One of the nice things about the Golf R is that it functions exactly like every other kind of Golf. In many ways, it has replaced the BMW 3 Series as a sporting car that shines a little joy into some business drone’s otherwise dreary life. Every time I go to the airport, I see at least a dozen parked in the short-term lot. It is the business suit of quick hatchbacks.
The Type R doesn’t just look insane, it is insane.
This? This is the orange cargo pants of fast hatchbacks.
The Type R’s styling can best be described as [expletive redacted] crazy. In fact, it can only be described as [expletive redacted] crazy. While much of the go-fast bits have genuine aerodynamic use – the hood scoop, for instance, directs air out the side vents to create a more slippery profile – stuff like the giant fake air vents at the front and rear are a bit much. [The vents at the front are not fake, but are exaggerated - Ed]
It is customary, at this point, to add something like, “but it grows on you.” No, it doesn’t. I spent a great deal of time with the 2017 Honda Civic Type R, three weeks in total, and it never once looked normal to me. Canada only gets two colours, and I suppose I’d recommend the black, which looks like something Batman would drive on the way to go pick up ramen.
My kids mostly loved it, especially as we had the Type R around Halloween. Because it looks like it’s dressed up as a giant space robot, the Type R was a seasonally appropriate hit.
On the inside, you get four red seatbelts, because of course you do, and no middle seat in back. I have no idea why Honda has deleted the middle seat, and I suspect Honda doesn’t either. You also get incredibly aggressive front bucket seats, which manage to offer track-level bolstering and surprisingly good comfort.
In all other respects, the Type R is a Honda Civic hatchback, which means you get a useful amount of passenger room, a capacious trunk (I particularly like the side-retracting luggage cover), and a central cubby that could swallow a labradoodle. Maddeningly, normal Civics come with a fun little feature here that’s missing from the Type R: the rubber tray at the bottom of the between-seats bin normally comes with an engraving showing the F1 cars and motorcycles that are part of Honda’s engineering legacy.
How shall I describe the infotainment system? Permit me to describe the process for switching on and off the automatic rev-matching. First, select Settings. Then select Vehicle. Next, pause to put the emergency brake on, otherwise the screen won’t respond. Now press Rev Assist System Setup. Then press Auto Rev System. Now press Off. When the popup box says “Set Rev Match System To Off?” press Yes.
On the plus side, you only have to do that once. Further, it’s not tied to one of the three driving modes, so you aren’t forced into having rev-matching when you don’t want it.
On the other hand, it’s a mess of sub-menus that demonstrates Honda’s sometimes baffling system. The setup in the 2018 Honda Accord is much better. And at least the Civic now has a volume knob.
But you didn’t come here to talk about infotainment, you came to find out if the Type R is any good to drive. As the spiritual descendant of the screamy Integra Type R, this is a car that has a lot to live up to. Happily, it does – with one rather large caveat.
Hop in, press the starter button, and shift into first gear. At once, you feel either a shuddering freezing, or the searing pain of having a six-speed H-pattern burned into your flesh, depending whether it’s summer or winter. The Type R’s metal gearshift knob looks cool, but it makes you look like that guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Either way, huffle off down the road on the cold tires, getting a little wheelspin when you pull away from a stop. The first surprise is the ride, which is really quite comfortable. Judge the Type R by its boy-racer styling and ridiculous 20-inch wheels, and you’ve judged wrong. Comfortable mode, one step down from the default Sport, is just that: comfortable.
The second surprise is what happens when the tires are warmed up. Powered by a 2.0L turbocharged engine that makes 305 hp at 7,000 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 5,200, the Type R’s engine is gutsy at low revs, but still loves to pull. The first few times you dip into the power, it’s surprising how hard it comes on up top.
Several privately owned cars have been dyno-tested since the R’s release, and most of them seem to be putting nearly 300 hp to the wheels. Perhaps Honda is sandbagging a little here, but the point is that the Type R feels much faster than its front-wheel-drive-hampered 0–100km/h times.
The next surprise disappoints a bit, depending on how much hair gel you normally use. The R is not really any louder than a normal Civic, thanks to the central resonator in that three-pipe rear exhaust. I’d imagine the Fast and Furious crowd would soon be taking a blowtorch to the back of the car.
However, what we appear to have, as the sum of all parts, is a crazy-looking car that’s about as practical and easy to live with as a standard Civic hatch. Based on a little bench-racing, it should be about as quick as a Subaru STI or Golf R, unless there’s rain or snow out. Get the Golf if you’re an accountant, get the Subie if you like mud, get the Type R if you’ve watched Akira more than ten times.
Except that’s not accurate at all. The Type R doesn’t just look insane, it is insane.
There’s no way driving this fast should be this easy. I had the Type R on track in both the wet and dry, and it easily dispatched any manoeuvre, putting down times that were ahead of an STI. The brakes were particularly phenomenal, resisting heat well.
Translating that performance to the backroads was even more eye-widening, as the adaptive dampers handled even rough surfaces, and the variable-ratio steering provided speed and accuracy without feeling darty and nervous.
It’s a little monster, capable of travelling ridiculously quick. The twistier the pavement gets, the better the Type R responds, with essentially no torque steer.
In theory, this should make it the ideal dual-purpose weapon, but I want to caution you. Two reputable sources have reported overheating issues during track events on hot days. Apparently Honda is addressing some of these issues, but it’s important to remember that the Type R is a new car. Development at the Nürburgring is all well and good, but hot weather might be an issue.
Speaking of the Nürburgring, please note that the Type R’s much-vaunted lap-time there was set on Michelins, not the Continentals that the street car wears. I would be inclined to swap in 18s or 19s with Pilot Super Sports.
Further, remember that part of the reason the Type R is able to punch past the likes of the STI is that it’s further ahead in its development cycle. The STI rides on a previous-generation platform these days, and its engine is positively ancient. When the new one arrives, probably as a 2020 model year, the Type R might have to suddenly add all-wheel drive to its back of tricks.
In the meantime, the Type R is hilariously wonderful to drive, just as it is hilariously overwrought on the outside. It performed daily-driver duties just as easily as my old GR-chassis STI hatchback, and just blasted away the cobwebs every time. It even returned pretty decent fuel economy.
I don’t think you’re going to find this car making much of a dent in Golf R sales. It’s too cartoonish-looking, for one thing, and the lack of a dual-clutch transmission limits the appeal. However, maybe we don’t all need to stay buttoned-down all the time.
Maybe we just need to get our orange cargo pants on.
|2017 Honda Civic Type R|
|Engine Displacement: 2.0L|
|Engine Cylinders: 4|
|Peak Horsepower: 305 hp @ 7,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque: 270 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm|
|Fuel Economy: 10.6/8.3/9.6 L/100km city/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space: 727.7 L|
|2017 Honda Civic Type R|
|Base Price $40,890|
|A/C Tax $100|
|Destination Fee $1,595|
|Price as Tested $42,585|
|Optional Equipment None|