by Jared Rosenholtz
"What's the Honda Civic Type R like to drive?" American car enthusiasts used to ask in envy. "It's excellent," the rest of the world would answer. "One of the best front-wheel-drive cars ever." For decades, US gearheads dreamed of the day Honda would finally offer the Civic Type R here in the US. Back in 2017, Honda finally decided to bring its most hardcore model stateside in its 10th generation, now as a five-door hatchback with a turbocharger.
It may be arriving later than we'd hoped but the Civic Type R is coming at a time when few manufacturers are willing to offer a hard-edged hot hatchback with a manual transmission. The Focus RS has gone away, the Subaru WRX STI is only offered as a sedan, and the Volkswagen Golf R is taking a hiatus until a new generation arrives. Only the Hyundai Veloster N remotely competes with the Civic Type R, but it's smaller, less expensive, and less powerful. With a turbocharged VTEC engine producing 306 horsepower, the Civic Type R has outgunned and outlasted the competition and now exists as the ultimate hot hatchback on the market. Honda has made various improvements to the car for the 2020 model year and we recently had an opportunity to sample those changes.
The updates for 2020 are simple yet effective. Some of the more noticeable updates include a set of revised brake rotors that keep things cooler under hard braking and should incentivize more track day warriors to invest in the red H badge. Revisions to the front suspension and dampers also tighten things up for improved handling, and there's a larger front grille to further improve cooling, as well as a new Boost Blue color option. Interior updates include the addition of synthetic engine sounds for those who thought the last car didn't sound loud enough, and a new steering wheel wrapped in Alcantara. Speaking of the steering, a lower-friction ball joint helps it feel even sharper than before. Honda has promised a lightweight version of the Type R that is set to go on sale in 2021.
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The Honda Type R badge first debuted on the NSX coupe back in 1992 but has since gone on to the backs of numerous models including the Civic. As the years have progressed, the Civic itself has taken on a more futuristic look that hasn't been to everyone's taste, and this new model is especially out there; but despite all its weird angles and sharp front end, the Type R looks pretty great. The aggressively vented front end and comically large rear spoiler remind us of Subaru WRX STI's of old, and in fact, the latest STI doesn't look too far off. Standard exterior gear includes LED headlights, a set of Brembo brakes tucked behind 20-inch wheels, and a cool-looking center-mounted exhaust system with triple outlets. A new Boost Blue color adds to the "hey, look at me" persona of the Type R.
The 2020 Honda Civic Type R is around the same size as a Subaru WRX STI: total length is measured at 179.4 inches compared to the Subaru's 180.9 inches and overshadows the VW Golf R's 168.4 inches. The Type R rolls on a 106.3-inch wheelbase and is 56.5 inches tall, and 73.9 inches wide. Track in the front is measured at 63 inches and 62.7 inches in the rear. Honda has managed to put the Honda Type R on a diet, and the result is a curb weight of only 3,117 pounds, which is lighter than both the Subaru and Volkswagen. Weight distribution is 61.8%/38.2% front to rear.
With such radical exterior styling, the 2020 Honda Type R barely needs a coat of paint to stand out from the crowd, unlike competitors such as the VW Golf R, which looks similar to the base car. Honda offers six colors including Boost Blue, Championship White, Crystal Black, Polished Metal, Rallye Red, and Sonic Gray. For the purists out there, the only color to go for will be Championship White, but with a broader market now scooping up Type R cars, you'll see a lot more of them in black, and the striking new Boost Blue. Our tester wore the new shade of the latter, which may be too outrageous for some, but hey, life's too short to drive a boring car.
There are still those who will say that the Civic Type R sold its soul when it replaced its high-revving naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines for turbo four-pot power, but to those, we say don't shame it until you've tried it. Honda has spent thousands of hours developing the Civic Type R's powerplant and chassis setup, and the end result is nothing short of perfection. Not only does the Civic Type R feel seriously fast, but it is glued to the road like few other FWD cars we've ever tested. The 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine under the hood produces 306 hp and feels up for anything, be it hardcore driving or relaxed cruising. City driving is a joy, and the small dimensions of the Type R mean that you can pop in and out of traffic at will. Highway cruising is also done with tons of overtaking speed still available.
Honda doesn't directly quote a 0 to 60 mph time but if you can get the launch just right, you can expect to reach this benchmark in the low five-second range. More professional drivers are likely to make the feat repeatable, but getting the perfect amount of wheelspin and quickly hustling the transmission into second gear will prove difficult for novice drivers. The Civic Type R is a hatch designed with handling in mind, so we won't fault it for not having the quickest 0-60 mph time out there.
Gone are the days of high-revving 1.6, 1.8, and 2.0-liter engines, which gave Type R cars of old much of their character. Instead, you now get a more powerful, and more refined 2.0-liter turbocharged power plant that does everything better on the tech sheet but lacks a bit of the soul as those engines of old. By using advanced turbocharging techniques, the 2020 Civic Type R offers excellent throttle response, and there is little to no turbo lag to speak of. This gives the Type R a very linear powerband that almost feels like a larger, naturally aspirated engine; consider this a key reason for the engine winning a Best Engine award back in 2018.
We were thoroughly disappointed with its lackluster exhaust note, though. Try as it might, the Type R sounds like a sewing machine at full tilt, and even the synthetic engine sounds pumped into the cabin don't sound great. A trivial fault of any otherwise mind-blowing drivetrain. The engine is mated to a slick six-speed manual transmission, and as with most Honda manual boxes, feels excellent, and offers rifle-bolt accuracy. The Type R even offers rev-matching downshifts, which are better than we could do ourselves with a heel-toe maneuver.
The Civic Type R's most impressive party trick is the duality of its driving experience. Sport Mode is the default, as Honda knows its customers well, but a Comfort Mode is also on hand to soften up the ride and quiet down the engine for relaxed driving. The Type R's adaptive dampers soak up road imperfections better than its deceased competitor, the Focus RS, and its existing rival, the Veloster N. It's still stiffer than a Civic Si, but buyers who are purchasing this type of vehicle know what they are getting themselves into. The Type R is remarkably comfortable to drive every day, though the road noise from the 20-inch wheels can be a bit disturbing on the highway and the impressive racing seats might get tiresome on a long trip.
When the road gets twisty, +R mode sharpens up the car to exhilarating levels. It may not possess AWD, but the Type R still sticks to the road like super-glue when you toss it through corners. With how soft the ride is in comfort mode, you'd expect some body roll, but it just never comes. The car remains perfectly level, inspiring the driver to take turns at ballistic speeds with zero repercussions. The revised steering rack is telepathic, delivering an immediate response from the front end and providing feedback to the driver's hands. You'd also expect a FWD car to exhibit torquesteer, but even with 306 hp attempting to shred the front tires, the steering never pulls to the left or right as you'd expect. Credit the limited-slip differential here. The upgraded braking system delivers breathtaking stopping power, and independent testing has proven the Civic can stop from 70 mph to zero as fast as the Acura NSX supercar. We didn't have an opportunity to drive the car on a track, but Honda says it has taken care of the overheating issues found on last year's model.
Owning a bat-winged performance car doesn't mean you have to pay dearly at the gas station; in fact, the Honda Civic Type R offers the opposite of that. With a low curb weight and an efficient 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot under the hood, the Type R gets away with gas mileage figures of only 22/28/25 mpg city/highway/combined. That's not bad for a car that can lap the Nurburgring faster than most 90s supercars. A small 12.4-gallon fuel tank means the Civic Type R will manage a maximum of only 310 miles between fill-ups. In real-world driving, we found the mpg figures to be conservative, with the Type R easily managing over 30 mpg on the highway. If you drive it like a race car, though, you'll struggle to see 20 mpg.
If you were expecting the same humble interior offering as you'd find in the standard Honda Civic, guess again. The Type R takes the futuristic interior of the standard car, and turns it up to eleven. There are red accents galore, and a set of super comfy bucket racing seats that add greatly to the overall driving experience. Racey material choices and design highlights can't hide the fact that the Civic Type R is still a usable everyday hatchback with lots of passenger space and typically Civic practicalities. We appreciate the fact that Honda has gone out of its way to make driver touchpoints, such as the newly revised steering wheel, alloy pedals, and shift knob feel as sporty as possible, and it really adds to the overall feel of this package. Some might find the red interior accents a tad gaudy, but we think it suits the all-or-nothing attitude of the 2020 Honda Civic Type R perfectly.
It's not all track-day prowess and Boost levels here; the 2020 Honda Civic Type R is still just as practical (if not more practical) as its lesser siblings the Civic and Civic Si, which means you get class-leading interior space. Five adult passengers will comfortably fit inside the Civic, and gaining access through both the front and rear doors is easy. The headroom in the front is 39.3 inches, dropping to 37.4 inches in the rear. Legroom is a healthy 42.3 inches in the front, but a rather tight 35.9 inches in the rear (smaller than the Civic sedan). Shoulder room comes in at 56.9 inches in the front and 55 inches in the back, while hip room is 53.7 inches in the front, and 48.8 inches for those in the rear perches.
Honda keeps things neat and tidy within the cabin of the 2020 Civic Type R. The choice of materials might not be on the same level as competitors such as the VW Golf R, but everything is put together with a tangible feel of quality and care. Once you step inside the Civic Type R for the first time, the first thing that will catch your eye is the ocean of red highlights which stretch from the steering wheel, through the dashboard and on to the seats. For 2020 the Civic Type R gets a suede steering wheel, which has a quality feel to it, and the seats are wrapped in red and black cloth material with suede fabric highlights. A new shift knob harks back to Type R models of old and feels great in-hand.
From the outside, the Civic Type R looks far removed from the practical hatchback that lurks behind all those flared body panels and the massive rear wing, but truth be told, it is actually a very practical machine that will be just as happy doing the school run as it is setting record lap times around the Nurburgring. The rear liftgate opens up nice and high, the trunk entrance is large, and the liftover low, which means you'll be able to lift groceries and everyday items without having to strain. Behind the rear seats, you get a more than generous 25.7 cubic feet of space: this space should be enough for two extra wheels, a jack, and a cooler box when hitting your local track, but for even more space, the Civic Type R's 60/40 split fold-down rear seatback fold down to offer a convenient 46.2 cubic feet of space.
For smaller items, there's a center console featuring a sliding armrest and storage compartment, decently-sized glovebox, front and rear door pocket bins, and cupholders for your bottled water. In front of the shifter, a two-tiered storage area offers even more space for small items.
The 2020 Honda Civic Type R is on the cheaper side in its class, but that does not mean that Honda has cut corners when it comes to the standard features list. In fact, the Civic Type R comes packed with a bunch of equipment that would be left to the options list on competitors. Firstly, we love the Type R serial number plate, which shows the production number of each individual car and adds a personalized touch. The Black and Red Suede-Effect Fabric-Wrapped Steering Wheel, alloy pedals, and alloy shift knob fall to hand perfectly. Basic practical features such as dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry, and push-button start are also included. Honda has gone to great lengths to make sure the Civic Type R offers as many modern driver assistance features as possible, and boy does it show: each car comes fitted with features such as forward collision warning, lane departure warning, collision mitigation braking, and road departure mitigation as part of the standard HondaSensing suite.
Infotainment is one of the Civic Type R's lone weak points. A seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system comes standard and thankfully, it now has a volume knob and other physical buttons to replace the haptic controls. A tuning knob is still absent from the menu and the screen itself is laggy and simplistic compared to some competitors. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay do come standard through, so they can ease the burden of Honda's so-so infotainment. SiriusXM satellite radio is also included, and you also get a center console USB port plus speed-sensitive volume control. Sound is channeled through a 540-watt premium sound system with 12 speakers, including a subwoofer. The audio system sounds just OK, so just focus on driving sans music.
Honda is known the world over for building extremely reliable cars, and proudly boasts that its well-known VTEC system is yet to fail a customer. In light of this, it is good to know that the new Civic Type R has not yet been recalled. Honda covers its Type R with a basic three-year/36,000-mile warranty, a five-year/unlimited-mile corrosion warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty, as well as roadside assistance for three years, or 36,000 miles.
Neither the NHTSA nor IIHS has a full review of the Civic Type R, but its humble sibling, the Civic has been reviewed, and it turns out that this platform is seriously safe. The NHTSA awarded a 2020 Civic Hatch with a full five out of five stars on their rating scale, while the Type R got top marks in the side crash and rollover tests. The IIHS awarded the base model Civic with an impressive Top Safety Pick award but notes that this isn't applicable to the Type R.
While the 2020 Civic Type R is yet to be tested by the NHTSA and IIHS, its sibling the Civic has been, and returned with impressive results. That means, in theory, that the Type R should be even safer thanks to its performance-orientated features, such as hardcore Brembo brakes and wider tires. In any case, there are lots of standard safety features onboard that makes this the safest Type R yet. The six airbag system includes side-curtain airbags with rollover sensor, and there's an advanced sport-tuned traction and stability control system onboard. Other passive safety features include an advanced compatibility engineering body structure. Active driver assistance features include forward collision warning, lane departure warning, collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, and lane-keep assist, as well as adaptive cruise control. Notably, the adaptive cruise control works with the manual transmission, even when you depress the clutch. Though, it doesn't work below 20 mph.
It's hard to call a car "perfect," but there are few changes we could think of for the Civic Type R to make it any better. The car would have been excellent even if Honda focused only on making it stiff and uncomfortable for the track, but somehow, the Type R manages to be the most compliant vehicle in its class. More conservative buyers may object to the "I demand attention" styling, but we enjoy seeing Honda divert from its mostly low-key design philosophy for a brief moment of lunacy.
The engine sound is still a sore point, even with the Active Sound Control pumping in some synthesized noise through the speakers. A car that looks this outrageous should crack and pop like a rally car and the Type R, sadly, does not. Some aftermarket pipes might change this, but Hyundai has proved, with the Veloster N, that a 2.0-liter turbo four-banger can sound incredible from the factory. So long as the exhaust note isn't the only reason you buy a car, the Civic Type R excels in every other area. It grips to the road like an animal stalking its prey and delivers more feedback to the driver than most RWD sports cars. When it's time to drive home from the track, there's even adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist to ease the burden. The Type R truly is the best of both worlds and if you can get around the mediocre sound and flamboyant styling, we urge you to run out and buy one.
The 2020 Honda Civic Type R is priced to go and sits right beside the 2020 Subaru WRX STI in terms of asking fee, while the smaller and less powerful Hyundai Veloster N undercuts it significantly. Honda will ask $36,995 for the privilege of driving one of these; the cost of the Honda Civic Type R excludes tax, registration, and a destination fee of $955. Good luck finding a Type R for sale at that price though, as Honda's move to only build a limited number per year has created market adjustments at dealerships.
There's only one model on offer for 2020, with a lightweight edition set to go on sale at the end of the year as a 2021 year model. So for 2020, you get a turbocharged 2.0-liter VTEC engine with specs of 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, which it sends to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. The exterior of the Civic Type R features LED headlights, 20-inch alloy wheels, a massive rear spoiler, and a tri-exhaust exit. The interior of the Type R is adorned in red highlights and features a revised steering wheel covered in faux-leather. There is dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, as well as a seven-inch infotainment display with Bluetooth streaming, navigation, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, and a 12-speaker sound system. Standard driver assistance features include forward collision warning, lane departure warning, collision mitigation braking road departure mitigation, and lane-keep assist.
For 2020, Honda offers the Civic Type R with four optional packages. First in line is the All-Season Protection Package 2, which for $361 adds basics such as all-season floor mats and a cargo cover. The Carbon Fiber kit is next in line, and adds a carbon fiber wing spoiler, hood scoop, as well as door mirror covers and an interior panel, all for $3,514. The Exterior Protection Package retails for $497 and includes a Type R car cover, black wheel nuts, and the like. For $1,064, you can go for the Interior Package, which includes red interior illumination, illuminated door sill trim, console illuminations, shift knob, and Type R floor mats.
There's only one Civic Type R on offer, so we'll tell you how we would spec ours if we had the money to do so. First off, we'd go with the new Boost Blue color because an outrageous car deserves the boldest color choice available. A Carbon Fiber Package and an Interior Package are available but neither adds much to the Type R, so we'd recommend leaving it as-is. Finding a Type R priced at MSRP may prove difficult but if you can nab one without a dealer markup, we say pull the trigger immediately.
The WRX STI brand is better known in the United States and enjoys a cult-like following. These rally-inspired four-door sedans make use of turbocharged power and four-wheel drive to deliver an exhilarating driving experience that is difficult to find anywhere else in this price range. Power comes from a turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four engine producing 310 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. That flat-four engine and AWD system allow the WRX STI to accelerate faster than most in its class, and emanates that beloved flat-four rumble. In the corners, there's tons of AWD grip, and steering is responsive. It also looks totally badass. On the other hand, the WRX STI offers a harsh ride with plenty of road and wind noise accompanying it. Fuel efficiency isn't spectacular, and we think the Civic Type R is the better all-rounder.
The VW Golf R is the more powerful evolution of the standard Golf GTI and adds some AWD action, more power, and superior refinement. Although the Golf R weighs more than the standard GTI, it makes up for this by throwing a bigger turbo in the mix. The 2.0-liter engine produces 288 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. We love how the Golf R combines excellent handling with a refined ride one step up from the Civic Type R. Acceleration is impressive as well. The interior is by far the more plush and polished in this class, but still remains practical. Standard features and driver assistance systems are also impressive. It does come at a price, however, and the Civic Type R is the more engaging car to drive. As an all-rounder, the Golf is better, but if you're looking for a track day weapon, then the Honda should be the go-to option.
Check out some informative Honda Civic Type R video reviews below.