The 2017 Honda Civic Type R is a race car with a civilized exhaust, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and license plates. Type R is to Honda as M is to BMW or AMG is to Mercedes-Benz, but at mainstream pricing. It’s a car you can drive to the track and then run flat out, lap after lap. It is front-drive-only, but with no sense of torque steer (more below). All this for $ 34,775, one trim, all features standard, and shipping included.
While the Type R offers a comfort setting for the engine, suspension, and steering, every mile you drive (comfortably) on all but the smoothest public roads will have you waiting for the pothole that blows out the ultra-low-profile (30 series), $ 325 tires. And to underscore its role as a serious driver’s car, Honda chose to make the Type R manual-transmission only and omit the Honda Sensing safety features virtually standard across the rest of the line.
306 hp, 0-60 in 6 seconds
Hop in the Civic Type R and you’re wrapped in wonderfully supportive red cloth seats with black trim. If you weigh on the high side of 225 pounds, try before you buy. Snick the six-speed manual into first, apply throttle, and you’re off instantly, with 60 mph coming in as little as 5.9 seconds. Top speed is around 170 mph, held back by the boy racer proliferation of spoilers, splitters, and vortex generators that induce drag.
There are three performance settings set by a console button: Comfort, Sport, and R (as in race) that make clearly noticeable changes to the variable shock absorbers, throttle, and steering effort. In Comfort, the ride is almost like any other Civic; truly civilized. Sport is where you want to be for highway driving, and R can be used on the highway, but you may find the steering effort a bit stiff.
No matter how hard you tromp the throttle, there’s no issue with torque steer, the tendency to pull hard to one side in a front-drive car under hard acceleration. Really. You have to drive one to believe how well Honda engineers enhanced the front suspension. On the track, the car tracks well, will hit 120 mph on a short straight, and the Brembo brakes securely burn off speed in time for the next turn. After 15 minutes of hot lapping, I pitted the Type R and saw the coolant temperature gauge was pegged right in the middle.
Fabulous Daily Driver Until You Hit a Pothole
In daily driving, the Civic Type R is docile, and exceptionally adept into scooting ahead to find an opening in traffic. It’s comfortable for four with luggage space for four. The gearbox is compliant and the aluminum shifter globe is a work of art. The AC works well. The exhaust is sporty, but never loud. The Honda Display Audio system sounds great, and the Garmin navi (standard) works superbly, but Display Audio’s interface remains a challenge for many users.
The Civic Type R is rated at 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway using premium fuel. I averaged 29 mpg in mixed city/highway driving, so you’ll likely top 30 mpg in interstate highway driving. (On-track driving was in a separate car.)
Honda’s choice of ultra-low-profile tires is the right one for the track. It delivers 245/30ZR-20 Continental SportContact 6 on 20-inch alloys. The 30 in 245/30ZR-20 means the tires are only 30 percent as high as the tire is wide, with very little sidewall. A mainstream passenger car will have 60 or 55 series tires with sidewalls twice as high. With so little sidewall to flex when the tire hits a pothole or goes off-road, odds of a blowout are higher, as are the odds of breaking the rim. In my driving west of Seattle, my tire pressure sensor indicated a low tire three times; four others in my group of about 25 journalist drivers said they also got low-pressure warnings. Honda said the frequent warnings may have been due to the cars’ newness and some swapping of tires among cars.
What the Heck Is the Civic Type R?
Since 1992, Honda and Acura reserved the Type R badge for serious, racing-level performance of street-legal cars, aiming at the performance world outside the US. The Type R car has a red badge and the featured paint color is Championship White. Seating often carries through the red with black scheme.
The 2017 Civic hatchback from which the Type R is loosely derived delivers 174-180 hp from Honda’s 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. The Type R engine block is 2.0 liters and delivers 306 hp to a car weighing 3,115 pounds. That translates to, in terms racers appreciate, 153 hp per liter of engine displacement. That is a figure matched by only a handful of cars. The weight to horsepower ratio is 10.2:1. Very few cars come close to 10:1, where a lower ratio is better (less weight for each 1 hp to propel).
In addition to the drivetrain, seating, and color scheme, the car is equipped with all manner of spoilers, side skirts, splitters, and hood scoops, as I alluded to above. The rear wing bisects the rear window, but surprisingly it doesn’t block the view much at all. On this car, the aero parts are functional. They’re also highly visible, and other drivers may mouth the words “boy racer.” Police, too.
Should You Buy?
The 2017 Honda Civic Type R represents the design pinnacle of compact, affordable (versus an Audi or BMW) high-performance compact sedans: Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen Golf R, Subaru WRX. Only the Honda is front-drive-only, but it turns out not to be a drawback in spirited driving. It is the fastest front-drive car to lap the Nurburgring (video above). Introduced recently as a 2017, the specs for the 2018 Type R will be the same.
There are the two main drawbacks: Honda chose not make available the Honda Sensing driver assists, which would be helpful in daily driving — the majority of miles driven by most everyone. Also, you’ll have to be careful of driving on bad roads with the standard tires.
You will need winter tires as well. The Z-rated summer tires lose grip below 40 degrees, and at 20 degrees Honda says you shouldn’t even add air to a low tire or even drive a few blocks (wait until it gets well above freezing) to avoid cracking the sidewalls. The equivalent size for 18-inch wheels is a 234/45R18 tire. You might even consider selling your 30-series tires and rims to other Type R owners in need of replacements, and investing in 40- or 45-series daily drivers. Or keep the 30-series for track days only; all four fit nicely in the back seat. At the very least, buy the dealer’s tire-and-wheel insurance; even with a 50 percent markup it may be a good deal.
For people who want a sporty car with exquisite handling at the track or autocross, the Honda Civic Type R is your best choice. At this price, it’s a steal.