Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Honda Civic Type R

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
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Dangly man bits – every day, heavily bolstered sports-car seats wage war on them, in an assault on the undercarriages of gentlemen around the globe. If you’re a dude, certain globe-like apparatuses can move independently of the legs flanking them, necessitating extra vigilance to avoid smashing your precious cargo into an offending sport-seat bolster. Usually, you won’t crush your man-baggage, but sometimes, you’ll bolster-smash one or both of the boys as you slide in or out of that sport seat. This is the most dire of situations.

The cabin might appear a roll cage and fire extinguisher away from a full-out race car, but there’s no problem taking your mom for a road trip, comfort-wise.

And, man or lady, sport seats of the suede-trimmed variety often lock onto your clothing as you get seated, resulting in an atomic wedgie that requires a lengthy fishing trip in your undergarments to correct.

The Civic Type R has this type of thickly bolstered suede seat, though blessedly, the thigh-high bolsters are only half a seat-pad long – thanks to a notch through which your fellas can pass unscathed. Further, the suede is grippy, but not enough to leave your Fruit of the Looms inside of your spleen by time you buckle up.

Authentically racy sports seats without the downsides: it’s just one example of how the 2017 Honda Civic Type R is a friendly high-performance car that’s easy to live with.

Look at the Type R, and you expect a punishing, challenging drive that’s markedly compromised for performance. You picture a clutch and shifter you’ll struggle with, and tracky brakes that squeal and screech until hot. Or a loud, thirsty engine with plenty of zoomph, but a crappy idle. Difficult steering at low speeds. A ride that’ll powder your spine.

Then, after a moment of driving, you realize the Type R is only a tad more difficult to live with than a standard Civic. It has a big trunk, and plenty of at-hand storage. Hell, there are even USB cable pass-throughs to keep cord-clutter to a minimum.

Set the adaptive dampers into their Comfort mode, and it’s comfy-sporty, not jarring, not stiffened like a rigor-mortis tortoise. In fact, in Comfort mode, the Type R is a more comfortable and nicely sorted Civic to drive on rough roads than the more commuter-oriented Civic Touring Coupe.

Another example? The shifter and clutch. The metal shift knob is like grabbing the wrong end of a cattle-brand on a hot day, but beyond that, and despite being tasked with managing wads of torque, it’s an easygoing setup. The clutch is meaty, grabby, and weighty, though carefully hinged and sprung to be easygoing in traffic. The shifter is stiffer and more labour-intensive than some will be used to – not one of Honda’s smoothest – but like the clutch, it’s substantial, but not heavy enough to constitute a workout.

Low-speed steering is light. The big Brembos proved noiseless over the course of a week. The engine isn’t even loud – start it up, and it only makes a tad more noise than the Civic Sedan your librarian drives.

Hardcore? That’s debatable.

The looks scream it. There are wings and slats and fender-widening trim and faux carbon-fibre body kit bits. And red Type R badges. And a rear splitter. And a hood scoop. And fender vents. And heck, even three exhaust pipes. It’s busy-looking, bordering on obnoxious even, and that will help sell a lot of cars.

Ditto the VTEC TURBO badge on the rear glass. These two words combined get import performance enthusiasts drooling away on overtime.

Here’s the important thing to know about the Type R if you’re a potential buyer, and not a smack-talking internet fanboy: at its core, this is still very much a Honda Civic. They’ve managed to dial up the thrills, keep core Civic attributes intact, and virtually abolish the compromise typical when turning a commuter car into something this feisty.

Let’s talk about what the Type R is, and what it isn’t.

It’s the so-called fastest front-drive car around the Nürburgring. Cool? Yes. Important? Nah – you aren’t going to the Nürburgring, and if you are, you’re not getting anywhere close to the record-setting lap-time, anyways.

Ultimate import compact of all-conquering performance? Maybe so, maybe no. There’s competition in this segment, much of it equipped with AWD, and well-established. Honda’s late to the party here. Still, it’s no slouch: Honda doesn’t do performance cars so often, but when they do, they tend to be doozies. This is the case.

A flop, not worthy of consideration, since it’s front-wheel drive? Keep that Cobb tuner in your pants, STI fans: AWD or not, a Type R driver with a few performance driver courses will leave the “guy off the street” in his STI or Golf R in the dust all track-day long. Like its competitors, the Type R is built for lap times, grip, acceleration, and motorsports-derived thrills. But, another message for serious Type R shoppers (fanboys can skip this part): it’s driver skill, not AWD and mods, that will most effectively slash your track-day lap times.

“Bro, sick Civic, I bet that’s fast as hell!” one young fella shouted out in traffic. She goes: the 2.0L turbo VTEC engine makes 306 hp and nearly as much torque. You get 0–100 clicks in a snudge under 5 seconds, en route to a quarter-mile pass in the mid to high 13-second range. That’s roughly as quick as a Nissan 370Z, a Ford Focus ST with a moderate tune, and not quite as fast as a Mustang GT.

So, what’s it like to drive? A few notables stand out.

Cruising around in Comfort mode, ride quality, by sports car standards, is surprisingly good on lousy roads. And the engine is quiet, refined, and needs minimal revs to whiz through traffic. Forward and peripheral visibility are decent; and though rear visibility is not, a back-up camera and Honda’s Lane Watch camera help compensate.

She’s a decent highway cruiser, too – with wind and road noise levels kept adequately hushed up to cruising speeds, tame ride quality, and those sports seats that are more comfortable and forgiving than they look. The cabin might appear a roll cage and fire extinguisher away from a full-out race car, but there’s no problem taking your mom for a road trip, comfort-wise.

The Type R gearbox sees highway revs landing around 2,500 rpm – a little high, and sufficient to keep the overly eager turbocharger ready to strike at a moment’s notice. It gets spooling away with even a glance at the gas pedal, low-rev torque is huge so downshifting is often optional, and you’ll want to use the cruise control – as it’s easy to accidentally wind up speeding excessively if you aren’t careful. This is a sneaky-quick car.

Driven hard? A few other attributes stand out, here. Engage +R mode to recalibrate various Type R systems, and it’s a whole different animal. The shocks firm up massively. The steering gets so heavy you can barely work it with just one hand (which you shouldn’t). Little throttle inputs ignored in other drive modes send the Type R surging ahead.

Hammer down. Torque steer? No, no.

Sure – you’ve got to be a touch gentler on the throttle when pushing through a corner than in something with AWD to prevent the front tires scrubbing, but the Type R puts all 306 horsepower down to the road exceptionally well. Moreso when drivers are brushed up on performance driving basics. Apply those, and there’s limited understeer or oversteer, and a very, very strong sense that the Type R is keen to go where it’s pointed with eager precision. This front-drive sports car never left me wishing for two more drive wheels on a mid-summer’s test drive.

Best part? The very quick but extremely heavy +R mode steering replicates the fast and absolutely locked-on character I love in cars like the 911 GT3 or ATS-V. It’s mischievous, confidence-inspiring, and silly fun.

Acceleration is strong and rich with torque, and the turbocharger breathes all the way to the 7,000 rpm redline, never running out of steam. You’re shoved into your seatback, the pull interrupted only briefly by upshifts that come accented with a little chirp from the turbo between gears.

The brakes, which can feel a little numb and vague in traffic, wake right up in hard use. Plenty of bite and precision come online as you get them working more severely.

In all, you’ve got the moves, the reflexes, and a careful sense of fine-tuning of each system off of the rest, that defines some of the market’s best (and much pricier) sporting machines. In some ways, the Type R reminds me of a Porsche Cayman: it feels eager to please at all times, encourages you to capitalize on its considerable capabilities, and never feels like its struggling with its weight.

Gripes, considering context, were minor: I wished the engine had a more substantial soundtrack – it just makes a sound, which is neither good nor bad. Further, the ridiculous rear spoiler makes the trunk feel like it weighs 329 pounds when you open it. Finally, as handy as the LaneWatch and wide-angle back-up camera displays are, the resolution from each on screen is fairly poor and fuzzy.

In summation: Type R is nowhere near as hardcore and compromised as it looks, but it is every bit as entertaining. Here’s a thrilling daily driver with a delightful split personality and some authentically athletic moves. Shoppers after AWD, maybe for a winter-ready performance thrill ride, can check out the STI, Golf R, and (if you can find one), Focus RS, too.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders 4
Peak Horsepower 306 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Peak Torque 295 lb-ft @ 2,500–4,500 rpm
Fuel Economy 10.6/8.3/9.6 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 728 L/1,308L rear seats down
Model Tested 2017 Honda Civic Type R
Base Price $40,890
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,595
Price as Tested $42,585
Optional Equipment