Back in 2017, Rob Clubley reviewed the Honda Civic Type R and wanted one. This is the riskiest aspect of reviewing cars; you spend a week with one and don’t want to give it back. It gets even more dangerous when you want to go out and buy one. So, the then-new Civic Type R had Rob struggling to restrain himself from visiting a Honda dealer. I drove the car after Rob and had the same feelings; performance, handling, braking all packaged up in a practical 5-door hatchback. It felt like there was little not to love – except maybe for the looks.

2021 brings a few updates to the 10th gen car; tweaked suspension, some new body bits, enhanced engine noise, and a new performance app, among other things. You can read about the updates here. The engine is unchanged, putting out 228kW of power in this front-wheel-drive hot hatchback.

With the i30N and now the i30N Fastback closely on its heels and of course Toyota’s all-wheel drive GR Yaris now knocking on its door, can the new Type R maintain its desirability, or will buyers start flocking to the new kids on the block?

This time around, after my week in the car I’ll hand it off to Alistair Weekes to get his opinion, which is included below.

The Range

There’s just the one model here, it’s manual-gearbox only, and the 4-cylinder, petrol-turbo motor pumps out 228kW of power and 400Nm of torque.

Standard price is $62,990, and for that you will get 20” alloy wheels, suede performance seats, hill start assist, a limited slip diff, rev matching system, 350mm front Brembo brakes, 305mm rear Brembo brakes, emergency brake assist, Lane Watch Camera, tyre deflation warning system, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, reversing camera with dynamic guidelines, keyless entry and start, alloy pedals, dual-zone climate AC, all windows auto up/down, a 7” centre touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, electric folding mirrors, LED headlights, automatic headlights, LED DRLs, LED front fog lamps, and LED tail lights.

You can read more about the Type R on Honda New Zealand’s website.

First Impressions

I’ll be the first to admit that in 2017, the look of the Type R had me gagging, and I think that was the case for a lot of people. When I drove it, all I could think was that I couldn’t see what the car looked like while behind the wheel, and that was okay.

I’ll also be the first to admit, I now love the look. After four years, it’s still so freaking outlandish it looks amazing. Oh, I still had people driving past me on the motorway, looking, pointing, laughing, but I didn’t care. In this new Boost Blue Pearl colour, to me it looks superb. All those lines, angles and bits of plastic trim jutting out that used to look like a mess, now turn me on. I wasn’t alone in having this view.

“Oh, I still had people driving past me on the motorway, looking, pointing, laughing, but I didn’t care. In this new Boost Blue Pearl colour, to me it looks superb.”

There haven’t been huge body changes for 2021; redesigned front and rear bumpers, body coloured accent blades, and that’s it. That means there’s still the big, red Brembo brakes, the triple exhaust tips and all sorts of aerodynamic tweaks.

It’s definitely a Marmite car, but I’ve 100% moved into the Love It group of people.

One thing that stood out walking around the car was the ‘orange peel’ on the paintwork. It’s surprisingly obvious in the paint.

The Interior

Red is the order of the day inside the Type R; a red and black Alcantara steering wheel grabs your eyes, then the red seats make you do a double take. Add to that the red seat belts, and red accents across the dash, and you get the hint. Red means fast, in Honda speak.

The red goes on, with contrasting red stitching on the doors, and red and white stitching on the seats. It’s not too much, and in perfect keeping with the car.

Of course, carbon fibre screams performance as well, so there’s a splash of that on the dash. There’s been a small change to the gear knob on the 2021 version; it’s not shaped the same as the beloved EK9 version of the Civic Type R, and even has 90 grams of weight inside it for a better shifting experience. Right below the gear lever is the Type R’s number plate – its unique serial number, riveted right there onto the console forever.

There isn’t just some token amount of Alcantara on the steering wheel; it’s completely covered in it. One of the highlights of this car is the feel of that wheel, it is simply awesome. The Alcantara is carried over to the gear shift gaiter, doors and centre console as well, and looks superb.

It was great to see that the infotainment and AC system has had a little upgrade; there’s now hard buttons to adjust the fan speed of the AC, and a separate Climate Control button to bring up other options on the centre screen – much better than the previous model. No actual changes to the infotainment centre have been made, which is a shame. It still looks low res and old school. Honda definitely needs to up its game in the infotainment screen department. Other than the LogoR app (discussed later), the whole system is the same as a standard Civic and even the CR-V we recently tested. That’d be okay if it was good, but it’s lacking. The display also had 4 blank screens to scroll through, and I couldn’t find how to delete them, or if they could be deleted. One screen had a single shortcut and nothing else. I picked up the manual to have a look- it’s 700 pages thick. It’s so good to see manufacturers still including printed manuals with cars; I dread the day it’s only online, or only on the central screen.

Like the Civic and other Honda models, the centre console is quite high, with an open area underneath to store your junk, but also there’s an HDMI and two USB ports under there. Are they tricky to get to? Very. Once you have something plugged in, there’s a hole at the front of the upper centre console to run the cable through, and ideally just leave it there.

Rear legroom is excellent, although there’s no USB ports for your passengers, or any air vents. The rear seats are nothing special like the front, but still comfortable on a long trip. As a tribute to performance cars, there’s fake carbon fibre on the back of front seats. I’m not sure everyone wants that, but it’s there.

Boot space is extremely good – it is almost standard Honda Civic inside, after all. Under the rear floor there’s no space saver spare, just a pump.

Keep in mind the Type R is a 4-seater only, apparently for weight distribution. I’m not sure what that means when there’s three in the car, but that’s what they say. There’s no actual divider like a hard console that other 4 seaters have, it’s just the normal seat but only two seatbelts.

The Drive

After driving the i30N Fastback not long ago, and then the GR Yaris at Hampton Downs, I was very keen to see if the Type R would still kindle a fire enough to make me want it as much as I did before.

Time to press that red Start/Stop button and get this car moving. Just starting it, you’ll see it reverts to Sport mode straight away. While the Fiesta ST offers you launch mode at every time you stop, the Type R decides if you want to drive it, you obviously want it in Sport mode. That was fine with me.

The ride can be a little firm in Sport mode however, and I did find myself switching it to Comfort mode quite a bit on the daily commute. That’s probably more down to Wellington roads than anything else. On the times I got the car out into the quiet countryside, it was all very dependent on road conditions. There’s also +R mode, which is mainly for the track. This is pretty obvious since the ride gets really firm in +R mode, to the point where the whole car lifted and shifted in its lane on bumpy corners for me a few times.

While the ride definitely stiffens up in those two modes, so does the steering. It gets noticeably heavier, and the feel increases. Another highlight? The steering is almost perfect in this car. It’s direct, quick, and has excellent feel. You know exactly what those front wheels are doing, at any time. A shame then that the turning circle is so horrendous, at 12.6 metres. That’s huge, and you can really feel this when parking the car in town.

“There’s also +R mode, which is mainly for the track. This is pretty obvious since the ride gets really firm in +R mode, to the point where the whole car lifted and shifted in its lane on bumpy corners for me a few times.”

The clutch, while fine on the move, can feel a bit heavy in stop-start traffic, and the feel is a little lacking. This is typical of a hydraulic clutch, compared to a cable clutch. The ‘new’ gear knob feels amazing, and you can actually feel that extra weight they’ve put inside it. It looks awesome too, and stands proud out of the console, waiting to be used in anger. It is made of titanium, and does have one drawback; after parking the car in hot sun for 6 hours, I could barely touch the gear knob, it was so hot. Perhaps your granny could crochet you a gear knob cover or something. If I was being picky, I’d say the gear lever was a little too far ahead in the car and a little too high, but that may just be because of my shorter arms.

It can be shifted quickly on a backroad, but you do need to be quite direct with the changes; no lazy swapping cogs here, the Type R wants to be treated properly. In saying that, I think overall it’s a better gear change than the i30N. The car still has rev matching, but if you want to old school it and heel and toe, the pedals are setup perfectly for this, making beautifully smooth changes down the ‘box.

“The car still has rev matching, but if you want to old school it and heel and toe, the pedals are setup perfectly for this, making beautifully smooth changes down the ‘box.”

Heavy acceleration from a start sees a repeat of the earlier model of Type R: masses of axle tramp and wheelspin, until electronics rein it in and you shoot forward. This is where the GR Yaris has it all over the Civic Type R. Does it matter? Yes and no. It’s frustrating to not be able to just floor it and dump the clutch without the axle tramp, but this does force you to actually drive the car better, feathering the throttle and using the clutch to get the best possible acceleration out of it. That’s not a bad thing.

So, what about in the wet? It’s a bit of a handful, so you’ll need to be careful with that right foot, otherwise you aren’t going to move from a stop without wheelspin. The same goes for any sort of heavy acceleration on the move in most gears, in the rain; wheelspin is the order of the day. This isn’t a car for an inexperienced driver.

The car will rev very quickly to the 7,000rpm redline, without a hint of NVH. It’s not that quick, taking 5.8 seconds to get to 100km/h but for this car, midrange is where it’s at. It’s stunningly quick to pass cars on the motorway, or to use that midrange on a backroad. Memories of 2017 come flooding back on the motorway, too; all that torque means that this hot hatch can cruise along comfortably in 6th gear, and still accelerate quickly and cleanly. Unbelievably, it’s a surprisingly good commuter, with excellent visibility and that tractible engine. Part of that acceleration in 6th gear might be down to the low gearing; at 100km/h, the engine is turning over at 2,400rpm. That’s pretty high by today’s standards.

“Unbelievably, it’s a surprisingly good commuter, with excellent visibility and that tractible engine.”

Gallons of torque also means you can short shift very easily. I found myself doing 1-2-4-6 often on any onramp, and there was little drama. It was awesome to have a manual test car for a change, as we only get a handfull each year.

Adaptive cruise control sure helps the Type R with the Daily Drive. I’m happy to report that Honda hasn’t taken away the ability to change gear while adaptive cruise is on, and it stays on when you change up or down. I’ve never seen this on another manual car, and it’s excellent. On the downside, adaptive cruise won’t bring you to a stop, but this is because of the manual gearbox. The other negative here is that adaptive cruise won’t brake going down a hill, unless there is a car in front of you. I don’t see any excuse for that, and we seem to be seeing it more and more, including the latest Toyota RAV4. It’s a safety and speeding ticket issue, and is almost inexcusable. I don’t recall the earlier model doing this but perhaps it did.

But using cruise control not what the Type R is about. It’s made for the track, or nicely quiet backroads where you can travel comfortably under or at the speed limit. I didn’t get to take the Type R to the track – but oh, how I wanted to – but did get it on some backroads. As mentioned, +R mode is too aggressive for our backroads, and felt too nervous, but Sport mode was fine with me. The steering feel is still excellent, the ride acceptable, and performance enhanced over Comfort mode.

Let’s get it out there now; the Civic Type R should not handle this well for a front-wheel drive car. It obliterates corners, sitting flat and punching through them incredibly quickly. There’s almost no torque steer, even with 228kW going through the front wheels, and while you can use a higher gear will all that torque, using a lower gear and taking it to the redline is such fun, and the engine revels in it. To keep it on the boil, holding the car above 4,000rpm seems to be the sweet spot for the most bang for your buck on the twisty stuff.

“Let’s get it out there now; the Civic Type R should not handle this well for a front-wheel drive car. It obliterates corners, sitting flat and punching through them incredibly quickly.”

Turn in isn’t as good as the i30N, and definitely not as good as the Fiesta ST which almost fell into corners, but this just means that you need to manhandle the Type R a bit more and throw it into the corner, and it will love you for it. Trying hard, I could not get the tyres to squeal or lose traction. This where it’d be great to test its limits out on a track.

As has happened with other hot hatches, I found myself comfort braking when the car could have gone faster. Handling, steering, brakes – it does it all. Those huge 4-piston Brembos front and rear are excellent too, great feel through the pedal and absolute power. Let’s be honest, the car’s not that heavy, it’s a manual and has quality brakes. They should be excellent, and they are.

Part of that flat cornering – and the hard ride – will be down to those Continental Sport Contact 6 tyres, pretty low profile at 30%. Low profile tyres can mean tyre noise, and the Type R is a victim on this. It can get quite wearing after a while, and naturally coarse chip seal really makes them sing. Still, it’s worth it for the handling capabilities this car possesses.

New for 2021 for this car is the LogR app. After downloading the app to your phone and then hooking it into the car via USB, you get access to the LogR app in CarPlay or Android Auto via the central display:

Regarding the app, Honda says:

The LogR app is designed to work exclusively with the new Type R, for both iPhone® and Android™ users. Honda LogR features three main functions: a Performance Monitor, a Log Mode, and Auto Score Mode.

The Performance Monitor provides vehicle information to the driver on the Display Audio screen while the app is functioning.

Log Mode records lap times on the track, allowing drivers to improve their driving skills.

The Auto Score function encourages smooth driving by monitoring braking, acceleration and steering, and generating a score based on the smoothness algorithm.

While driving, all interaction with Honda LogR is through the Advanced Display Audio screen, but Log Mode and Auto Score both offer more in-depth analysis after driving when the phone is unplugged from the vehicle, including previous drives, performance traces and replays using maps, and detailed vehicle information.

Essentially you hook up your phone and let it log your performance on any road, or especially any race track. You can view a G-Meter on the go, although it only shows the max Gs, and doesn’t say what direction that represents. It does give you scores on your drive, and I guess it’s a good addition to the car. I believe it would come into its own on a track, where you can go lap after lap, analyse your driving, then improve and check again. The app does need internet access but will log your drive anyway. Here’s some of the screens:

If I’m going to be picky like I was with the gear lever positioning, there are a few other things that seemed to be missing, or out of place. In no particular order, the seats only have manual adjustment. At over $60K, I expected some electric adjustment. Again, being picky. But there’s only height adjustment as an extra feature, so nothing else other than backrest angle and fore/aft. On the plus side, these seats definitely cocoon you in place, and look excellent. There’s no heating for them, but the suede finish keeps you sort of warm anyway.

The gauges are straight from the Honda Civic, but that means they’re also straight from the CR-V and other Honda models. The dash has weirdly placed and sized engine temperature and fuel gauges, and also has that funky combined rev counter/speedo. The rev counter is not easy to read quickly – this car really needs a heads-up display – and seems out of place in such a performance car.

“The dash has weirdly placed and sized engine temperature and fuel gauges, and also has that funky combined rev counter/speedo.”

The dash does have a sporty red line when you select Sport or +R mode, and there are extra options to show a turbo boost gauge and coloured LEDs that light up when you get nearer to the redline, but I wish Honda had dumped the whole cluster and given us something more special, and more orientated to the amazing car that the Type R is. Rant about the gauges now over.

One other surprising thing is the electric park brake. I expect this is because the Civic has an electric park brake anyway, and it was too hard to change, but there it is. Both the i30N and Fiesta ST have a manual park brake, just in case you wanted to go rally driving. In saying that, an electric park brake means you have brake auto hold, which is something I use all the time. I just wish the Japanese and Korean brands made it so that when you select brake auto hold, it stays on when you get out of the car. It seems such a simple thing, and most of the euro brands already do this.

It would be unfair to not mention some of the good stuff too. All the windows are auto up and down, which is preferred. For 2021, Honda have given us an actual volume knob – YAY! – and also hard buttons for fan speed up/down, and a hard button for accessing other options in the climate AC menu. This is a big improvement in day to day usability.

Lane watch is on the Type R, which I love. As soon as the left indicator goes on, a camera on the left-hand mirror shows any traffic, cyclists etc in your blind spot. It’s an excellent safety feature, although Alistair had the Type R after me and didn’t like this at all. You can turn it off in the menus, and you can also turn it on or off manually with a tap of the button on the end of the indicator stalk. I realise most New Zealand drivers don’t know where their indicator stalk is, but that’s where the button lives.

After driving the car for over a week and 800Km, fuel economy was much better than I thought it would be, at 8.3L/100Km, which is even better than Honda’s suggested 8.8. That doesn’t happen often, and for the performance of this car is extremely impressive.

If there was one part that was disappointing to me – and as far as driving the Type R goes, it is just the one thing – it’s the engine noise. There just isn’t enough. Even with the improvements to the engine to make it sound better, and even with the now-added fake engine noises through the audio system using Active Sound Control (ASC), it doesn’t snap, crackle, or pop. The i30N makes all sorts of childish noises even in Comfort mode. If you wind the Type R out past 5,000RPM, it does sound better, but it needs more than this. I notice Rob said the same thing in his review four years ago.

Enough of the negatives, the Type R is a blast to drive anywhere, anytime, and I want one so bad. I’m off to buy a Lotto ticket, or two.

“After driving the car for over a week and 800Km, fuel economy was much better than I thought it would be, at 8.3L/100Km, which is even better than Honda’s suggested 8.8.”

[ALISTAIR’S VIEW]

Being a young car enthusiast is challenging in the 21st century.

Often our enthusiasm falls on deaf ears amongst peers that have been on their learner’s licences for 5 years. But a dwindling wider automotive enthusiasm is only a symptom. Astronomical asset prices, stagnating wages, plus regulations bloating the cost of your average car, all mean that buying an enthusiast car, yet alone, any new vehicle, can be a financially reckless decision.

Given all this, there are only a handful of vehicles which I would ever consider buying new from the showroom floor. Before I even began reviewing cars, I knew that one of those cars on the list would be the Honda Civic Type R.

“Before I even began reviewing cars, I knew that one of those cars on the list would be the Honda Civic Type R.”

Its arrival in 2017 marked a return to form for Honda after over a decade-long absence. The Type R quickly made waves internationally by setting the Nürburgring record for a front-wheel drive car at 7:43.8 seconds, faster than a BMW M5 and Alfa Romeo 4C.

But it was more than just a lap-time. For me, it heralded the return of the 90s performance Honda, which I have such an affinity for. The Type R is lightweight, has excellent suspension, and now comes with over 300hp paired to a manual transmission. I also absolutely love the styling, with the huge wing and tri-exhaust pipes at the back. It looks like it’s fought its way out of a mental asylum.

Importantly, its pricing is on the cusp of attainability, now at $62,990. 

So, having the opportunity to drive the Civic Type R was a bit of a meet-your-heroes moment for me. Were my instincts correct about Type R?

Stepping inside the Type R, you immediately fall into the hugging bucket seats. Strap yourself in with the red seat belts, and you’re reminded that life isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. In front of you is an excellent Alcantara steering wheel, while your arm falls along the Alcantara centre-console to the perfectly-situated titanuim-topped gearstick.

The whole interior conveys a proper sense of occasion. It wants to drive fast, even whilst standing still.  Because in the Type R, it isn’t about going from point A to point B. The point is the drive.

And the Type R’s driving experience is sublime. Fire it up and the Type R defaults to Sport mode. It knows its audience.

But you’ll soon find yourself flicking into +R mode and immediately directing yourself to the nearest twisty road. Because, by God, this thing performs and handles amazingly.

Honda’s K20 engine is excellent. Although turbocharged, it still has Honda’s characterful V-tec variable valve timing, meaning you’ll want to chase the perfect rev range when driving hard. It makes the experience that much more engaging.

And you’ll want to drive hard. Because the faster you go, the more the Type R grips and hunkers down through a corner. The front-end is so unbelievably adhered to the road, that you’re more likely to step the rear-end out before making it understeer. That’s right – in a front-wheel drive car! No matter how I drove the Type R, I couldn’t upset it. I wasn’t even able to get the tyres to squeal and believe me when I say that I tried. 

“And you’ll want to drive hard. Because the faster you go, the more the Type R grips and hunkers down through a corner.”

The front differential is also other-worldly. I have no idea how this unit is able to get so much power down to the ground and control it so well. There’s barely any torque steer from it either, so you’re not going to be thrown into the other lane if you’re a bit eager exiting a roundabout.

Honda also knows how to do an excellent manual transmission. Each shift feels clean and precise. The throw is nice and short, and the clutch felt good. The steering in Sport and +R modes are also tight and nicely weighted – it feels awesome – much like the stopping power delivered from the Brembo brakes.

Were there any downsides to the drive? Unfortunately, the Type R doesn’t fulfil the noise requirement for a hot hatch. It’s a bit flat overall, despite what that tri-exhaust would suggest. The third tailpipe is to reduce drone on the motorway, and that has been achieved. But the lack of decent noise is a shame, because I want this thing to be as loud and rorty as it looks.

In short, the Type R is easily one of the best handling front-wheel drive cars I’ve driven. It’s eye-opening how good this thing is. The rather large downside for me was the absence of a true hot-hatch noise, plus it would be nice to be able to have some configurability in the drive modes. In this respect, the Hyundai I30N has the Type R licked.

“But the lack of decent noise is a shame, because I want this thing to be as loud and rorty as it looks.”

So does the Type R remain on my ‘buy-it’ list?  Yes. It does – just.

The driving experience is better than I had imagined. It’s so good, I can forgive the muted noise.  While I absolutely loved the I30N, which arguably is better to live with, the Type R has the driving X-factor which comes out where it matters – on a twisty road.  And that’s why you buy a hot hatch, isn’t it?

Well done, Honda. What a weapon.

The Competition

Brand/ModelEnginePower/Torque
kW/Nm
SeatsCargo capacity, litresFuel L/100kmBase Price – High to Low
Volkswagen Golf R Performance (AWD automatic)2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol228/40053437.2$76,990
Honda Civic Type R (FWD manual)2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol228/40044208.8$62,990
Hyundai i30N Fastback (FWD manual)2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol202/35354368.0$59,990
Ford Focus ST (FWD automatic)2.3-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol234/42052738.6$59,990
Toyota GR Yaris (AWD manual)1.6-litre, 3-cylinder, turbo petrol200/3704 1747.6$59,990
Hyundai i30N Hatchback (FWD manual)2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol202/35353818.0$54,990

The Pros and Cons

Pros
Looks like a hot hatch
Handling
Steering
Braking
Plenty of room for 4
Big boot
Fuel economy
Gearbox 
Cons
Axle tramp on full acceleration
Lack of engine noise
Dated infotainment system
No adaptive cruise downhill
Dashboard
Huge turning circle
Vehicle Type5-door performance hatchback
Starting Price$62,990
Price as Tested$62,990
Engine2-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo-petrol
Power, TorquekW/Nm228/400
Transmission6-speed manual
Spare WheelPump only
Kerb Weight, Kg1,380
Length x Width x Height, mm4557x1877x1434
Cargo Capacity, litres420/1580
Fuel capacity, litres47
Fuel EfficiencyAdvertised Spec – combined – 8.8L/100km
Real World Test – combined – 8.3L/100km
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Towing CapacityKg, unbraked/brakedNA
Turning circle, metres12.6
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
 Warranty5 year unlimited kilometre warranty
5 year Roadside Assist 
ANCAP Safety Ratings5 Star
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Economy
9
Interior
9
Performance
9
Safety
8
Styling
9
Value
7
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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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