I recently flew to Montreal to attend the press launch for the new 2017 Honda Civic Type R, which is a car I’ve been waiting to drive ever since I was about 12, and I played Gran Turismo, and I thought the correct pronunciation of "subtle" involved saying the "b."
Because of this intensely long waiting period — it’s been more than 15 years since the Acura Integra Type R left the market, and Honda itself has never sold a "Type R" model under its own brand name — I kind of figured the new Type R would be a giant killer: the car that arrived and instantly took down the Ford Focus RS, the Volkswagen Golf R, the Subaru WRX STI and maybe a lot of other cars, maybe far more expensive cars, simply because Honda has been fine-tuning the hot hatchback for so long.
The Civic Type R is a good car, there’s no question about that. It has a long list of positive traits, some of which surprised me. But it isn’t the best car. It isn’t the best hot hatchback, it isn’t the best compact sporty car, and it’s probably not even the best car Honda could’ve made. The Civic Type R is good. The Civic Type R is not great. And today, I’m going to explain exactly why.
I’ll start with the thing you’re most interested in, which is the car’s performance. The Civic Type R is front-wheel drive, as everyone knows by now, and it uses a 306-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder — which means it starts this whole thing at a 50-horsepower disadvantage to the all-wheel-drive Ford Focus RS.
More important to the stoplight racers who buy these cars is the 0-to-60 time: I asked Honda if they could quote me the figure, and they replied simply "no," because they wanted to let the magazines figure it out. Well, the magazines apparently have: Several outlets (including "Automobile" and the UK’s "Autocar") are reporting that the Type R goes from 0 to 60 somewhere between 5.4 and 5.7 seconds. That figure is far off the pace set by rivals: The Subaru STI does 0-to-60 in around 4.7 seconds, while magazines suggest the Focus RS can do it in 4.6. A full second slower off the line isn’t a good way to start your Civic Type R experience.
More disappointing than the 0-to-60 time, which is at least pretty fast for a Civic, is the car’s noise: Despite an overkill of three exhaust pipes around back, the Civic Type R is stunningly silent, even in "R+" mode, and even at the top of the rev range. Ford cheats, when it comes to noise, with the Focus RS: The car has exhaust noise artificially delivered into the cabin, through the speakers. When I drove the Civic, I was left wondering if Honda didn’t do this simply because the car doesn’t make enough noise to pipe any into the interior.
And then there’s the styling. Here’s the thing: I like the standard Civic. I like the standard Civic hatchback. I even like the front end of the Type R. But the Type R’s rear end tries so hard it’s almost offensive; I truly believe it’s the most overstyled car on sale today, and, frankly, the most overstyled car in recent memory. It has fake air intakes … in back. The spoiler is so large it’s in three pieces. And there are wings … on the roof (Editor’s Note: Honda says the roof spoiler and rear wing are more than just styling elements, they’re functional and necessary to help the Civic Type R achieve its performance targets — specifically high speed stability and handling. Honda believes this is important because of the number of Civic Type R owners they believe will participate in track day events.).
With all this said, there are some benefits to the Civic Type R. One is the interior: The Civic’s cabin is undoubtedly nicer than the interior of the Focus RS and the WRX STI, second only to the Golf R in this segment. The Civic also handles much better than I expected: Floor it from a stop and you won’t experience any torque steer — and there’s proof in my video. Around the track, the steering is nicely weighted, and you don’t experience anywhere near as much understeer as I expected. There’s some, sure, but there’s also some in the Focus RS and the STI; I consider the Type R roughly similar to those cars from a handling perspective, though the Focus feels a bit sprier and athletic in the tightest turns. Admittedly, that could be because it exits them faster, with far more power (and a little extra grip) compared to the Civic.
Honda also proudly touted the Civic Type R’s base price to all the journalists assembled at its press launch: It’ll start at $34,800 with shipping, which makes it cheaper than the Focus RS and WRX STI, both of which start at $37,000 with shipping. Additionally, Honda made it clear than the Civic Type R has more standard equipment than its rivals — such as a navigation system — though I noticed that our Type R test cars had no sunroof, manually adjustable front seats, no "Honda-Sensing" technology (such as a blind-spot monitor or forward-collision braking), and room for only four people. So, yes, it may have some additional equipment over rivals — but this isn’t exactly a lavishly-equipped luxury car.
Nonetheless, I agree with Honda: The Type R is a good value. It’s a high-performance hot hatch with excellent steering and handling, reasonably strong acceleration and a decent interior — and it’s practical and relatively well-equipped, to boot. In fact, it might just be the best value of ’em all. But if I were buying a sporty compact car, I wouldn’t want the best value — I’d want the best performer. And the Type R isn’t that — at least when it comes to 0 – 60 times. Find a 2017 Honda Civic for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.