The classic hot hatch recipe has been perfected in the Type R.
Honda may have dialed back the styling of the Civic Type R, but there's nothing mild about the rest of it. The Honda Civic Type R is the last of the classic style hot hatches you can buy in the US right now - and you shouldn't use the term 'hot hatch' lightly. So, performance is amped up with the same turbocharged four-cylinder engine as before now making 315 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. The chassis is also dialed in to create more grip than most will have the nerve to use outside of a racetrack.
It maintains its front-wheel-drive status while other manufacturers go with a more complex and costly all-wheel-drive system. The Type R's closest rival, the Golf GTI, seems to be deliberately hobbled by Volkswagen to make the all-wheel-drive Golf R the undoubted performance king of its range.
However, there's a reason powerful hatches are choosing all-wheel-drive - the arrival of the new Toyota GR Corolla proves this point. The GR Corolla puts its 300 hp down through all four wheels too. In the Type R, there's 315 hp on tap - it's a lot for the front wheels to handle on top of steering the car. The question now comes down to this: Is it too much for the Civic?
Our week with the Type R came with the kind of inclement weather that powerful sports cars can come undone in, including freezing temperatures with heavy rain that takes the edges off of the latest and greatest in performance summer tires. We were curious to see how the FWD Type R would manage.
The previous generation Civic Type R's styling appeared to be influenced by science fiction, considering all the angles and spikey bits. This year, things are smoothed out, and yet still as effective in conveying the intentions of the car. The rear wing is still dominant and sits high enough that you look out through the rearview mirror underneath it, but Honda deliberately made it look like it could come from a tasteful aftermarket vendor.
A lot of the new style comes from the current generation Civic's toning down, but the Type R is more than an inch longer and lower, and half an inch wider than before. The 107.7-inch wheelbase is 1.4 inches longer than before, and it all adds to the look and stance that is self-assured with just the right amount of aggression to let people know the Type R isn't messing around.
The previous model rode on 20-inch wheels, but the latest from Honda now runs on more appropriate 19-inch wheels wrapped in wider Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires.
There are no options for the Type R's interior - it's red and black and has a manual stick shift between the front seats. If this isn't to your liking, you can go elsewhere for your hot hatch thrills. Honda managed to include red carpets on top of everything else without making it look garish. The sports seats are comfortable and well-bolstered without going over the top and making them a pain to get in and out of every day. The back seats have plenty of space for adults - but only two - while cargo space is as plentiful as a hatchback should be; this utility remains one of the Type R's strong points.
The dashboard is carried over from the current-generation Civic but gets red accents and a plaque with the chassis build number on the passenger side. The driver's gauge cluster is enhanced for the Type R with flashy animations for the different drive modes.
The front seats are damn near perfect and will sustain hours of road driving without hurting the average back and do a terrific job of keeping people in place when mounting up the Gs. The driver's seat is the best seat in the house, obviously.
The standard Alcantara-covered steering wheel is an ergonomic delight, and while the machined gear knob might burn the shift pattern into your palm in summer - or freeze to a hand in the winter - it feels so damn purposeful. The pedals are also as good as it gets in a hot hatch, and the brake pedal deserves a special mention for how precise it is when using the anchors.
No clutch pedal setup is perfect for everyone, and it's a wider gap from the brake than we typically prefer, and it took little practice to get the three-pedal dance going.
The beauty of a great hot hatch is that it can be driven every day around town and then hard at the weekend; in this regard, the 2023 Type R over-delivers. Even at low cruising around town speeds, the manual transmission is satisfying to flip through, but the engine's torque means it doesn't demand constant rowing in heavy traffic. It's as easy to drive as the tame, regular Civic around town, but its compromises for performance become apparent in the firm ride - even in Comfort mode. However, the damping feels cushy for the initial travel, so it doesn't become annoying until you hit a stretch of badly maintained road.
Even more apparent at around 40 mph and above is the road noise coming through due to the whittling down of sound-deadening materials to save weight. Despite its growing size, the new Type-R feels light, as it should at around 3,200 pounds. That's on par with an early 2000s BMW 3 Series, which was a smaller car.
Honda's reputation when it comes to performance hinges on the tradeoff between power and reliability. The engine is a revised carryover of the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, now making 315 hp at 6,500 rpm and 310 lb-ft of torque between 2,600 and 4,000 rpm. Honda has stretched the engine for power (nine hp and 15 lb-ft more than before), but more importantly, improved its response with a redesigned turbocharger, a more efficient exhaust system, and an increased air intake flow rate. There's also a lighter flywheel paired with a revised rev-match system to improve the six-speed manual transmission, which has been beefed up to handle the extra power. Brake cooling has been improved over the last version, too, so those runs on the track can go for longer.
Its zero to 60 mph time is five seconds, which doesn't sound impressive in a world full of sub-five-second cars. However, in reality, it's quick, and the power is plentiful and easy to keep on tap. It also comes on smoothly despite the quicker response, but the precision for a small turbo engineering is the high point when on a charge. In the wet, you can sense the wheelspin coming on, and modulate with finesse.
For those planning on logging freeway miles with the Type R, that road noise will become pervasive and something to learn to live with. However, when it comes to chucking the Type R down a back road in Sport mode, it becomes worth it entirely. In the dry, there's the kind of grip only a mouse caught by a bird of prey will normally experience. With that kind of power going to the front wheels, understeer should be an issue, but the clever torque control means you have to try really hard to get there. Instead, it pulls cleanly out of corners with even the heaviest foot.
It's entering and handling in the corner where the Type R impresses the most, though. Instead of understeer and push, the rear axle feels mobile, and lifting off the throttle brings the back around in a smooth arc. The chassis is too well-balanced to bring on snap oversteer without severe driver error.
The real test comes in the wet, but the Civic Type R inspires confidence. Once the grip assist from dry tarmac goes away, the Civic Type R becomes great fun in a different way as the chassis is so well balanced and the power manageable. Manageable is the keyword in the wet, and it makes for an engaging ride. Just don't be tempted to push the +R button; stick with Sport mode where the traction control remains fully engaged. In +R mode, Vehicle Stability Assist and Traction Control can be switched off completely, and the Type R can be fully unleashed. +R also gives the firmest suspension setting, and the car corners absolutely flat. But that's best saved for the track.
Steering in all modes feels smooth and quick, but it adjusts to feel heavier as you move up through them. With this, the Civic becomes a fluid car than can adapt and change as needed. There's a clear definition between the modes that can be bridged by an Individual setting that you can program to your liking - something the previous generation needed but didn't get.
The star of the show is the Type R's suspension, and a lot of development and money has clearly gone into it. After the forgiveness of the initial damping that absorbs lumps and bumps, resistance ramps up and keeps the body flat in corners. Sport mode is just about perfect for most uneventful days on the road in how it sucks up minor road imperfections while controlling body roll and keeping things tight.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that Honda made the infotainment setup as an afterthought. It's shared with other Honda models and provides Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Google Auto. It does the basics well, and the screen size doesn't really matter - it's big enough at nine inches. A big distracting screen wouldn't do the Type R any favors, although we wish it would boot up and react a little quicker to inputs. The graphics feel a little dated, but you don't buy a Type R for the infotainment system. What's added is the LogR screens, and it's full of information for when you hit the track - although it's on the side of being cluttered.
The driver's display is big, bold, and colorful, which is perfectly appropriate, and it isn't trying to throw as much information as possible out there. The bright shift-up lights could be accused of being a little childish or gimmicky. However, if you're trying to time everything right, they do their job perfectly. +R mode switches from dials to the prominent Honda favorite RPM bar, and you can configure that into the Individual mode.
The Type R is still a Honda Civic hatchback underneath, and that makes it one of the best small cars around for everyday use. In performance terms, the Type R isn't a complete animal. It's an approachable and dextrous performance car, with the suspension, differential, and new wider tires giving it genuine finesse in corners as well as a useful excess of grip. Add its utility, general comfort, everyday charm, and one of the best manual transmissions we've driven in a while, and it's a fantastic way to spend $43,295 - you won't need a second car in the garage for weekend fun.
However, it's going to be a while before it's not a frustration trying to get your hands on one, with loads of people reporting severely inflated prices from dealers. While out and about with our tester, we ran into a Honda salesman who bragged that his dealership had sold the only model they had for $20k over sticker just a week ago. We could understand someone paying a few grand over, but the Type R is not a $60,000 car. Or a $50,000 car, for that matter, although true enthusiasts of the brand and its heritage may disagree. If you want one, then we recommend waiting for supply and demand to start having a real relationship before buying; for what it is and what it's supposed to cost, the Type R is unbeatable.
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