After reviewing the entry-level and middle-ranked Honda Civics, it’s only fair to extend the same courtesy to the apogee of all things Civic—the $37,495 Type-R. It takes the starfighter styling and turns the dial all the way, adding spoilers and wings and vents and scoops. Underneath all those aerodynamic appendages, the mechanical bits have been similarly stimulated, taking friction out here and quickening response times there. It’s Honda’s idea of the world’s best hot hatch, and after a week in the brightly colored, heavily bolstered driver’s seat, I’m inclined to agree.
I didn’t need long behind the wheel before I started kicking myself for waiting until 2020 to make friends with the Type-R. It’s had a few tweaks here and there since Jim Resnick drove it in 2018. The front grille admits more air, and an uprated radiator core makes use of that to reduce coolant temperatures by up to 10˚C. The bigger grille opening led Honda to reprofile one of the two front spoilers to balance out the aerodynamics, a change you’re unlikely to notice unless you take it off the car and look carefully.
There are some stiffer suspension bushings here and there, and the adaptive dampers react 10 times faster than they used to. The front brakes are now two-piece items, so they weigh less and are more resistant to fade. At its core, the Type-R is still a Civic, so it benefited from the same midlife refresh as its cheaper, more numerous siblings—new front and rear bumpers, better infotainment, and a full suite of advanced driver-assistance systems.
New colors, but you should still pick Championship White
And there are some new colors—the bright Boost Blue you see in some of the photos was introduced for model year 2020, and for MY2021 there’s a great-looking Phoenix Yellow available on the $43,995 Type-R Limited Edition. (Our test car was Rallye Red, and I still think the correct shade for a Type-R is and always has been Championship White.)
Otherwise, the new Type-R is much the same as a couple of years ago: a 306hp (228kW), 295lb-ft (400Nm) four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox, a helical limited-slip differential, and a suspension design and setup that’s unique to the line. In days of old, the power plant of a Type-R Honda would be a highly tuned, naturally aspirated engine with a redline at 8,000 or even 9,000rpm. Today’s turbocharged engine is more emissions-friendly but much less mellifluous. The car does have the distinction of having three exhaust pipes for a total of four cylinders, which confuses me the way the three-pipe, eight-cylinder Ferrari F40 confuses me.
The Type-R is a little bit more of a pain to climb into and out of, thanks to the big wings on the seats, and it’s a lot more garish. But once you’re seated in that deep bucket, there’s no denying it’s a wonderfully supportive and comfortable place to be. The main touchpoints for the driver stand out from lesser Civics, though—the wheel is wrapped in fuzzy Alcantara, the shifter in solid aluminum, and the three pedals in drilled metal.
The clutch is light and easy to modulate, the throw of the gear lever is short, and there’s an auto-blipping function that matches the engine revs when you downshift. Should you need to, you can soft-shoe the Type-R around town like a normal Civic—just shift up at 3,000rpm all the time.
You’ll see many more sunrises if you drive one
But if you wanted a normal Civic, you should have bought one. You should buy a Type-R because you are enthusiastic about driving, and that’s because there are few cars on sale today that reward you the way a Civic Type-R can. Even fewer when you consider how accessible it is, both in terms of price and performance.
The Type-R likes to corner, you see. Perhaps that’s underselling it. Saying “the Type-R exists to corner” might be more accurate, and it revels in the process. It starts with the initial turn-in, which happens as immediately as you turn the wheel, without even a hint of slack. There’s no hint of understeer either—just prodigious grip no matter the corner’s radius. You turn, the car goes. Corner exits are pretty good, too, thanks to that limited-slip differential that allows you to really drive out as you apply the power. All the while, you’re snug in that brightly colored bucket seat, feeling one with the car.
That sensation is addictive and is best illustrated by the following: the Civic Type-R is one of those rare cars that got me to leave the house at 4am to drive out to the hills of Shenandoah—the nearest set of truly twisty roads—at a time when traffic would be at a minimum. And then again the next day. The second time, I didn’t even need to set an alarm clock to wake me.
It’s not a car for everyone. Some of you will look at the 25mpg combined (9/4l/100km) and recoil. Others will shrink like violets from the wing-festooned exterior, which is as unsubtle as a supercar, yet somehow more uncouth because it doesn’t cost as much as a house. But you can’t buy a Ford Focus RS anymore, and honestly the Type-R is more fun to drive than one of those or a Volkswagen Golf R. So if you consider driving fun of the utmost importance, you should try a Type-R. I’m pretty sure you’ll thank me.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin