There's no other vehicle quite like a hot hatch. Enthusiasts love cars like the Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS for their combination of practicality and performance. You can be a hero on a back road and still load it down with passengers and groceries. For years, most hot hatches were forbidden to Americans, only accessible in video games or the pages of Euro and Japanese motoring magazines. That's not so much the case anymore.
Unlike some of the competition, the Honda Civic Type R sends all 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque from the turbocharged 2.0-liter (built right here in the U.S.) to the front wheels. Honda engineers have worked magic on the suspension and steering, alleviating torque steer while saving a significant amount of weight versus the all-wheel-drive Golf R or Focus RS. It also undercuts the base MSRP of those two by a significant amount.
Associate Editor Reese Counts: I've been looking forward to driving this car for a long while. I love hot hatches (I'm a former GTI owner) and welcome any newcomer to the segment. Competition breeds innovation. I've followed this car for years and ogled every single one I saw while visiting Europe or Asia. I was disappointed by the Civic Si (it's not special enough and not that much better than the regular Civic), so I was hoping the Type R could make amends.
I was a little worried about sending all that power to the front wheels (I still remember the steering wheels in the Saab 9-3 and Mazdaspeed3 kicking and fighting your hands), but that concern seems for naught. Whatever Honda engineers did, it works. Even in the cold and wet, torque steer was nonexistent. The engine feels smooth and strong throughout the rev range, if a little generic. Hondas used to have a certain peaky character. You had to wring their necks to set every last pony free. Now it just feels like every other turbocharged 2.0-liter. Still, it does have Honda's nearly perfect shifter to help set it apart.
The ride feels firm but not terrible. A bit more sidewall would help as the tires look like they are just painted on the wheels. The seats are supportive, and I love the red upholstery and seat belts, especially in contrast to the Aegean Blue paint. Yes, the styling is over-the-top with the wide fenders and comically large rear wing, but it's all part of the Japanese charm. Leave conservative and clean styling for the Europeans.
I like the car, but I don't know if I love it. Dollar for dollar, I'd save a bunch and go with a Volkswagen Golf GTI. That car is nearly perfect and feels far more refined than the Civic Type R. Yes, it's down on power and yes, not quite as focused or sharp, but it's a better overall package. Really though, you can't go wrong in the segment. There's a car to suit every type of buyer.
This thing is good. Really good. pic.twitter.com/IQT56UImdr— Joel Stocksdale (@GeekyGearhead99) November 16, 2017
Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: Like Reese, I've also been waiting to finally drive this front-drive monster for a while, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. I wasn't disappointed with the new Civic Si, finding it to be a highly engaging car, if somewhat low on power. So I've been wanting to know if the Type R, with nearly 100 more horsepower and pound-feet of torque, and an extra $10,000, is suitably better. Short answer: Definitely.
Obviously the power and torque increases make it a lot faster, but there are other things about the powertrain that are decidedly better about the Type R than its slower cousin. The engine itself doesn't suffer from the hanging revs of the Si. When you get off the gas in the Type R, the tach drops quickly, allowing for faster, smoother upshifts, and much easier rev-matching for downshifts. Granted you don't have to manually rev-match if you want, but should you choose to, it's much easier. The transmission is a marked improvement as well, with slicker gear changes than in the Si.
I was also impressed at how easy the Type R is to live with and drive everyday. Torque steer is practically non-existent. No matter how hard I punched the gas, the steering wheel stayed straight and calm. Even the heavily bolstered seats are livable. Those bolsters are fairly soft, so even if the seat is a bit snug, it doesn't feel like it's squeezing or pinching. They do make it a tad tricky to get in and out, though. The ride is honestly comfortable, too, especially, unsurprisingly, in comfort mode. Even with the painted-on tires, the car actually gets over bumps without kicking, shuddering or bouncing. The ride is on the firm side, but it's far from punishing. And the handling is razor sharp with a fast, precise steering rack and a suspension that keeps the car quite flat in corners.
So the Type R is a major improvement over the Si, and well worth looking at if you need one of the hottest hatchbacks on the market. But I also agree with Reese that it isn't necessary to have a really good performance hatchback. Whether it's a GTI, an Si, or some kind of ST Ford, we're spoiled for good bargain performance nowadays.
2017 Honda Civic Type R Drivers' Notes | Civic leader originally appeared on Autoblog on Fri, 17 Nov 2017 12:00:00 EST.