The Honda Civic Type R may look like just another over-the-top custom Civic, but it's an outstanding car that does more than stand out. All of those bits and pieces that make it one of the world's most effective head-turners also help turn it into a record-setting car.
The Type R is the fastest front-wheel-drive car to ever lap the 13-mile Nurburgring Nordschleife, and by a good margin. Its lap time at the benchmark track rivals that of some supercars from a decade ago. Being the most-powerful Honda brand car ever sold in the United States is one part of the equation, but if horsepower was all that it took there would've been a car like this long ago.
The Type R is powered by a 306 hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 295 lb-ft of torque. That's a lot for just the front tires to handle along with the steering, which is why competitors like the Subaru WRX STI, VW Golf R and Ford Focus RS rely on all-wheel-drive systems. But Honda says it wanted to keep the weight and price down on its $36,595 hot hatchback, so two wheels it is. It also only comes with a six-speed manual transmission and no options other than paint color. This is a very specific car for a very specific customer.
The Type R has a 2-inch wider front track than the standard Civic Hatchback and fat fenders to go with it, which allows it to wear a meaty set of 245 mm Continental Sport Contact 6 summer performance tires on 20-inch wheels. That puts plenty of rubber on the road, but making the most of it is the tricky part.
So there's an all-new suspension up front that moves the steering axis closer to the middle of the tire contact patch. This reduces the dreaded torque-steer effect that plagues high-horsepower front-wheel-drive cars and makes it feel like someone's tugging at the wheel whenever you slam on the accelerator. With that out of the way, the Type R's limited-slip differential, adaptive shocks and stability control systems can go about their business without any added distraction.
Meanwhile, the very distracting bodywork add-ons are multi-tasked with cooling the engines and brakes, reducing drag and increasing downforce on the egg-shaped Civic. There's an intake on the hood that reduces lift as it cools the engine bay at speed, then vents heat when the car is standing still waiting for another run. The front and side splitters keep air from getting under the car and creating lift as the vertical fences attached to their trailing edges direct it around the wheel openings to streamline things.
Out back, a set of vortex generators at the top of the window twist the oncoming air in just the right way to direct it over the large rear wing, which hangs about a foot over a spoiler.
The lower element is aimed at reducing drag while the high one is all about downforce. Lots of it. Its unusual shape isn't purely for pressing, though, it's also been designed to perfectly frame the rear window so it doesn't block the view. This is a Honda, after all.
A complex rear diffuser at the bottom of the car makes sure the air coming out from under it goes on its merry way in the least disruptive way possible and also houses the Type R's three central exhaust pipes. It's an odd arrangement for a four-cylinder car, but the two on the outside keep it quiet while air is directed through the center one to turn up the noise.
The Type R's manually adjusted seats are as aggressive as all the rest of its special gear, but they have a soft side. Despite the enormous side bolsters designed to hold you in place, they are wider than they look, cushy and all-day comfortable, even if you're not the size of a typical Kentucky Derby-winning rider.
And they're very red. As is the trim and accent lighting throughout the rest of the interior, which is otherwise the same as any other Civic's. On 2018 models, that includes a dreadful infotainment system that relies far too much on the touchscreen, even for the climate control. But more buttons and a volume knob are being added for 2019, which is enough to make it worth the wait. You probably won't find a discount on a leftover 2018 anyway, the Type R is in limited supply and high demand, and it lives up to the hype behind it.
The Type R isn’t just a thrill ride, but a perfectly executed one. A harmony of function and form. The handling is so clean and neutral that it’s as if you’re driving the city of Zurich. It won’t fool you into thinking its rear or all-wheel-drive, but it tracks corners perfectly. When the tires finally let go they do so in the gentlest way and give plenty of time for you to reign things in. The short-throw shifter is twice as nice to operate as one of Honda’s already excellent units and is equipped with a defeatable rev-matching function that automatically blips the throttle on downshifts, for when you’re not in the mood to dance on the pedals. There’s no turbo lag, per se, but you get a nice whack when that torque kicks in, and the requisite Brembo brakes bring things to a halt even more abruptly.
The ride quality isn’t abrupt at all. Even in the most hardcore +R setting the Type R feels like an Acura compared to an STI or RS, and in Comfort it might as well be one of the regular Civics that it shares all of its practical passenger and cargo space with.
The Type R may look over the top, but it doesn't underdeliver.