Earlier this year I attended the New Zealand launch of the Civic Type-R at Hampton Downs and experienced the car for three laps of the circuit. This was enormous fun, and I’ve been hanging out for a road drive of the Type-R ever since. The Type-R has had a huge amount of attention overseas and everyone seems to love it. It’s based on the Civic Hatch but with significant changes. Is it really that good? Can it justify a price difference of $19,000 over the RS Sport hatch?
There’s just one spec of Type-R, priced at $59,900, and for that you get a 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbo motor making 228kW and 400Nm, driving the front wheels via a six speed manual transmission. To help get that power down there’s a helical limited slip front diff. There are 4 piston Brembo brakes up front with 350mm rotors, and 305mm rotors at the rear. You get adaptive dampers, stability assist and traction control, agile handling assist, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, road departure mitigation, and lane departure warning.
There’s also a reversing camera plus sensors all round, Android auto, Apple Carplay, LED headlights, fog lights and DRLs, auto lights, auto wipers, front bucket seats, and of course all of that external aero and detailing.
Colours available are Crystal Black Pearl, Rallye Red, Polished Metal Metallic and the traditional colour for the Type-R: Championship White.
This is definitely a car that makes an impression, and its looks are polarising. It gets attention too, lots of it. My thoughts when I first saw the car were a bit of a rollercoaster of “I love that thing”, then “but it’s so over-the-top, I shouldn’t like it” back to “but I do love it”. And so on. It’s like the designers thought about what a teenage boy might want on a poster on his wall, and went for it. There are just so many little aero details all over the Type-R, fins, vents, scoops. It’s pretty busy but it comes together as a coherent whole that screams “race car”.
I talked to a lot of people in the short time I had the Type-R. Every time I parked it, people wanted to come over and have a look at it. And everyone was either excitedly positive about it, or wanted to tell me how horrible and ugly it looked. It’s a great car if you want to make friends with 20-something blokes!
Inside the Type-R, they’ve continued the racy theme but it’s not as over-the-top as the outside. The front seats are low-set buckets, trimmed in red alcantara suede with black details and a Type-R logo stitched into them. They have integrated head rests and holes where a four point harness might fit through. Seatbelts are red, and look great against the other trim. The front seats have the deepest side bolsters I’ve seen in a road car. They may look like race seats but they’re comfortable. Firmer than the Civic hatch seats as you’d expect but I never noticed any discomfort on a longer trip. The seats are adjustable in various directions, manually of course, to save weight, and the steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, so I had no problem finding a comfortable driving position.
The rear seats are a little bit dull in comparison, trimmed in black cloth with red stitching. There’s plenty of leg room back there and they’re comfortable seats, though it can feel a bit dark as everything including the front seat backs, door cards and headliner are dark grey. Interestingly the Type-R is a four seater rather than the five of the hatch. Apparently for weight distribution reasons.
The steering wheel is trimmed in leather with red inserts at the bottom, and has the familiar Honda stereo, cruise and phone controls. They work really well and are easy to get used to using without glancing at the wheel.
The instrument cluster is the same unit as the standard Civic with the large central digital display and really cool LED gauges each side for fuel and temperature. The dash lights up with an animation which they’ve changed for the Type-R, and consists of a large rev counter around the top with a digital speed in the centre. The bottom half allows you to switch between several gauges and displays, with some extras added for the Type-R including shift lights, brake and throttle pressure, G meter (with graph) and lap timer. At the top left there’s a display for current gear and drive mode.
The central 8” touch screen is used for the entertainment system, which is very good, with clear sound and good bass. Plus it displays the multi-angle reversing camera as well as controlling some other functions such as fine tuning the aircon settings, and setting up the vehicle options. It’s bright and clear, but being flat and shiny it does pick up dust and show fingerprints. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d also like a physical volume knob rather than the touch panel. The touch screen is very responsive, and it’s easy to zip through the various menus. One thing that isn’t present it satnav – you need to use your phone for that via Apple carplay or Android Auto.
The doors and centre console are trimmed in a similar suede to the front seats and I really like that. It adds to the racy feel and combined with the red stitching and accents everywhere it ties the looks of the car together well.
The Type-R still has the clever two-level dash with power, USB and aux sockets hidden away and a hole with cable clips next to a more accessible shelf for your phone. In the centre console is the manual shifter with a simple round metal knob, and next to that is the drive mode selector and, electronic parking brake control, and the button for auto brake hold.
There’s a good sized glove box, cup holders, bottle holders in the doors, all the practical features of the standard car. You even get a large 420-litre boot, and 60/40 split folding rear seats which increase load area to 1580 litres if needed. The spare wheel is sacrificed to give more boot space, replaced with an electric air pump for emergencies.
So it’s still a practical car, but I know you’re wondering what it’s like to drive, that being the whole point of a hot hatch…
The Civic Type-R has keyless entry and start. I did have a bit of trouble opening the doors sometimes! I’d walk up to the car, pull the handle, the car would beep and stay locked. In the four days I had the car I didn’t manage to get this right. To be honest I didn’t take the time to read the manual as I was far too excited about actually driving the car.
Sit in the driver’s seat and the start button pulses on and off with a soft, white light. Press it and it turns red, followed by the startup animation on the instrument display. I like these things.
The Type-R has three drive modes: Comfort, Sport and +R. Sport is the default setting every time the car is fired up, but it’s very easy to change with a flick of the toggle switch by the gear lever. Each mode changes the character of the car, with the most noticeable changes being in the ride comfort and steering weight. The R has adaptive dampers, which make a big difference to driving comfort, from firm-but-comfortable through to very firm and almost bouncy in +R mode. Saying that it’s never harsh, bumps are dealt with well, and the overall ride is very good indeed.
Similarly with the variable ratio steering, in Comfort mode, steering is light and the car is easy to manoeuvre and park. Going up to Sport, then +R mode makes it significantly heavier and it has a great, sporty feel when feeding through the bends. If you forget you’re in Sport and end up in slow moving traffic your arms will start to remind you after a while!
The Type-R coped well with the camber of my drive, which can cause some cars to scrape. It was even reasonable over speed bumps, though you have to slow right down for them if you don’t want to bounce over them.
So back to the drive. As with most cars my first drive of the Type-R was in stop-start traffic on the way home, and you might be thinking that a car that looks like this, with this amount of power, would be a pain to drive in traffic like this. But to my surprise, it wasn’t. The clutch is light, gear shift quick and easy, brakes firm and confidence inspiring. And it has radar cruise control, so if you don’t want to do that stop/start stuff, set the cruise and let the car do it. This works well even though it’s a manual, and has a feature I haven’t seen before – you can change gear with cruise control active and it carries on. Most manual cars cancel cruise as soon as the clutch is touched. Clever stuff and it works. The steering is quick, very quick, you feel like you can zip between lanes like those Civics in Fast and Furious, but don’t try to drive under any trucks!
The Civic has a camera in the passenger mirror which Honda call a Lanewatch Camera. It turns on whenever you indicate left, showing a view on the main screen of your blind spot on that side. It’s a good idea and works well when you get used to it.
So the next day it was time for a bit of a trip in the Type-R. I took it over the Rimutakas, around some back roads, and back, a total of around 200km, returning with an almost empty fuel tank and a huge grin on my face. This is a fun car!
Acceleration is impressive, really impressive. Flooring it in first doesn’t work, you’ll end up with wheelspin, axle tramp, then traction control reeling it all in. Even the fat 245/30R20 tyres can’t overcome the laws of physics. But feed in the power gently and you’ll hit 50 in first in no time, shift up to second, foot down and in the blink of an eye you’re at the red line doing 100. Quoted 0-100 time is 5.7 seconds, and it certainly feels like it. Once boost kicks in it’s easy to hit the limiter, making that shift light display pretty useful. Even though you’re pushing over 300bhp through the front wheels, there’s no torque steer. Honda have a cleverly engineered dual axis suspension setup designed to counter understeer and torque steer, and it works brilliantly.
The 4 piston Brembo brakes are also excellent, pulling the car up fast, with good feel, and because of the firm suspension the nose of the car hardly dips during braking, giving you even more confidence.
But it’s not all about straight line speed, the Type-R can do corners too. Thanks to the firm suspension, clever engineering and quick ratio steering, the Type-R really is a pleasure to pilot down a twisty back road. It’s grin-inducing in a similar way to an MX-5. Obviously a different type of car, but it has that same feeling of connection to the road. Then there’s the gear shift – it really is excellent with a tight, short throw. It has a solid snick-snick sort of feel which is just perfect. When you down shift, the Type-R has automatic engine rev matching, which is weird at first but once you get used to it, it’s pretty cool. This can be turned off if you don’t like it.
As you can tell, I rather liked the Type-R. I even started thinking about what relatives I might be able to sell to afford one. But there are some negatives. First – road noise. Those 245 tyres make quite a racket on the standard New Zealand metal surfaced roads. On one short stretch that was rougher than normal as it had just been resurfaced, the noise was almost unbearable. Another probable symptom of this is that the hands-free phone didn’t work well for me. The person on the other end of the call said I sounded like I was underwater, and they didn’t sound that clear to me either.
Then there’s the sound it makes. Don’t get me wrong, it makes a decent noise on acceleration, with a growl of exhaust and if you listen carefully you can hear the “ssssssss-pshhh” of the turbo. But there’s not enough of it. In a car that looks like the Type-R I want it to be a growling, exhaust-popping, boost-sounding beast. Unfortunately noise regulations seem to have put a stop to that. At least the clever triple exhaust design means there’s no booming on the motorway.
Other than those relatively minor issues, the Type-R really is a great driver’s car. Each time I walked up my drive, seeing it gave me a little thrill, making me grin. And that’s just looking at it. Sort of a guilty pleasure where I feel like I shouldn’t like it but I can’t help but love it. It gets a lot of attention, people taking photos of it. Walk ups when you park, so if you don’t like attention, don’t buy one.
Next to similar-powered competitors, the Civic is looking like great value.
|Brand / Model
|Price Highest to Lowest
|Mercedes AMG A45
|2.0l 4 cylinder turbo
|3.0l 6 cylinder turbo
|2.0l 4 cylinder turbo
|Ford Focus RS
|2.3l 4 cylinder turbo
|VW Golf R Manual
|2.0l 4 cylinder turbo
|Honda Civic Type-R
|2.0l 4 cylinder turbo
|MINI John Cooper Works
|2.0l 4 cylinder turbo
|Holden Astra VXR
|2.0l 4 cylinder turbo
The pros and cons
What we think
At the start of this review I asked if the Civic Type-R was as good as people are saying, if it’s worth the big premium over a Civic hatch. The answer is an emphatic yes. It’s a totally different car to the model it’s based on, aimed at a different market segment. Honda have done an amazing job turning a good-but-ordinary hatch into a properly hot hatch.
It’s fast, handles well, has a real connection to the road and definitely has that grin factor. The gearshift is sublime, and the way it turns in makes it really satisfying to drive. In the city or in traffic it has decent manners, it’s comfortable, there’s ample room for four and good boot space.
There’s the issue of road noise on some surfaces but if I was in a position to buy one of these cars that wouldn’t put me off at all. I really really want one.
Rating – Chevron rating 5 out of 5
|$59,900 plus on-road costs
|$59,900 plus on-road costs
|2.0 litre, 4 Cylinder, 16 valve, VTEC Turbo, intercooled, chain drive DOHC with EarthDreams Direct Injection Technology
|6 Speed Manual Transmission with Oil Cooler
Limited Slip Diff (LSD) (Helical Type) Rev-match Control System
|0 – 100 kph
|Length x Width x Height
|4557 x 1877 x 1434mm
|420 Litres seats up
1580 Litres seats folded
|Advertised Spec – Combined – 8.8L / 100km
Real World Test – Combined – 9.2L / 100km
|ANCAP Safety Ratings
|Not yet rated.
|5 year unlimited kilometre warranty
5 year roadside assist