I have to kick this piece off with some honesty. After reviewing the 2020 Honda Civic Si, my curiosity about the Civic Type-R was piqued. The Si, while good on paper (and competent on track), left me a little cold as an out-of-the-box fun car. I figured the Type-R would be a more ridiculous-looking variant that happened to be “just a faster Civic Si.” Naturally, I was very, very wrong.

What Is It?

The Honda Civic Type-R is the sportiest variant of Honda’s venerable Civic. While other markets have been able to purchase the Type-R since the ’90s, this “FK8” Civic Type-R debuted in 2017 as the first Civic Type-R ever sold in the United States. I’d call it a “compact” car, but everything has grown over the decades and it’s arguably more the size of an older Accord. In any case, it’s not tiny but it’s not huge. Every Civic Type-R is built as a four-door Hatchback, allowing a remarkable amount of utility if that matters to you. Most buyers want to talk about the sporty bits, so let’s do that instead.

Where the Civic Si uses a tweaked version of Honda’s L15 1.5 liter four-cylinder, pop the hood of the Type-R and you’ll find the latest version of Honda’s K-series four-cylinder, the K20C1. This K20 variant is turbocharged and produces 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Torque peaks at 2,500 rpm but power builds, truly, all the way to 6,500 rpm, just 500 rpm shy of the K20’s redline. That lovely, revvy engine is paired to a six-speed manual transmission and standard limited-slip differential.

The Type-R is also granted some handling benefit from a host of aerodynamic bits, from the diffuser up front to the side skirts to the (large) wing bolted to the hatch. All of those are allegedly functional, though my week with the car didn’t allow me to test anything at high enough speeds to show a benefit.

Speaking of high speeds, stopping is achieved by a set of Brembo front brake calipers and two-piece rotors. Cooling is achieved via functional ductwork in the front bumper. I was asked to avoid any track time in this Type-R, as the brake pads are apparently difficult to source given COVID and related parts shortages worldwide.

Every Type-R is also equipped with adaptive dampers, a triple-tip center-mounted exhaust, and a very red interior. Paired to the Rallye Red paint on my tester’s exterior, nobody would call this Civic Type-R “subtle.” MSRP of my Civic Type-R came in around $38,000.

Highway Cruiser, Back-Roads Explorer

I was able to put quite a few miles on the Type-R’s odometer, first in a sprint up the highway to visit my parents and then on a series of back roads as part of an organized “road rally” put on by a friend. In both cases, I came away impressed by the bright red Honda.

My highway drive was pretty boring, all things considered. This is not where most “sporty cars” can shine. I plugged my iPhone in to the Type-R’s center console, loaded up CarPlay (Honda’s built-in navigation is… only fine) and hit the road. Immediately, I found the Recaro front seats to be very comfortable – a trait that persisted throughout my drive. I did wish for lumbar adjustment, though, and anyone built larger than me may find the side bolsters hug you a bit too tight. The sound system, while not branded in any particular way, was above average in its performance given the Type-R isn’t a luxury car.

While the Type-R’s default drive mode is “Sport” – something I appreciate given its DNA – I clicked it down to Comfort for highway driving. This softened the dampers, which offered a better-than-expected ride given the itty-bitty sidewalls of the car’s 245/30-series tires. Throttle response was dulled a bit, too, but it didn’t matter much as I let the adaptive cruise control do its thing once at speed.

As my time with the Type-R shifted to that of a back-roads explorer, I found myself really falling for the car. The more clinical Civic Si never endeared itself to me, yet the Civic Type-R is just so damn good right as it comes from Honda. Everything that bothered me about the Si – the vague shifter, lifeless clutch pedal, and oddly-calibrated electronic throttle – was nearly perfect in the Type-R. “This was built by people who care about driving and were given free rein to do their thing,” I thought.

I snicked through gears all day long, appreciating the nicely-weighted shifter and easy clutch with each gear change. I messed with the drive mode toggle a bit, but found the “R mode” to be a hair too stiff for public roads, even when things got really twisty. The default “Sport” was a bit of a Goldilocks combination of steering feel, throttle response, and suspension damping. The helical differential offered sure-footed off-camber, uphill starts where other manual-transmission cars on our rally had to spin tires.

Popping The $12,000 Question

Driving the Type-R left me slightly irritated that the Civic Si wasn’t better. There’s roughly a $12,000 price difference between the two cars, and twelve grand is a lot of money to spend on modifications to make your Civic Si exactly the car you want. Hell, you could get pretty far down the caged-racecar hole with that sort of money and a Civic Si. So then, is the Civic Type-R worth the extra coin?

Without a doubt, yes.

Unless you’re building a car to a specific class that really suits the Civic Si – as some autocrossers, in particular, have done – the Civic Type-R is head-and-shoulders above the Si in so many ways. Yes, the tires are basically rubber bands, the brake pads are unobtainium, the whole thing is very red, and it’s a bit shouty if you take it for date night. But date night isn’t the point of the Type-R. The Type-R announces to every passerby that you care about the visceral nature of driving above all else, and it appears to have been built by a team of people who feel the very same way.

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