2023 Best Mainstream Performance Car: Honda Civic Type R

Affordable performance is far from dead, and this year’s finalists in a category dedicated to exactly that are proof.

Sure, the definition of affordability is being stretched just about everywhere we look these days, but there’s a sense of attainability amongst each of these machines that you simply don’t get with the likes of the Porsche 911 or Chevrolet Corvette. And while the limited-run 2023 Honda Civic Type R may prove elusive enough to stretch the definition of attainability to begin with, that does nothing to take away from the sheer greatness it delivers – greatness that earns it the title of AutoTrader’s Best Mainstream Performance Car.

Unseating a repeat category champ like the Mazda MX-5 – not to mention other finalists including the Toyota GR86, Nissan Z, and Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R siblings – was bound to take something that exceeds expectations, which is exactly what the back-and-better-than-ever Type R does. It builds on all the best parts of its predecessor but adds more balance to go with a sort of rawness that wasn’t there before.

“It feels far more like some sort of skunkworks project than the last one – like the bean counters and corporate bureaucrats were locked out of the room while the engineers ran wild,” I wrote when I drove the Type R. “There’s genuine personality and playfulness rather than predictable polish.”

There’s a turbocharged 2.0L engine between the front fenders, just as there was before, but output has been cranked up to 315 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The six-speed manual transmission – the only one offered, it’s worth noting – has been optimized to feel even more seamless this time; and while it channels all the four-cylinder’s might to the front wheels, the Civic Type R behaves like anything but a front-wheel-drive car. Credit the mechanical limited-slip differential, as well as the dual-axis front suspension that reduce torque steer and understeer, respectively.

“The new 2023 Civic Type R is among the best-driving cars available for purchase this side of a Porsche,” wrote AutoTrader expert Matt St-Pierre.

It also happens to look good, with tasteful styling compared to the old car. There’s still a massive rear wing, but it’s joined by classy character lines instead of comical ones, while the interior takes the mature look of the standard car and adds red sport seats up front and a carpet to match. Perfection.

This year, we did away with the previous $50,000 price cap – not because affordability isn’t important, but rather because of where the market is moving. While there are still more than a few performance cars to pick from that stay below that threshold, the best versions of the best ones are priced above it – and with good reason: there’s tons of technology that makes them so outstanding in the first place. Sure, both the Subaru WRX and Volkswagen Jetta GLI are both great, but this Honda is head and shoulders above them both.

In the context of cars like the hilariously fun Toyota GR Corolla, or even the Ford Mustang GT and Volkswagen Golf R, the $50,050 before freight and tax Honda wants for this new Type R seems reasonable. There’s a lot of car here for the money.

“Appreciable improvements and impeccable execution” – that’s how I described the 2023 Honda Civic Type R when I tested it. It’s also a great way to describe a winner.