By now, we all know the 2017 Honda Civic Type R is stupidly fast, laps the Nürburgring quicker than some Porsches, is abnormally ugly, and is finally sold on our market. It’s true, the car is absolutely solid, and I could sum up my review of the mega Japanese hatch in a single sentence: this is the best performance car I’ve driven so far.
Actually, I did. The week I had the Type R, I had written that as a Facebook status. Several of my colleagues still mock me for blurting out such a ridiculous claim. But it’s true. I’ve driven a Dodge Hellcat on a damp racetrack, AMG’s through many esses, stormed an Aston Martin DB11 through the Eastern Townships, and I drive a different car each week. Nothing, and I mean nothing even comes close to the 2017 Honda Civic Type R. Here’s why.
Before I go on explaining why the Civic Type R impressed me so much, allow me to waste a bit of internet ink ranting about the way this car looks. Because yes, I too have my opinion on its rad styling. I’ll say this: the car looks much better in person. Not because the styling grows on you, because, I’m sorry, there’s absolutely nothing that makes sense about the way the car’s maw was drawn, and none of it will age well. No, the Type R looks cool because it truly resembles a race car for the road. It’s low, wide, has many wings, lots of exhaust, and enough air intakes to clean up an entire park at one stab of the throttle. The brakes are also huge.But the car is and appears enormous, like some sort of cartoonish exaggeration of what a car should be, and from the side profile, with its tiny wheels (which are actually huge at 20 inches) this racy Civic resembles some weird crossover thing, a bit like a Pontiac Aztek, or even The Homer. And I’m sorry, but the rear wheel arches that suddenly stop to give way to the rear door openings are, funny? – Honda, really? I’m sorry, I can’t say this is a good looking car.
Meanwhile, the Volkswagen Golf R looks like a little Audi.
Just Shut Up And Drive It
But! And that’s a “but” with a capital B, once you slide inside the sumptuously enveloping Recaro seats, and rest your hand on the slick-shifting ball shifter, you forget all of that. The immediate difference between this and a regular Civic inside, is an abundance of red; the seats, the door inserts, the gauges, they’re all covered with it. There’s a Type R badge with a serial number sitting next to the gear lever reminding you you’re sitting inside something special. Mine was number 24.
There’s also a switch located to the right of that badge, again, adorned with a red R. Flipping it cycles through three available drive modes: Comfort, Sport, and R, each firming up the adjustable dampers, hardening the electric power steering and recalibrating the engine’s mapping. R also adds on more red in the gauge cluster. Subtlety is not something the Civic Type R cares about.Once you’ve fired up the car through, again, a red engine start button, it’s all but too civilized. No growling exhaust notes here, or cool throttle blips upon startup. I walked outside to make sure I was driving the right car. Yup, the wing was still there, but the engine, well it sounded more like a Honda, which means not particularly exciting. Just a subtle exhaust vibration and a few valves clacking in clockwork-perfect precision – clicket clicket clicket . Pfff, a race car for the road my ass…
Not Your Mom’s Honda Fit
That little mill may sound like your dear mother’s japanese sub-compact when on idle, but it’s arguably the most hardcore engine Honda has ever put inside one of its road cars. It’s also exclusive (for now) to the Civic Type R. At 2.0 liters of displacement, and with direct injection, dual overhead cams, VTEC, and a turbocharger, Honda’s latest Earth Dreams engine is rated at 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Yes, the Type R is front-wheel-drive, and yes, those wheels are bolted onto a six-speed manual. Actually, the stick is the only way to go in the R. And the car gets a limited-slip differential and a state-of-the art dual axis front strut suspension system to prevent torque steer.When you gun the throttle from a standstill, the steering wheel remains as straight as a Republican bible salesman. There’s no torque steer. Not, “a bit, but it’s ok” No, there’s none.The engine, while relatively lame sounding, except for a few turbo chirps, kicks off low in the rev range with a brisk urge of low-end turbo boost. The revs climb. Because yes, this thing revs. VTEC kicks in, but not in the high-pitch switch-over mechanical wail manner we grew up hearing, but rather in an extra wave of thrust that seems to have just tag teamed the turbo in a battle royal wrestling match.
At that point the rush of power is intense, visceral, and the car is moving fast. The F1-inspired shift lights in the gauge cluster start blinking. The RPM gauge approaches its 7,000 rpm redline, it’s time to shift. Clutch in – boy that clutch is light – grab another gear – snick click, and repeat. The 2017 Civic Type R is Honda engineering at its best.
While past performance Honda’s raised the hair on your back from the wails and screams emitted by their naturally aspirated engines, this new Civic Type R excites by its sheer effectiveness. It’s not a good sounding engine. But it gets the job done, and the entire experience is easy, simple, and comfortable.
Where the Civic Type R truly impresses, is in the way the car enters a corner. Sure, you could count on the traditional hot hatchback ingredients to make it through: oversized brakes, a stiffened suspension, performance tires. It’s got all that. But the Civic Type R is not a compact car with go-fast goodies glued onto it. It’s an actual race car for the road. Which means each air intake, outlet, and wing you see on its grotesque body are real, and have actual purpose. See that hood scoop? That’s not to cool down the engine (well yeah, a bit), but rather to channel air on each side of the aluminium hood and down through each fender to stabilize the car at high speed. The result? Enter a corner hard and fast, and I mean fast, and the R just eats it up. Suddenly, your confidence reaches super human levels. Give it throttle in the bend, and no, the car does not plow forward because of its “fail-wheel-drive” configuration, but rather tucks inwards, feeling strangely like a rear-wheel-drive car. The chassis is balanced. The drivetrain is harmonious. The car begs you to push harder. And the entire experience is addictive.And suddenly, you realize you’re going way too fast in a machine that exhibits performance way too discretely. The Civic Type R was engineered to be as effective as possible around a track, no matter the driver, no matter the road. All while carrying four bros and a couple of hockey bags in the trunk. This car is the best possible interpretation of a hot hatchback.Once you’re done ripping away on highway offramps or carving apexes on the track, just switch the car to Comfort mode, and you’re back in a Honda Civic. The cabin is quiet. The seating position is impeccable. The car is fuel efficient (7,5L/100 km average) and the infotainment system still doesn’t have a volume knob.
People keep ranting about the fact that in the every day world, you can’t live with a Civic Type R, that the Golf R is a better daily driver. Wrong. It’s quiet, civilized, easy to drive and park. The 2017 Honda Civic Type R is everything you want it to be. It’s more affordable than the other hot hatchbacks it faces (40 990$). It’s more competent on a race track even if it’s front-wheel-drive. It hauls people and cargo. And it gobbles up corners like a road-legal touring car. If you ask me, that’s the best performance formula you can find. As long as you don’t mind being seen driving it.
Review of the 2017 Honda Civic Type R by William Clavey
- There aren’t many road cars that handle as well as this one.
- Easy to live with and comfortable.
- Questionable exterior design.
- Engine lacks sound and soul.
- Unintuitive infotainment system.
9.5 / 10
Special thanks: Honda Canada
Photography: Guillaume Fournier-Viau
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