A hard goodbye
THE GOOD
  • Insane front-drive performance and handling
  • World-class manual shift action
  • About as practical and comfortable as a regular Civic
THE BAD
  • Not amazingly equipped for the money
  • Inexplicably only seats four
  • It’s sold out

The redesigned – and really good – 2022 Civic may be the one Honda wants everybody to talk about, but before the outgoing version is gone forever we thought it would be fun to have one final go in the 2021 Honda Civic Type R.

After four years on the market, this car – dubbed the FK8, if you’re a Honda nerd – is a known commodity. A miracle-working front axle, a bigger engine, big wheels, and what seems like the biggest of wings were slapped together to make one of the most revered front-wheel-drive cars ever produced. It received a mild refresh last year consisting of a larger grille and upgraded adaptive damping software, as well as tweaked bushings and ball joints.

Now in its fourth and final model year, I’m happy to report that the Type R’s manic front-drive charm hasn’t gotten old, because the 2021 Civic Type R remains one of the most fun cars I’ve driven all year. My only real gripe? It won’t be around for me to drive again next year.

Styling: 10/10 (LOL)

This might be a generational/cultural thing, but as an Asian male in his 20s who not-so-guiltily rewatches 2 Fast 2 Furious at least once a year, I honestly really like how the Civic Type R looks. Like a pair of limited-edition Jordans or the average G-Shock watch from Casio, elegance and subtlety aren’t really the aim here, and this big-winged, over-vented Honda is styled extremely appropriately – with an emphasis on the extreme.

Granted, I may like the Type R’s styling, but I’m also acutely aware of how this car is perceived by most other members of the general public. Hell, my editors even put it on AutoTrader.ca’s list of the ugliest cars on the market. And as much as we’d all like to claim to the contrary, the perception of others (whether that’s of potential employers, judgmental landlords, professional clients, dates, in-laws, or local radar-toting law enforcement) matters. So whether or not a car that looks as wild as the Civic Type R will be a good fit for your lifestyle and social circle is ultimately your call to make.

Power: 9/10

Before I start gushing about how awesome this car is to drive, let’s get one negative out of the way early: despite Honda’s active sound control piping in artificial vroom-vroom noises through the speakers and that Ferrari F40-like triple-exit exhaust, the Type R doesn’t sound all that great. There are subtle hints of the beloved VTEC wail of old, but it mostly sounds like a cow doing its best impression of a race car.

All that’s forgiven, however, by how hard this turbocharged 2.0L pulls. Sending 295 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels used to mean rampant torque steer – in other words, a tendency to pull violently to one side or the other under heavy acceleration – but Honda has engineered pretty much all of that out by way of a nifty dual-axis front suspension setup. Floor it from basically anywhere in the rev range, wait about a second for the turbo to prime, and the Type R takes off with a manic personality that’s extremely entertaining, hilariously aggressive, and almost savage.

It’s as if it grew up being picked on by bigger engines on the playground over being too small, secretly started practicing karate in its spare time, and is now ready to show everybody just how hard a four-cylinder can punch. It has that determined fire that only an unbridled and questionably healthy thirst for vengeance can foster, and I am extremely here for it.

Driving Feel: 10/10

As impressive as the Type R’s engine is, it isn’t even the best part of this car’s driving experience. Nor is it even the second-best part. Instead, the most admirable aspects of the drive are the way it handles and the way it shifts.

Steering is pin-sharp and responds with an immediacy not found in many other cars regardless of price or driven wheels. That same dual-axis front axle that curbs torque steer on hard launches nearly eliminates understeer when a speeding Type R is met with a turn and lends to an almost uncanny ability to absolutely blast down a winding road. Changes in direction are superbly stable and visceral, and a day out with this car on an empty, winding road is the sort of day I live for – and if you’re reading this, I suspect you do, too.

Those without the ability to shift their own gears need not apply, because the Civic Type R is manual-only. And what a manual it is. Armed with a shift action that’s smooth, short, devoid of slop, and superbly mechanical, the six-speed here is a joy to use. Automatic rev-matching works well to smooth out downshifts in case you aren’t quite skilled enough to do it yourself, but seasoned drivers can turn it off.

The brakes, meanwhile, are similarly great. Strong, easy-to-modulate, and attached to a pedal that travels satisfyingly short.

Safety: 8/10

Thin A-pillars and a big split rear window mean great outward visibility in all directions. Based on a Civic that’s more than half-decade old, the Type R still features Honda’s camera-based blind-spot monitoring system that provides a live view of the passenger side on the infotainment display when the signal is activated (or at the press of a button). The company has since phased this system out in favour of sensor-based blind-spot monitoring in its newer models, citing increased safety with the latter despite the former’s alleged lower cost and showroom-floor niftiness.

Even though it has a manual transmission, adaptive cruise control is standard as is lane-keep assist, both of which work as advertised. Other standard safety features include automatic high-beams, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and, of course, a government-mandated back-up camera.

Features: 7/10

Considering the Honda Civic Type R’s official as-tested price approaches $50,000, you’d be forgiven for assuming it comes with most of the modern creature comforts you want. But it seems Honda spent most of that money making the Type R fast and fun instead, because while the Type R is sufficiently-equipped to serve as a daily driver, it isn’t especially luxurious – especially considering the money being exchanged.

As standard, you get LED exterior lighting, heated door mirrors, speed-sensing wipers, a seven-inch central touchscreen that supports wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, automatic dual-zone climate control, push-button start, and a wireless charger. No rain-sensing wipers, no head-up display, no heated steering wheel, and no heated seats.

User Friendliness: 7.5/10

Other than the aforementioned blind-spot camera, few features date this generation of Civic more than its infotainment system. It’s small by modern standards and runs software that, while decently functional, looks even older than it is. Although, to be fair, that can easily be sidestepped by just running Apple CarPlay or Android Auto all the time, which it does quite smoothly.

Physical cabin ergonomics are quite good, with few surprises or learning curve as to where buttons and controls are placed. The plastic temperature knobs even make an effort by being knurled and moving with a pretty nice click but can’t hold a candle to the positively premium knobs you get inside the 2022 Civic.

Practicality: 8/10

While its performance may be a far cry from the Civic hatch on which it’s based, the Type R still retains most of that car’s practicality, boasting essentially the same interior dimensions as Honda’s perfectly practical five-door commuter. The cargo area is nice and large, and there’s an easily deployable fabric cover that keeps your belongings away from prying eyes.

One significant difference between this car and the regular Civic, however, is the fact that the Type R is a four-seater. Two static cupholders and a storage nook are found where the middle-rear seat would be, and there are only two seat belts back there. Why did Honda do this, you ask? I’m honestly not too sure, but the only fathomable reason I can come up with is that Honda figured that a fourth passenger would add too much weight and therefore compromise the Type R’s greatest strengths: speed and handling.

Comfort: 9/10

Despite its eye-opening performance capabilities, the Civic Type R remains admirably comfortable. Flick the drive mode switch to comfort and the ride is more than livable, and not especially harsher than the suspension found on the garden-variety Civic. The front seats are great at holding you in place during aggressive cornering but they’re also soft and sumptuous to sit in, and probably some of the best seats you can get in this price bracket, performance car or otherwise.

As mentioned earlier, automatic dual-zone climate control is standard but a heated steering wheel and heated and ventilated seats aren’t available.

Fuel Economy: 9/10

The Civic Type R may very well be one of the most entertaining cars on sale today, but you wouldn’t really know it based on its fuel economy ratings. Thanks to its relatively light weight and small-displacement turbo engine, Honda’s hot hatch is rated for 10.5 L/100 km in the city, 8.4 on the highway, and 9.6 combined, per Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Not bad for the velocity and amusement that’s available here.

What’s more, the Type R pulled off a bit of a rare trick: it beat its own ratings during testing. After a week of mixed driving that involved city crawling, highway cruising, aggressive backroad work, and idling briefly for photographs, the red-badged Civic showed 9.5 L/100 km on its trip computer.

Officially, premium fuel is recommended, but the required regular fuel apparently won’t do any harm. (Although, in my humble opinion, any Type R owner who opts for regular-grade fuel by choice should sell their car immediately to somebody who will actually invest in getting the most out of this gem of an automobile.)

Value: 7/10

Per the manufacturer, the 2021 Honda Civic Type R costs $48,000 as tested before tax. There are typically two schools of thought as to whether this makes the Type R a good value or not. On the one hand, that’s quite a bit of money to spend on any Civic, let alone one from the previous generation. It’s also quite a bit more expensive than the Hyundai Veloster N, arguably this car’s closest spiritual rival, which can be had in the high $30,000 range. Although, to be fair, the Veloster is a smaller three-door.

On the other hand, I’ve driven performance cars double and triple the Type R’s price that weren’t nearly as exciting. They may have been faster and more luxurious, but when it comes to handling and sheer personality, the big-wing Civic is a bit of a standout that transcends rational financial analysis.

But here’s the rub: according to the Honda Canada website, all 2021 Civic Type Rs are already sold out, and since this generation of Civic is done-zo for 2022, they’re not making any more of these. So, really, if you’re reading this, interested in this car, and have yet to purchase one, you’re pretty much stuck with the secondary market which, judging from listings found right here on AutoTrader.ca (Civic Type R or otherwise), is a bit of a seller’s game these days.

As of this writing, older, pre-facelift examples can be had for semi-reasonable prices, but most used 2021 Civic Type Rs are being listed for around $60,000, while the going rate for a yellow Limited Edition model appears to be about $80,000. At this point, owners and dealers both know what they have and aren’t shy about charging accordingly.

The Verdict

Having driven the practically identical 2020 version of this car last year, getting into the 2021 Honda Civic Type R for the purpose of this review was like reuniting with an old friend. I could tell you some more about its magical front axle, its wonderfully metallic shifter, or its uncharacteristically comfortable seats to further reinforce how great this car is, but I think the fact that I felt genuinely sad over having to give this car back after a week of testing tells you all you need to know.

Driving it back to its corporate Honda Canada owners, I realized that there’s a decent chance that it’s likely the last time I ever drive an FK8 Civic Type R. I suddenly felt like I was ferrying a close friend to the airport where a one-way flight to somewhere far was waiting for them. Before handing over the keys, I took a moment to just sit it in alone, drink it in, and take a bunch of pictures – unpublished phone shots that only I will ever see. I wanted to give the car a hug.

Of course, this isn’t the last Civic Type R that will ever exist because Honda, thankfully, has already confirmed a red-badged version of the redesigned, 11th-gen Civic – a car which very well may be even better than this one. But it won’t be the same.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2021 Honda Civic Type R
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $46,200
Peak Horsepower 306 hp @ 6,500 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 295 lb-ft @ 2,500–4,500 rpm   Destination Fee $1,700
Fuel Economy 10.5 / 8.4 / 9.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $48,000
Cargo Space 728 / 1,308 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
None