Expert Reviews

2023 Honda Civic Type R First Drive Review and Video

When Honda finally built a Civic Type R for all of us to enjoy, the results were unquestionably outstanding.

No longer relegated to forbidden fruit status in this part of the world, it barely took any meaningful time behind the wheel to understand what the hype has been about from the start. The short version is that it somehow managed to defy its own physical limitations. There was none of the torque steer that’s to be expected from a front-wheel-drive car generating 295 lb-ft of it, while understeer, another supposed side effect of its layout, was essentially nonexistent.

Deficiencies were few and far between, but it wasn’t exactly brimming with character, feeling almost too precise and predictable instead. There was also the pesky little issue of its styling, with an over-the-top exterior that didn’t exactly look like it was designed for an adult audience.

After a year-long hiatus, the 2023 Honda Civic Type R is here, and it’s better than before in almost every way imaginable. Hyundai may have made a splash with its trio of true N models, and the GR Corolla from Toyota is here to play, too; but as of now, the sport compact crown is back with its rightful owner.

A Sight for Sore Eyes

The last Civic Type R was pretty much universally panned for its, um, interesting styling, which makes this new version particularly palatable. More generally, the latest Civic on which this version is based ushered in a maturity that was missing last time, and that underpins the presence of this performance version. Yes, that rear wing is bold; and the tri-tip exhaust carries over from last time. But it’s tastefully aggressive in a manner that isn’t dissimilar to the crazy-good Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing.

Honda’s designers really flipped the script as far as the cabin is concerned. Whereas this car’s predecessor was demure there’s lots to get excited about this time around, starting with the carpet. It’s red, and it’s glorious. So, too, are the front seats, which look as if they were ripped right out of a race car and bolted into this hot hatch. Otherwise, the machined shift knob and serialized badge are subtle nods to the sinisterness lurking underneath.

Purebred Performance

There was nothing wrong with the oily parts and computer components of the last car, and so the engineers at Honda simply honed what was already there. That’s why the engine is the same 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder as before, just better.

It makes 315 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque this time around – not much more than the last one, but enough to be noticeable. Both intake and exhaust flow have been tweaked, and an engine that breathes better performs better, full stop. The turbo was also redesigned, while boost pressure now peaks at 25.2 psi compared to 23.2 psi last time. There’s also a bigger radiator and requisite grille opening to keep the engine cool.

Other changes include a lighter flywheel, tweaked auto rev-matching system, and what Honda calls an “optimized shift gate pattern.” And while it’s one thing to regurgitate change points from a press release, driving is believing. The last car’s six-speed was nearly perfect, and this new one gets it over the hump. There was nothing inherently wrong before, but this one is less of conduit between driver and car and more of an extension of the very extremities tasked with changing gears.

OK, if there’s one complaint, minor though it may be, during this brief test it didn’t seem like there was a way to shut off the auto rev-matching system – it was either on, or on-er. In fairness, it’s pretty great at its job, but those who might want a little less computer intervention will be disappointed that it can’t be disengaged like before.

Impeccable Balance

For those who are happy to have the task of heel-and-toe downshifts handled by Honda, feel free to dive headlong into corners and have the mechanical limited-slip differential (LSD) handle the rest. It builds on the last car’s ability to do the same by putting usable torque to the front wheels no matter how generous the driver’s right foot is with throttle input on corner exit.

While this two-day test didn’t include any track time, a spirited adventure along a favourite backroad uncorked this Civic’s uncanny ability to claw its way through corners. Whereas the Hyundai Elantra N does the same but with noticeable intervention, the Type R’s LSD takes on much more of a supporting role than a starring one.

With the adaptive dampers in their softest setting, the Type R’s nose dives just enough under heavy braking to get the centre of gravity up and over the front wheels for optimal pivot. Lean into the suspension and feel the car pirouette like a Juilliard-trained dancer; now pin the throttle and let the torque pull at both drive wheels in what seems like perfect unison.

Even then, there’s a wild side to this Civic. 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. There’s genuine personality and playfulness rather than predictable polish.

The Price is Right

It’s not often that a car feels this fairly priced, but at $51,830 before tax it seems like the product planners at Honda Canada really nailed this one. Yes, that’s still a lot of money, but the roughly $4,000 premium over its predecessor seems more than reasonable. However, that it’s missing heated front seats is hard to ignore – especially for the asking price.

Otherwise, it has almost everything it should to feel thoroughly modern and approachable for everyday use. The same nine-inch touchscreen as, say, a Civic Sport Touring hatch; wireless smartphone compatibility; automatic climate control; and an entire suite of advanced safety and driver-assist systems (although if ever there was a car to skip, say, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist, this would be it). Of course, the other consideration is whether it’ll actually be possible to track one down – and for that asking price.

Final Thoughts

Despite how dialled the drive is, there’s a sort of raucousness here that the last car was missing. Some might simply call it character, but whatever it is, the 2023 Honda Civic Type R is brimming with it.

Just like last time, it’s not alone; and it’s facing some unquestionably awesome – albeit somewhat unfamiliar – competition. In fact, we’re spoiled for choice right now when it comes to sport compact cars. Hyundai’s new Elantra and Kona N models alone are worthy of adoration, while the GR Corolla is an all-wheel-drive giggle machine. But what all of them lack – yes, even that tuned Toyota – is lineage, while the Type R has lots to live up to. By that measure alone, this Honda hot hatch carries on its legacy with appreciable improvements and impeccable execution.