I once produced a video, and accompanying Oversteer article, where I got to summarize my first drive in a Honda Civic Type R. In that video, after what was admittedly a quick drive, I said that I wasn’t a huge fan. Doug agreed that it wasn’t the new king of the hot hatchbacks. Although, after spending a week with a 2019 Type R, I can say that I was very much mistaken.
Full disclosure: Honda and I have a pretty extensive history. So when I finally got a crack at the very first Civic Type R to grace us with its presence in the United States, I had great expectations. It was 199 … something (I prefer not to share), and I was just finishing my senior year of college. I had a 1996 Chevrolet Camaro that was going on three years old (oops), and I needed to downsize in both payment and actual vehicle size. So I scurried off to the local Honda dealer and traded it for a 1999 Honda Civic EX. Reducing my payment by $100/month or more was essential as I went off to the corporate world in Washington, D.C., and I figured having something more economical and easier to park couldn’t hurt.
In the end, the Civic was a bit of a gateway drug to more of what Honda was peddling. I found myself back in the Honda dealer less than two years later looking for my next fix. One of my roommates had a 2000 Honda Accord EX V6, and the other had just picked up the newly introduced 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT. I was tired of having the slowest car in the house, so I came home one day with a 2001 Honda Prelude with a manual transmission and painted in gorgeous electron blue. Both of my roommates’ cars had comparable power (exactly 200 horsepower if I recall), but they had more weight — and they were saddled with automatic transmissions.
All that to say, the Prelude was a game-changer for me. It was around that time that the original "Fast and the Furious" came out and I disappeared into a world of automotive forums, car modifications and amateur racing. I owned several more Hondas over the years and pined for many more beyond that, thanks to a little game called Gran Turismo. So when I finally heard that the mighty Civic Type R was coming to the United States, I was pretty excited.
It’s hard to think about the Type R without comparing it to the competition. Ironically, my favorite competitor is no longer with us, although it likely clouded my judgment of just how good the Honda is at the time. See, literally just before I drove the new Type R, I also drove the new Ford Focus RS. In fact, I had one of the first press loaners in the area, and it was quite an experience. In reality, that didn’t make the Type R worse, it just meant that I preferred the RS at the time.
Push comes to shove, I still might — but in reality, the Type-R is one of the few hot hatchbacks left on the market. Aside from the Hyundai Veloster N, and the Volkswagen Golf R, there really isn’t another option besides the be-winged Honda.
Regardless, the Type R needs to be judged on its own merits. So let’s get on with it.
I’ll start with my least favorite bit about the CTR: the exterior. In my previous assessment, I noted that it was way too boy-racer compared to the Focus RS and especially compared to the Golf R. I still believe that, and it was interesting observing what others thought as I drove it. At one particular stoplight, in a trendy part of Arlington, Virginia, I overheard a group of early 20-somethings say "Oh wow, would you look at that" and it was clear that they weren’t being complimentary. Part of my brain reverted back to middle school when I got my first pair of Air Jordan sneakers. Everyone had them in black, so I got them in white. And they were hideous. Absolutely hideous. So after convincing my mom to spend north of $100 for the first time on a pair of shoes, I got ridiculed from day one and henceforth.
I had a flashback of that moment sitting at the light in the Type R.
Emotionally draining anxiety attacks aside, the overall styling did start to grow on me. There is a sense of theater and drama with the car, which is great considering it’s built upon a humble Honda Civic. With all the scoops, wings, creases and vents (fake and real), there’s a lot going on. But it’s fun! It’s one of those cars you notice a new detail every time you look at it. Whether that would get old, or lose its novelty, over time, I’m not sure. But each day I drove it, I started to appreciate it more and more. And if you don’t like it, it really is a car that varies in appearance based on the color.
Honda offers six colors for 2019: Championship White, Rallye Red, Aegean Blue Metallic, Crystal Black Metallic, Polished Metallic Pearl and Sonic Grey Pearl. Our test loaner was in Sonic Grey and it’s a pretty solid color, but not my favorite overall. Generally with the CTR, the darker the better. The darker colors, particularly black, blend in some of the crazy swoops and creases across the bodywork, and help to make it a bit less dramatic. So as much as I love the historic white color that all Type R cars used to come in, I’d take that gorgeous blue if it were my money!
What’s more (or just as) dramatic as the exterior? That’s right, the interior of the Type R. Would you like Red/Black Suede-Effect Fabric or Red/Black Suede-Effect Fabric? Wait, that’s exactly the same, isn’t it? Well, good, because that’s your only option, and it’s bananas. Or something red. Tomatoes.
The interior really does keep the theatrics going with those crazy seats — which are amazing. Absolutely amazing. They have just the right amount of bolster, support, and comfort. Since it’s still a Honda, it’s ergonomically excellent with everything falling easily to hand, especially the shiny metal shift knob.
A word of warning, that sucker gets HOT if you let it sit in direct sunlight. I’m sure I’ll grow to appreciate the 6-speed Honda pattern on my palm, since it’s likely permanent. The rest of the interior is a swath of carbon fiber patterns, black and gray plastics, and so, so, much more red. Like I said, it’s all comfortable and easy to use, and guests that accompanied me in the CTR didn’t complain about sitting in the back. So it’s a regular car. Sort of.
Only it’s not necessarily regular to drive. Well, around town it’s not too crazy. Once the revvy start up procedure is done, it will meander through traffic pretty easily. I tried the "Comfort" setting and didn’t notice any real change, as the CTR is tightly wound and it’s low profile tires mounted on 20-in wheels will find bumps if they’re out there. But overall, even being older and (getting a little) pudgy, I didn’t get too annoyed by the commuting experience.
It’s really about the "+R" button anyway. Thumb it upward and the car comes alive with a bunch of mechanical whirrs and clunks as you row through the near-perfect transmission. You’ll look like a hero when it rev matches on your downshift — and if you’re like me, a small tear may form in the bottom corner of your eye. It’s pretty magical.
The exhaust note is a bit tame for my taste. If you’re going to make a car that just may have a chance at the sport compact crown, give it some pipes. That’s part of what I liked about the Focus RS — it would burble and crack and just generally sound hoonish if you had it in the Sport+ or Track setting. The CTR will send out a nice wail from the 306-hp turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter VTEC 4-cylinder, but it’s not particularly special. I will refrain from any "VTEC kicked in you" jokes, I promise. It’s about as played out as Mustangs and Cars & Coffee.
The Type R is most at home on curvy back roads or on/off ramps where you can really get a sense of how magical the suspension setup is. I never really found a hint of understeer when pushing it, and famously it’s also completely absent torque steer as well. You can literally floor it without your hand on the wheel (don’t go all Tesla though, hands back on the wheel please) and it will track straight and true without turning the front wheels. A true magician tuned the suspension. Or a computer technician perhaps.
"The Lord of the Civics"
So how do I sum up the Civic Type R? My week driving it was like being the "Lord of the Civics". I was their king, and they my subjects, and most of them seemed to take notice and stare in awe. As expected, any and all modified car owners — regardless of make or model — wanted a closer look or to have a go on the highway. Or side street. Or sidewalk. I have to say it’s an amazing way to meet guys — and if that’s your goal I highly recommend ponying up $36,300 for a new Civic Type R.
Which is about all you’ll have to pay, since the CTR really doesn’t have much in the way of optional extras. If you don’t count the "other" options like exterior moldings, cargo nets, and the like, it actually has zero options to add. What you see is what you get. And that really sums up the Type R. It is literally as it seems — a crazy little hot hatch that’s also pretty practical and a lot of fun. I’m sold!
Oh, wait, I mean conceptually sold. I think I’m too old to drive one on a regular basis. If you aren’t, or if you don’t care what others think, go buy a new Honda Civic Type R. It’s amazing. Find a Honda Civic for sale
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