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Expert Panel: Is the 2017 Civic Type R Better Than Its Rivals?

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author photo by Will Byrd December 2017

Ok, so Doug already told us the Civic Type R is not the hot hatch king. But what is king of the hot hatches? I order to find out, I got to spend some time with the new Type R at the 2017 Washington Auto Press Association Rally -- and I talked it over with Will Kinton from Oversteer and Ike, host of the Untitled Car Show. We got together to drive the new Type R and discuss whether it's better than the Ford Focus RS or the Volkswagen Golf R.

I've had the pleasure of driving all three, and this is my column, so I get to have my say first. Spoiler alert: The Honda's is huge! No, I mean spoiler alert: We don't agree. Regardless, the new Type R comes at the perfect time for Honda. I'm an old-school, '90s and early 2000s Honda purist. My first "enthusiast" experiences were behind the wheel of Honda models from this generation. Between 1998 and 2001, I owned a Prelude, an Accord and, naturally, a Civic.

This was the golden age of sport compact performance -- although with new cars like these coming onto the market, perhaps I need to re-evaluate that sentiment. Regardless, the Honda of that era has been long gone. Ever since the S2000 disappeared, Honda really hasn't made a real performance car for our shores. Sure, the Civic Si is close, but it's not quite there -- the new Type R shows Honda may just be serious about performance in the United States again.

It certainly looks the part: As the "other Will" noted, "it's like a $33,000 Aventador." Full of scoops, vents and wings, the Type R is no shrinking violet. The Honda rep explained how much of the aero is functional, but the 66 pounds of downforce provided by that massive wing is really only felt at track speeds. So on the outside, it's a bit of a mess, if I'm honest. I don't know if I could bring myself to walk out to a Type-R every morning and commute through D.C. in it -- even though we did get a couple of thumbs-up during our test drive.

Inside, it's pretty fantastic. The red seats are pure '90s magic, with excellent support and bolstering to keep you in place. The rest of the dash is a little fussy, with a bit too much red and carbon fibery'ness, but overall, it's easy to use. But driving the Type R helps you forget what it looks like on the outside; as you would imagine, it handles like a dream. If you were wondering how 306 horsepower does through the front wheels, it's shocking: The car goes dead straight.

But what if you want that level of performance in something more grown up? That's most certainly the Golf R, which was Will Kinton's steed in this argument debate. I once covered about 1200 miles in about 17 hours in a Golf R between D.C. and New Orleans. It was an epic road trip, and I'm not sure I would've made it in a Type R or Focus RS. The R is just about perfect from a comfort-to-performance standpoint, and it's the most mature car in this comparison. My biggest issue with the Golf R was that the GTI exists -- a significantly cheaper car, and actually a bit better looking, in my opinion. Sure, you lose the AWD setup -- but for daily driving duties or the occasional track day, it's just about perfect. Using Kinton's words against him, ha!

However, in the end, the Focus RS is the best of the three. It just is! I spent a week with one, and it's just about the perfect car. It's just aggressive enough, featuring a handful of scoops and the wing hanging off the back of the hatch -- and in Nitrous Blue, like my test car, it looks amazing. Better yet, it feels special, something lacking in the Golf. Yet you still get all the good parts of a practical hatchback, and it's not nearly as ridiculous as the Type R.

So that's my take -- and we did not all agree. Post your favorite car of the trio in the comments and tell us why we're wrong. Which I'm not.

Based in Northern Virginia, William is professional writer and editor and acts as the Editor-in-Chief of Right Foot Down. He misspent most of his youth on tracks in the Mid-Atlantic, as well as killing cones in parking lots, and he once taught at a teen performance driving school.

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Expert Panel: Is the 2017 Civic Type R Better Than Its Rivals? - Autotrader