Look closely. This is what disruption looks like in the hot hatch market. Out of context, the 2017 Honda Civic Type R makes little visual sense. Then again, if the words "mecha anime" mean something to you, the Type R will be spot on, as Honda's new speed machine is JDM AF.
Not counting the Acura Type R from the 1990s, this is the very first Honda Civic Type R sold in America. The 1997 Japan-market Civic Type R kicked off the party, with 182 horsepower at 8,200 rpm from a hand-ported, naturally aspirated 1.6-liter V-TEC four cylinder. It was a legend, a screamer, known to import-tuner enthusiasts for its red Honda logo and red seats. But that car is a far cry from this new, fifth generation. The red seats are still there, but the new turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four producing 306 hp and 295 lb-ft has completely changed its character. Gone is the howling high-rpm drama of the original Type R, replaced by an effortless blast of mid-range torque. How does zero to 60 in under six seconds sound?
Unlike its closest competitors, the all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza WRX STI and Ford Focus RS, the Type R is front-wheel-drive-only. The liability of FWD is all the work the front end has to do. Normally, when you combine steering and driving the wheels, a car gets darty and hard to control under full throttle. Not here, though. New strut designs like Ford’s RevoKnuckle and the setup on the Type R move the steering axis point closer to the tire centerline, virtually eliminating torque steer–the bane of high-torque front-wheel drive.
With a single-scroll turbo and lots of intake need, the Type R sucks in a lot of atmosphere. Yet that prominent hood scoop isn’t an intake, but a heat extractor and pressure equalizer, which helps reduce front-end lift. The tiered front fascia handles air ingestion duties, the middle section handling the intake, the bottom one feeding the intercooler. Most of the aggressive aerodynamic bits on the Type R have a purpose: These vertical slats called the air curtain, for example, get clean air flowing over the wheels and down the sides of the car to reduce the extra drag from the Type R’s wider track.
The winglets at the edges of the front spoiler and ahead of the rear wheels clean up the air over the wheel openings, and also create some downforce. The rear wing is thinner to reduce drag, and those vortex generators on the roof make the wing more efficient by energizing the airflow, sending it down over the wing. While the whole package doesn’t create massive, race-car-like downforce numbers, those 66 pounds of pressure on the rear deck at 124 miles per hour do prevent traction loss caused by lift. And despite conspiring to make the Type R look like Iron Man’s wrist guard, it’s all functional.
What are the drawbacks to the Type R? Depending on your vision or age, perhaps the looks. On my wish list is a way to separate the adaptive damper settings from the throttle and variable-ratio steering. It’s not a problem at Lime Rock Park where I wrung the car out, but on the road, I’d rather set the dampers soft and get more aggressive with the throttle and EPS. In Sport and R+ mode, the steering is direct and if not full of feeling, definitely a close match to the chassis.
Still, long after giving the keys back, I found myself thinking about the Type R, and how I wanted another go at it. That's high praise these days for a car costing just under $35,000.