The Honda Civic, you most likely already know, is the best-selling car in Canada, and has been for going on two decades. For years now, the lineup of models has remained relatively unchanged, with a sedan or coupe base version supplemented by the sportier Si variant, itself also available as a 2-door or 4-door.
This year the Civic lineup greets a new member: the Type R. While not a household name among the masses of consumers, it nonetheless has been hotly anticipated by more performance-minded motorists. In the flesh, it’s clear the Type R is designed to please this second group of enthusiasts, although it could very well seduce and convert other slices of the market pie.
A polarizing design
Making the observation that the Japanese automakers remain design-challenged is kind of like saying winter returns every year – so obvious it doesn’t bear pointing out.
The Honda Civic, even while it has presented itself in its newest incarnation in a more evolved design cloak, is not everyone’s cup of esthetic tea. And the Type R version seemingly takes all that’s good – and bad - about the Civic and underlines it, in bold. The addition of an out-sized rear spoiler immediately sets buyers on one side or the other of the yea-or-nay divide. Truth be told, it’s nay more than it’s yea.
One thing is clear, the Civic Type R leaves few people indifferent. Make that no one at all. During my past year of road testing cars, this was by far the most-photographed model I drove. Draw your own conclusions.
In any case, when it comes to design, it’s all a matter of taste; objectivity does not apply. If the look of a car pleases you, you’ll consider it.
In a sports car, there are a few elements that are essential for creating an exquisite on-board experience. And in that regard, the 2017 Honda Civic Type R delivers, all down the line. For starters, the driver’s position is simply ideal, particularly thanks to the highly form-fitting bucket seats. The driver’ seat, in fact, can be set to an even more ideal position for attacking the road confidently. And attacking the road is precisely what you do at the wheel of the Civic Type R – more on that later.
Presentation of the cabin, meanwhile, is eye-pleasing without reinventing anything of consequence. The two-tone marriage with the red accents on the stitching, the steering wheel, the mouldings and even the seatbelts makes for a great effect. Drivers will also appreciate the data screen in front of them, which provides information on a host of performance-related information, for instance the G forces and the acceleration and braking distributions, etc. What’s more, the dials change colour depending on the drive mode selected. Opt for the +R mode, and voilà! Red appears everywhere, as if Lucifer himself was come to incite delinquent behaviour at the wheel.
Other good news – and this despite the hefty $42,641 price tag – is that included equipment is comprehensive, in terms of the navigation and premium audio systems, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and more.
That said, those are not the qualities most primordial in the eyes of the Civic Type R buyer...
306 horses to the front wheels
No, what said buyer most cares about is what’s under the hood. The Type R comes with a 4-cylinder turbo spitting out 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. This highly responsive engine transforms the Type R into a virtual, compact rocket. The thing that worried us before climbing in behind the wheel was the knowledge that this power was relayed solely to the front wheel. Torque steer, anyone?
So this was the very first thing we endeavoured to ascertain, via a few violent accelerations. We quickly understood that the engineers at Honda had done a remarkable job with the front suspension. The force generated by acceleration is really well distributed, meaning any torque steer is almost undetectable. I say ‘almost’, because if the steering wheel is not perfectly straight or the road surface is degraded, you can feel that only the front wheels are working, and that spinning out is not out of the question. Other than that, however, all is perfection; we were truly impressed.
The fun doesn’t end there, either. Once launched, the Honda Civic Type R displays balance worthy of the best sports cars on the market. Point the nose where you want to go, and the rest follows. Steering is surgically precise, as is the 6-speed manual gearbox, the lever stroke of which doesn’t just approach perfection, it incarnates it.
So can you, will you have fun at the wheel? Yes, squared.
No such thing as perfection
Up to now, you’ll agree with us that the Type R is a mighty impressive machine. But since nothing in this world is perfect, it was inevitable that some bee or other would get under our bonnet sooner or later. We detected that bee during our first day driving our tester, and by the time we’d passed the 700 km mark of our road test, it was there in plain view.
Which is, that this is not a car ideally suited to everyday driving! The Civic Type R is not for everyone, we’ve already pointed out, nor is it for every occasion.
Despite an adaptive suspension that can be set to one of three modes (Normal, Sport and +R), the driving experience is simply not a convivial one day-in, day-out. In theory the Normal mode should make it so, but it did not - not by a long shot. In that mode you can feel the suspension soften somewhat, but still the chassis’ reaction remains dry, brittle. Which is super when on a freshly repaved road, but given the state of our winter-buffeted Canadian roads, the driving experience can become an irritating one. Quite quickly.
This is the area where the Type R most suffers in comparison with its main competitors like the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI and Volkswagen Golf R. All three of these models, particularly the VW, can be used on a daily use without discomfort or gnashing of teeth. What’s more, all offer all-wheel drive.
In short, ride gentleness and 4-wheel drive are essential qualities lacking in the Honda Civic Type R.
A unique, exceptional car? The Type R is that, without a doubt. At the same time, if you want a comfortable car to get around in day after day, best look elsewhere. On the track, Honda’s new performance car clearly handles itself admirably well. But Canada’s roads, most of us know, are not race tracks; which means wondering what that performance capacity is for, if it comes at the expense of practicality.
The Civic Type R, we therefore maintain, is not for everyone. It’s a car that directly targets a very specific slice of the market.
At the time of going to publication with this review, we’ve learned that a less well-equipped, less expensive version of the Type R may be introduced next year. Ironically, the 2017 model is already a collector’s item.