Honda Civic Type R (2017) review: We drive the new track day weapon
If you’re in the market for a premium, hot hatchback in 2017, you’ve got more choice than ever. For a start you’ve got the Mercedes A45, VW Golf GTI or Audi RS3 – and for something a little different you could try the Mini Cooper S. Oh, and then there’s the crazy Honda Civic Type R.
Combining space-age styling, huge spoilers and triple exhausts, the Civic Type R looks a bit silly, but underneath all that aero it’s a technical masterpiece. So what makes the Civic Type R so unique in the hot hatch market, and why should you pick one over the usual choices? To find out I drove the fiery Civic around Berlin and then took it for a few laps around the nearby Lausitzring track.
Honda Civic Type-R review: Design
Probably best to get this part out the way now. The Honda Civic Type R is one of the most distinctive looking cars on the road today, and that means it’s also highly divisive. Put it next to the Mercedes A45 or Audi RS3 and it looks a little bit overdone; put it next to a Golf GTI and it looks positively disturbed. With three THREE exhausts and a rear wing that would be more at home on a touring or rally car, it’s most certainly unusual looking. The question is: do you like how ridiculous it looks?
I do. There’s so much attention to detail, presence and just general punchiness to the design that it’s hard not to love. From some angles it looks like a robot from Transformers, and from others it looks like something from Need for Speed – I can’t help but enjoy it.
The best thing is, though, is that pretty much every part of that ridiculous design has a purpose. The huge front splitter and rear-end, which look very similar to the Type R racing car currently competing in the British Touring Car Championship, both produce real downforce – and there’s a bunch of other details that help out, too. Vortex generators on the trailing edge of the roof, for example, prepare the air before it encounters the Civic Type R’s rear wing, making it work harder and more efficiently.
The Civic Type R’s three exhausts aren’t entirely for show, either. At low engine speeds, the car pumps exhaust through all three pipes; at higher revs only the outer two pipes are used, with the middle one instead acting as a resonance chamber to produce an even sweeter engine note.
There’s just one problem with the 2017 Civic Type R: its front-end doesn’t look as nice as the 2016 Type-R’s. Honda says the new, conventional bonnet helps the new Civic Type R achieve the perfect balance between lift and drag, but it just doesn’t seem to fit the car as well as before. After all, what place does something “conventional” have in something as nuts as the 2017 Civic Type R?
Honda Civic Type R review: Infotainment
If the outside is outlandish and futuristic, though, the inside of the Honda is anything but. Step inside and it’s immediately clear it’s more Civic than Type R. Although the Type R rolls out the contrast stitching, carbon-fibre dash inserts and a rather lovely, machined metal gear knob, the cabin design is pretty uninspiring.
Most of the car’s infotainment system is centred on the middle of the dashboard and built around a 7in touchscreen. Underneath this are controls for the air conditioning, the vehicle’s handling settings – which I’ll get to later – and a fetching badge confirming you’re not just in any Civic but a Type R Civic. And you really do need reminding because this is not the sort of interior you expect in a £30k car; it’s not in the same league as the Audi RS3 or the Mercedes A45, for example.
That theme continues to the infotainment system, which is a little basic for the price. It felt sluggish during my drive and often delivered satnav instructions later than I’d like: not ideal when you’re in a different country and all your attention needs to be focused on taming a track car for the road.
And I really can’t take the Type R’s capacitive volume buttons; they’re unresponsive and distracting to use. But at least the steering wheel provides a set of cluttered, but chunky and reliable physical buttons.
The menus in the Civic Type R aren’t great either. They’re large, and easy to read and interact with – but they feel slightly behind the competition, especially Audi. Yes, I’m aware this isn’t a luxury saloon but first impressions suggest the Honda Civic Type R isn’t exactly a technology packed powerhouse, either.
The Honda Civic Type R does have a few useful features, though. It has both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, so if your phone is compatible you can mostly avoid the clunky Honda UI. Connectivity in the Civic Type R is good, too: a second tray beneath the main console plays host to HDMI and USB ports, as well as a 12 volt cigarette-lighter power output.
Honda Civic Type-R review: Drive
Driving is where the Honda Civic Type R excels. On my journey to the track, it quickly became clear the new Honda is a much more grown up, versatile car than the last Civic Type R. On cobbled roads, the ride was firm but not insane and on motorways the ride was acceptable , and bordering on comfortable – something you definitely couldn’t say about the previous car.
On country roads it felt responsive and pointy and invited you to push it, while on the tarmac at the Lausitzring things go real, very fast.
The Honda Civic Type R can have this split personality, because, like most spiced-up normal cars these days, it gives you a range of driving modes. At one extreme, Comfort mode – new for this year’s Civic Type R – which mellows out the adaptive damping, steering force, gear shift feel and throttle response of the car; it’s the Type-R’s granny-safe setting.
At the other end of the spectrum is R+ mode (don’t ask where plain “R” went), which turns the car into a track-ready weapon, while Sport is a halfway house. Simply put, Sport mode gives you a feel of the Civic Type R’s capability, which should be enough to get your pulse going, but not enough that you end up firing yourself – and your new £30k hatchback – into the scenery.
Honda Civic Type-R review: Track Driving
After just a few minutes driving the new Honda in anger, it’s easy to see why the Type R badge has become such a cult classic. Even in Sport mode, it inspires confidence, inviting you to take tighter turns, accelerate earlier and brake later. And in R+ mode, the car feels even more dynamic.
The R+ mode’s increased response and performance orientated torque-mapping makes your right foot feel completely connected to the car’s four-cylinder, turbo-charged engine, and it delivers more power earlier in the rev range, too. Gear changes feel more mechanical and direct, and the car’s heel-and-toe simulating rev-matching function delivers that racing car feel. Oh, and if that’s not enough, a 0-60mph around 5 seconds should have you pinned to your seat.
Damping is increased by 15% over Sport mode as well, so the car has a firmer, more stable ride, while the Type R’s power steering becomes heavier, giving the steering a more direct feel. Traction control is also reduced, so the car can get a little more out of shape before electronics jump in to save you. And the best bit? The already futuristics dials go intense red, putting the revs right where you need them.
It’s at these points that Honda’s bluster about saved roof and bonnet weight, better traction and increased torque actually matter, and the result is electric. Shifting through the Civic’s 6 speed gearbox feel great with the machined, short-throw gearstick and with rev-matching enabled, you feel like a touring car driver.
Honda Civic Type-R review: Autonomous safety
Although I didn’t get to test them, Honda says the Civic Type R also has a range of features that keep you pointing the right way on the road, too.
There’s AEB, lane departure and lane keeping systems as well as adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition – everything you’d expect from a £30,995 car, other words. Oh, and there’s also a parking sensor, complete with a reversing camera.
Honda Civic Type-R review: Verdict
The 2016 Civic Type R was an outright animal, but the 2017 version model is a much more complete car. First and foremost, it’s a track-day weapon, which is the most important thing. Although I didn’t reach anywhere near its limits, haring around the technical curves of the Lausitzring was still a mighty enjoyable experience.
And, while the Type R still looks completely crazy on the outside, underneath new features mean it’s much easier to live with. Is it better than an Audi RS3, Mercedes A45 or Golf GTI? Not yet, but I’d love to drive it some more, and that counts for a lot in my book.
The Honda Civic Type R is available from £30,995