2017 Honda Civic Type R Review

The Wait is Over

The closer the 2017 Honda Civic Type R is pushed to its outer limits, the sooner it becomes clear that this car is something special.

Hustle into a corner at, say, seven-tenths or more and there’s nary a hint of understeer, the sworn enemy of front-wheel drive. It’s the same story when mashing the accelerator at the apex, with torque steer virtually non-existent, the car pulling hard as it climbs through the gears.

So this is what all the hype’s been about.

Considering it was never sold here, the Civic Type R has garnered quite the reputation in this part of the world. For 20 years the hopped-up Honda has been both renowned and revered in North America, its red badge tantalizing a passionate enclave of enthusiasts. That makes this a moment that Honda fanboys and fangirls here have been waiting for in earnest. Judgement Day is here.

The significance of this new Civic Type R certainly isn’t lost on Honda. Past improprieties aside, the brand knows this car has to be good. Like, really good. After all, it doesn’t just have a reputation to maintain, but it’s also facing some pretty stiff competition for sport compact supremacy. Alongside the Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS, it completes a holy trinity of hot hatches that were each but a dream just a few short years ago. Add in the Subaru WRX STI for good measure, and this Super Civic is staring down quite the gauntlet.

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From Mundane to Insane

Just like those cars, the Type R’s formula is as simple as it is maniacal. Start with a commuter car, replace all the important bits with stuff that’ll make it go faster, and sell it at a reasonable price. But to begin to realize what this new Type R is all about, it’s important to forget most of what you know about the Honda Civic hatchback. Yes, the Civic Type R is built on the five-door’s foundation; and yes, it’s fundamentally the same in size and stature. But just about everything in it and on it has been swapped out in the name of performance.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Honda Civic Si Review

Starting under the hood, a 2.0-liter turbo motor handles power generation, and does a damn fine job of it. The engine makes a stout 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, the latter of which comes online at 2,500 rpm and sticks around until 4,500 rpm. Paired to that powerplant is a Type R–exclusive six-speed manual gearbox, with a helical gear-style limited-slip differential in place to reduce wheel spin, and an active rev-matching system for those who struggle to heel and toe.

Both the engine and transmission are the same as what was in the last, Europe-only Civic Type R, though most of the internals in both have been beefed up this time around despite output remaining static. Elsewhere, the car gets entirely new underpinnings, including adaptive dampers at all four corners, bigger brakes, and thicker sway bars. Even the steering ratio has been changed compared to the standard Civic in an effort to improve the car’s responsiveness. Rounding out the changes is a drive mode selector that adjusts everything from steering and throttle response to the rev-matching system, adaptive dampers and stability management to amp up or tone down performance as required.

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Take it to the Track

With Honda shipping a handful of journalists to Montreal to drive the Civic Type R for the first time, a trip north of the city to Circuit ICAR in Mirabel was in order. Built on the former runways of a mostly unused international airport, the 2.1-mile (3.4-kilometer) track is Sebring-esque in its execution. While not particularly challenging, the track is extremely flat and features tight turns and limited visibility, a victim of its flat topography.

It only took a few short laps for the Type R’s abilities to become abundantly clear. The car itself is so light and nimble and, perhaps more importantly, communicative, proving very easy to anticipate what the car is going to do next. With the drive mode selector set to +R, the most aggressive of the three on tap, the dampers stiffened nicely without losing any adaptability, while the already nicely weighted steering added just enough resistance to notice a change.

Much like Sebring, the track at ICAR is rather bumpy, a byproduct of its concrete slab surface. However, even the stiffest suspension setting wasn’t enough to risk upsetting the balance of the car as it was tossed headlong into washboard corners. The Type R still managed to hunker down nicely as the weight shifted front to back and side to side through esses and sweepers alike. With the Type R’s lightning quick steering ratio, executing even the tightest of turns successfully is almost effortless.

Unlike its chief competitors, this piece of formerly forbidden fruit sends output to the ground through the front wheels alone. Expecting understeer as a result is understandable, though surprisingly inaccurate. Not only is the Civic Type R free from half the drivetrain power loss of its rivals, but tackles turns just as well without skating to the outside.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Ford Focus RS vs Volkswagen Golf R

There’s also endless amounts of grip, the Type R feeling like it was on a slot car track the way it grabs on even the roughest pavement — of which there’s plenty in Quebec. On uneven asphalt the Type R simply skips and then grips, sorting things out with little reason to worry. Slowing the car is also done in a hurry courtesy of the upsized brakes at all four corners, with no noticeable fade after two days of driving.

Whether rolling on the throttle or mashing the accelerator on corner exit, expectations for torque steer went thankfully unfulfilled. While much of the credit goes to the limited-slip differential that’s sandwiched between the motor and gearbox, it also speaks to how smoothly the engine’s output is delivered. While throttle response is rapid it’s seldom overwhelming, and never encroaches on control. The engine feels like it could easily be revved to 11,000 rpm without skipping a beat. Okay, so it’s more like 8,000 rpm, but the rev limiter does at times seem to put a damper on the engine’s potential. Not that its redline is exactly low, with 7,000 revs to work with before the computer steps in. Oh, the joys of VTEC.

Working through the gears, the transmission feels mechanical and substantial, and rectifies any complaints I’ve had about about the featherlight setups Honda is known for. While there’s no need to manhandle the short-throw shifter between the seats, its pronounced gates simply begged to be rowed, while the clutch pedal offers just the right amount of resistance. Running back and forth through the gearset is still exceptionally smooth, but like the car itself, the process offers enough feel and feedback to add to an already visceral experience.

The more time you spend behind the wheel the more confidence it inspires. But not only is the Civic Type R user-friendly, it’s also incredibly precise. I was never fortunate enough to drive any of the previous iterations before this one, but I imagine they are strikingly similar in the delivery of exceptional levels of performance in a package that will feel familiar to anyone who has driven a current-generation Civic.

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Take it to Work

Whether on the track or otherwise, you can count on the same stellar levels of performance from the Civic Type R. It happily carved up the country roads outside Mirabel, feeling as eager as any of its foes. But best of all, it offers a split personality that works well for more docile drives.

And it’s only during commuting duty that I can see the car’s extreme styling posing a problem for some. While everything from the hood scoop to the massive rear wing — and even the so-called “vortex generators” that flank the shark-fin antenna — is functional, the whole package is a little over the top for a daily driver.

ALSO SEE: 2018 Volkswagen GTI vs Golf R: Which Hot Hatch Should You Buy?

While the interior tells a similar story, it’s steeped far more heavily in history. The bolstered red seats have been part of the Type R equation since 1997, and add to the cabin’s form and function. It also sacrifices very little practicality compared to more run-of-the-mill Civic hatchback models, with only the center seating position in the second row absent. Otherwise it offers the same 25.7 cu-ft (728 liters) of cargo room behind the rear seats and 46.2 cu-ft (1,308 liters) with them folded. Better yet, the cabin passes the helmet test with flying colors, the ceiling easily able to accommodate one of Bell’s finest perched atop my 6-foot-4 frame.

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The Verdict: 2017 Honda Civic Type R Review

It looks like the sixth time’s the charm for the Honda Civic Type R in North America, with the much ballyhooed sport compact finally making landfall here — and it was certainly worth the wait. It does more than just complete the hot hatch holy trinity, it could very well be the crown jewel.

Of course, some antagonists will insist that this new Civic Type R can’t compete with the likes of the Ford Focus RS and VW Golf R based on its front-wheel drive layout, and those people are what I like to refer to as “wrong”. It’s fully reasonable to expect the Type R to give any 300-horsepower sport compact a run for its money. And speaking of money, the as-tested price of $34,775 including destination undercuts all its competitors by quite a bit, making the Civic Type R a helluva buy, too. I’ll take mine in Championship White, please.

  • Type UX

    At a stop light:
    – Hey bro, cool Type R, how is it?
    Oh it’s awesome, incredibly user-friendly!
    – Alright, rock on! …wait, what??

  • NewGuy

    Wonder if there’s a delete option for that park bench rear spoiler?

  • There is not, though nothing precludes owners from doing it themselves. I wouldn’t, however, imagine doing so would be wise given its functionality.

  • Mik Sohn

    When will car companies stop shooting themselves in the foot financially and realize that they can sell 2-3 times as many models with both manual and automatic instead of making certain cars with standard only. So many car guys like myself would be interested in the Focus RS and other similar sporty vehicles, but we don’t want to shift ad nauseam in metro stop-and-go traffic. Nobody in any type of market can afford not to maximize their sales by making a certain product accessible to as many customer niches as possible without watering down the concept. If Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes, and super cars can afford to have auto as their default trans, which is faster than manual in test drives performed by race car drivers, no one else should offer any lame excuses not to. The car’s computer is always gonna be faster than the driver’s brain or hand.

    The problem is that so many young males and automotive writers are equating manual shifting with masculinity and fun-to-drive factor. However, let’s not forget the hypocrisy element here. The writers are often praising one type of car all the time (BMW, Porsche) but buying another for themselves. Some years ago, Car and Driver published a list of cars owned by their staff which in no way reflected their opinions on the pages of that magazine. Most of the vehicles listed looked pretty run of the mill, pedestrian people movers. I don’t remember seeing any Bimmers, Porsches, Corvettes, 370Z’s, or even lowly Honda Si’s even though used versions of such cars are quite affordable.

  • Lee Gilbert

    The usual rave reviews whenever anything new comes out, especially when the manufacturer pays all expenses. I’ve read even the new plebian Civics have reliability problems. I can imagine the Honda dealers salivating on the markups over MSRP they can get with this car. But, it’s still great to have a new entrant in this field. Mr. Sohn also makes two great points below regarding lack of an automatic option and also, what is the reviewers daily driver?

  • Rick Tabar

    Why so ……..Hideous?

  • pbug56

    As neat as this car sounds, I’ll never trust Honda again after all their lies and bad trannie design in the Ody’s. I had filed a Fed complaint; one day I got a call from a rep who basically told me where I could stuff that complaint. So no matter how much fun this or another Honda is to drive, I’ll never buy it.

  • BECAUSE YOU ARE A BULLSHIT!

  • AND YOU ARE A BULLSHIT BECAUSE NO MATTER WHAT YOU SAY BAD THINGS ABOUT HONDA, I’LL ALWAYS BUY IT FOREVER! PUTANG INA MO KA! FUCK OFF, YOU SON OF A BITCH! YOU HAVE NO CREDIBILITY! DAMN YOU! HONDAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Rick Tabar

    Oh….There you are! The men in white coats have been looking for their Tourette’s patient. Hope you get better soon and don’t forget to take your medication.

  • Rick Tabar

    You probably don’t realize it , but your caps lock is on. Your medication will help only if you take it.

  • MSEngineering

    Yes make a comparison of flagship model sports car to a family minivan recall….

  • pbug56

    The cars in question should have had a trannie recall but didn’t and when the original trannies failed, Honda offered a supposed discount for ‘rebuilt’ trannies that did not have the defect fixed even though the solutions have been known for years. It’s not about the specific car, rather about a car maker. When I filed a complaint about Honda, I got a call from one of their reps telling me where I could put my complaint. The thing is, we bought the car based on a false reputation for quality.

  • geezee

    Honda extended the warranties on those defective early model ODY tranny’s to 100k miles, I had mine replaced with a reman unit at 100k, free of charge. I have over a million miles driven in Honda cars and cycles since the 1980s- they are simply the best out there, hands down.

  • geezee

    Functionality ? Precisely what does it do at speeds below, say 140 mph ? Also I have seen in other tests, that wing is not very stiff at all and I would assume would flex a good bit given any significant wind loading.

  • geezee

    Maybe Honda could provide a ‘wing removal kit’ to allow purchasers to remove that hideous rear wing- nice little plugs for the holes, etc… ? Also perhaps body colored inserts for the two very strange large black grille-like things on the back bumper to at least make them blend in a little bit ? Is the car coming, or going ? Love the mechanical specs, altho I am not a turbo fan by any stretch…..

  • geezee

    Which Civic models, what reliability issues ? Maybe the turbo ? (I dislike them). Or the CVT (I dislike them even MORE) My 2013 EX 5spd manual, has been flawless in 55k miles, and my other hondas over a million plus miles driven, nearly perfect as well. Exception being the 2000 ODY tranny (well known issue).

  • geezee

    ‘Cars like this’ should not even have an ‘automatic’ option. Thats like putting an AT in an S2K….

  • pbug56

    1999-2001. Not the later models which had the same defects. Honda offered customers / victims a tiny discount on a badly overpriced poorly rebuilt tranny that didn’t even fix the defects and was likely thrilled that the rebuilds easily burned out (unless you added an external cooler and filter) because then they got to sell a second rebuilt trannie. Lucky customers discovered that Jasper offered a rebuilt for less money that fixed the defect and was rebuilt with higher quality materials. FYI, the problems are in Honda cars with V6 engines with automatic transmissions, mainly the Ody.

  • Sam Giovanetti

    Four doors are not cool.

  • danwat1234

    I bet it could tow a 5×8 enclosed trailer easily with all that horsepower and grip tech.
    If I can do it only 1999 Civic DX, this can and very easily 😉

    But, for the price, I’d honestly rather get a sporty Chevy Bolt EV for almost the same price.

  • danwat1234

    1996-2000 auto trannys= good, possibly 1992-2000 Civics. 2001-2004 auto trannys=not