twice as much when faced with the variously pockmarked, ridged and rippled twists and turns we threw it at.
And the Type R can channel its frankly excessive power and torque through the front axle that has to do all the steering and most of the braking as well, with breathtakingly little fuss.
Build up some revs, sidestep the clutch and the Type R will scrabble for traction a little – and we mean a little – before sorting itself out and rocketing up the road. Torque steer? We were braced for it, but experienced little, even in the wet or on split-traction surfaces. Amazing.
The way the front diff tames everything is nothing short of miraculous. It’s also incredibly satisfying to feel it pulling the Type R’s nose through a corner, tightening the line with an extra squeeze of the throttle being a particularly rewarding and addictive experience.
Quite literally attempting to unstick the setup, we executed a brisk standing start with an immediate right turn from a traffic light junction to a motorway on-ramp, in the wet. The Type R just hauled itself through with minimal fuss as though someone had hidden an all-wheel-drive system underneath.
There’s axle tramp, sometimes quite violent. For example, accelerating hard across a single-lane bridge, the tiny gap where its concrete surface meets the bitumen of the road results in one hell of a wallop that shakes the entire car and has us wincing in case the windscreen implodes. We’re not exaggerating, but it’s to be expected that with this much ability, something has to give.
In addition to the trick front diff, the Honda’s sublime traction and stability control calibration no doubt helped. We were never aware through our hands or the seat of our pants that it was working, but occasionally the flicker of a yellow dashboard light in our peripheral vision told us it was working behind the scenes.
The most we ever felt its interventions was more like a gentle guiding hand pushing the little Civic along toward our intended path than the intrusive and fun-killing engine cut or heavy brake applications experienced in the majority of vehicles. Again, it was as good as systems in cars costing far more than this.
Finally the brakes. The big Brembo callipers and drilled front rotors look the part and certainly deliver. On our test vehicle they squeak like hell at low speeds but out on the open road they provide mighty deceleration and even on drenched surfaces the big 20-inch Continental tyres just dig in and haul us up with little fuss and maximum confidence. The Type R tracks straight and true when we slam on the anchors.
Pedal feel is up there with some of the best, they are easy to modulate, never feel grabby and are clearly up for plenty of punishment.
But overall, driving the Type R hard reminds us of the oddly unsatisfying feel of fishing on a day when every cast quickly results in a bite.
Safety and servicing
The Civic hatchback’s five-star ANCAP crash-test safety rating does not apply to the Type R, which remains unrated.
For reference, the five-star rated Civic hatch got an overall score of 34.68 out of 37, comprising 14.75 out of 16 for the frontal offset test, 14.93 out of 16 in the side test and a maximum 2 out of 2 in the pole test. Whiplash and pedestrian protection were both deemed ‘good’.
Standard safety equipment includes dual frontal, side and full-length curtain airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, electric park brake with auto-hold and hill-start assist, an anti-theft alarm, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, with electronic brake-force distribution and hazard light activation under hard braking.
At the time of writing, the Type R and VTi-LX were the only Civic variants to come with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning (FCW), lane-keeping assistance with lane-departure warning and road departure mitigation.
In 2017 Honda Australia announced a range-wide warranty upgrade from three years and 100,000 kilometres to five years and unlimited kilometres, unless you are a fleet or commercial operator in which case it is capped at 140,000km. The company also introduced a short-term seven-year warranty offer for selected models, but the Type R was not one of them.
There is still a six-year rust perforation and three-year paint warranty, but roadside assistance remains a cost-option upgrade.
Maintenance intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km. Under Honda’s capped price servicing program, the first 10 visits cost $307 each – not much more than a standard Civic hatch – with the caveat that replacement brake fluid, cabin filter, air cleaner, fuel filter and spark plugs are not included and cost between $45 and $499 depending on the vehicle’s age and kilometres covered.
We loved so many things about the Civic Type R and it kept surprising us the more we drove it – mostly positively.
If you can cop a manual, this is one of the very best out there. We found it more enjoyable to drive around town than a number of automatics – it’s that good – so don’t overlook the Type R on the account of its three pedals and a stick.
Most of all, in addition to being a delightful daily driver, this absolute weapon of a car is supremely practical, comfortable and spacious. In this sense, it belies its looks like almost nothing else on the road.
The engine is an absolute marvel, it’s just a shame Honda couldn’t make it sound better without having to rev it out. The performance it delivers without excessive thirst is modern technology at its best.
More technological marvels include the way Honda has managed to channel so much power and torque through the Civic’s front wheels without creating a mess of torque steer and compromised traction.
Then there is the no-compromise suspension setup that combines commuting compliance with ultimate control when speeds get high and the roads twisty, at the flick of a switch.
It’s such a complete, well-engineered and well-executed package and deeply, deeply impressive in the way it can cover ground supremely quickly.
But, the ultimate fun factor through corners is sadly missing. It seems bewildering that this could be so given the Type R’s many talents.
It is simply too good for its own good.
For many, that will be a small price to pay for the practicality, usability and accessibility of a car with such extreme performance.
Count us in.
Volkswagen Golf R from $47,490 plus on-road costsThe Civic Type R is so unexpectedly good as a daily driver that it threatens the original performance all-rounder from Volkswagen. However the Golf R’s Q-car subtlety stays classy. And the new sharply priced Golf R Grid edition means it’s possible to go faster for less cash.
Ford Focus RS from $50,990 plus on-road costsLike the Type R the Focus RS is manual only, but in addition to being significantly more powerful, this all-wheel-drive technological powerhouse has many more tricks up its sleeve than the Type R and almost otherworldly levels of capability. Costing the same as a Civic, it seems like a bargain but you’d never daily the RS like you could a Type R.
Subaru WRX STI from $50,890 plus on-road costs Bonnet scoop, big wing, practicality and almost identical peak power and torque figures aside, the Type R and STI couldn’t be more different. Where the Subaru lacks the Civic’s ease of use it is far more fun and charismatic. But you’d be a masochist to try using a WRX STI for your daily drive.
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