CIRCUIT MONT-TREMBLANT, Quebec—To understand the absurd $40,890 price tag on this wing’d Honda Civic, you’ve got to understand the hype; it’s been building for decades, and I’m not exaggerating.
Back in the ’90s and early ’00s, a generation of teenagers grew up in a golden age of affordable Japanese sports cars. They installed turbochargers on their parents’ cars. They went online to read about wheel fitment after school. On their walls, they had posters of the Nissan Skyline GT-R, the Subaru STI 22B, the Mazda RX-7, and Honda’s venerable Type R models: the NSX, the Integra and the Civic.
These were heady days. But most of these special cars were for the Japanese Domestic Market only. Canadian kids could only dream about a Type R of their own.
Then early in the new millennium, the golden age of Japanese sports cars kind of fizzled out. The newer cars weren’t as special, as daring, or as ambitious.
Fast forward to 2017 and Honda is finally – finally! – bringing the Civic Type R to Canada for the first time, with that aforementioned $40k sticker. Can it possibly live up to the expectations of all those diehards who’ve been waiting so long for it?
If you’re just hearing about the Type R now, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to be patient if you want one. Hardcore Honda fans have had deposits down and names on waiting lists for months.
There are roughly 1,000 coming to Canada between summer 2017 and summer 2018. More could come later, if there’s demand.
At first glance, the Type R looks like a tuner special, a hack-job of wings and pointy bits and vents. It will appeal to your average car-crazy 13-year-old, but will it appeal to the people who can actually afford one?
Honda tells me the wing actually provides downforce, the pointy bits are vortex generators that reduce aerodynamic drag, and all the vents have a purpose. Still, did they have to make it look like a cartoon?
The interior is more subdued. The red seats are a nod to the Type Rs of the past. The steering wheel is wrapped in leather. The shift knob is metal. Type R badges are abundant.
The ergonomics and the overall feeling of quality and spaciousness and excellent. It’s still a Civic at heart. The Type R is available as a practical hatchback only, because that body shell was designed from the beginning with the Type R in mind.
What’s not so good is the touchscreen-based infotainment system. The volume control is finicky. The maps and interface are laggy, hesitating after every input. It’s frustrating.
It’s only when you look under the sheet metal that you realize just how different the Type R is from the norm-core Civic.
The body, in addition to the usual welding, is glued together with special adhesive to increase stiffness without adding weight.
The front suspension has been completely redesigned. The Type R features a new dual-strut design that, as one engineer explained it to me, separates the suspension and turning forces. The goal is to make the steering more precise and to prevent torque steer. Adaptive dampers are standard, as is a variable-ratio steering rack.
The engine is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. The new European model will make a little extra horsepower, which Honda says is because Europe’s higher-octane fuel allows for a different tune.
The Canadian motor will make 306 horsepower (at 6,500 rpm) and 295 lb-ft of torque (from 2,900 thru 4,500 rpm). That’s Honda’s most powerful production engine ever in Canada, but when you consider the 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX STI also made 300 horsepower – 13 years ago – it’s less impressive.
Honda claims the new Civic Type R is the fastest front-wheel-drive car ever around Germany’s Nurburgring. Take that with a grain of salt – I mean, as you should with all ’Ring times – but it shows Honda is serious. This is not some cut-rate Type R wannabe for North America.
Lucky for us, the Circuit Mont-Tremblant is like a mini-Nurburgring, with huge elevation changes, blind crests, and treacherous off-camber corners. It was my first time there, but the Type R made my novice laps easy.
Driven below the limit, the Type R is a point-and-shoot machine. The steering is feelsome, with two electric motors working in the rack-and-pinion system. The second motor helps cancel out torque steer, which, I’m shocked to say, isn’t an issue. There simply isn’t any torque steer. That’s basically an engineering miracle for a front-wheel-drive car with 300 horsepower. Not having the steering wheel lurching sideways as you try to put down the power is a confidence-booster. The Type R makes it easy to go fast, even at a place like Tremblant.
You can take liberties with the Type R you wouldn’t think possible. Hammer the throttle mid-corner and instead of quickly understeering into the barriers, the helical limited-slip differential works to find grip and the car holds its line, more or less. If you’re clumsy you’ll get a bit of understeer, but the chassis balance is remarkably neutral.
In +R mode you can turn the traction control completely off. Stay on the brakes deep into corners and you’ll feel the rear going light and rotating ever so slightly. It’s not a hooligan’s machine like the Ford Focus RS, but it does reward good driving with raw speed.
My biggest complaints are the exhaust is too quiet and it’d be nice if the chassis were a little looser at the rear. If a car is going to look as crazy as this, it’d better sound and drive a little crazy, too. I have no doubt the aftermarket tuning community will fix those issues quickly.
Honda didn’t give us a chance to test the car on the road. My only concern is the stiffened suspension and composed damping that make it so good on a track would make the Type R too uncomfortable for daily driving in any Canadian city. But I suppose if you’re willing to put up with a car that looks like this for all-out performance, you’re also willing to suffer a stiff ride.
At $40,890 the Civic Type R comes fully loaded in Canada. There are only two colours to choose from: black or white. A carbon-fibre package with cosmetic carbon bits will be available soon.
The Type R is much cheaper than the Ford Focus RS, which is overpriced. The Honda is a tad more than the base VW Golf R or Subaru STI, but both of those come with less standard equipment and end up being more than the Honda once you’ve added it all in. What you don’t get in the Honda – that all the others have – is all-wheel-drive.
I’m not sure what those hardcore Type R fans – the people who’ve been waiting decades for this car to come to Canada – will make of it now. How will a car with a stiff ride and huge wing fit into their daily lives? For some it’ll fit just fine. But for others, the more mature Golf R will be very tempting.
Flat-out, on a racetrack, the Civic Type R is spectacular: a quick and rewarding driver’s car. Day-to-day I suspect there are probably better all-around choices. The Civic Type R is a car for Honda’s loyal fans.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.