2017 Honda Civic Type R: Pro Racer's Analysis
By Andy Pilgrim
SEATTLE, Washington— One of the best parts about this job is having the opportunity to test cars on racetracks, as finding the limits of today’s extremely capable sports cars on the street can be both dangerous and license-shredding. For a follow-up to our first drive of the 2017 Honda Civic Type R, Honda chose some beautiful roads near Seattle for road driving—and Ridge Motorsports Park for track time.
Now, I’d never seen the RMP track before, but had heard about it from a couple of buddies of mine who race up in the Pacific Northwest. They waxed lyrical about the place but these boys don’t get out much, so I tempered my expectations, to say the least.
Honda warned us on the first morning: local police cited several lead-footed journos the day before. Therefore, our 20-minute drive from the picturesque Alderbrook resort to the track looked a bit like a funeral procession. The steady drive did, however, give me a chance to try out the Honda’s infotainment system, which comes with a 7-inch screen and a 12-speaker audio system. Once I figured out the buttons on the steering wheel, all functions did not seem unduly distracting to operate. I would still pay extra for a few knobs, a couple of switches, and a delete option for any infotainment system, but that’s just me.
The Type R has three driving modes—Comfort, Sport, and Plus R, which apparently stands for “Riot.” (No, no it doesn’t, but it is, nevertheless). You change modes by use of a well-placed switch on the center console—no need to mess with the infotainment system, thank you! The adaptive-damper system adjusts the shocks so the driver feels the car more or less damped, depending on mode. None of the settings are jarring, though, as Honda engineers did a fine job with the shocks. I’ve always liked compliant street cars, so I used Comfort mode most of the time. Sport is the startup default and also works well on the street. Plus R is the stiffest (think Porsche Cayman or Audi TT in their Sport suspension modes). I could see many owners using Plus R all the time; it will not remove your fillings.
Drivers will feel several other progressive differences in each driving mode. In Plus R, engine response to any throttle use is more immediate. The steering wheel weight also increases from Comfort through to Plus R. I had no issue with any of the weights, but would have preferred Comfort weight in all driving modes.
The Type R weighs 3,111 pounds, Honda says, and accelerates surprisingly well. Maximum power is 306 hp at 6,500 rpm, with 295 lb-ft of torque at 2,500-4,500 rpm. The turbo can stuff air into the 2.0-liter VTEC motor at up to 22.8 psi. The Type R actually feels quicker to my rear end than a 10.1-pound-per-horsepower vehicle. Fuel economy is rated at 22/28 mpg (city/highway). However, I managed 34.3 mpg over the course of an hour and half road drive.
Gearing is quite short and full acceleration pushed me back in the seat. I needed to work the gearbox quickly into avoid hitting the 7,000-rpm rev limiter in first and second. The engine pulls well all the way to redline. It is also torquey, pulling strongly in taller gears—ideal for the street. The gearbox is superb, allowing shifts as fast as I could manage with no issues. Sub-5.0-second runs from zero-to-60 mph are doable, making the Type R quickest in the front wheel drive segment despite Honda’s conservative official time of 5.4 seconds.
No matter the driving mode I used, there was no engine lag following quick gearshifts, providing linear, uninterrupted acceleration with hesitation on clutch release. I feel post-shift lag shift on most modern manual cars I test these days. It’s a consequence of the engine computer not giving back full power for some milliseconds after clutch release. This lag is more than annoying and to my mind defeats the whole “engaged driving” refrain espoused by stick-shift advocates.
But the good news is that the Type R is not plagued by it.
The Type R handles very predictably. Compared to the current Civic hatchback, the Type R’s spring rates are up by 200 percent in front and 160 percent in the rear. The anti-roll bars are also stiffer, by 170 percent in front and 240 percent in the rear. People might look at this in isolation and think the Type R is as stiff as a board, but it’s not. They forget the Type R wheel track is wider (2.2 inches in front, 1.2 out back) and that the car weighs 300 pounds more than standard Civic hatchback.
My buddies were correct about Ridge Motorsports Park. The 16-turn, 2.47-mile track is challenging and permanently grin-inducing. Parts of it remind me of the Nürburgring, a place I’ve raced at three times this year. In particular, the sections from Turn 2 through Turn 8a and Turn 8b, and Turn 11 are quite “’Ring-like.” They involve cornering at full acceleration while positioning the car in readiness to blow over the top of blind crests. It is excellent fun.
I used the Plus R driving mode on the track and did not turn off VSA stability control or traction control. Front-wheel-drive cars tend to spin the inside unloaded wheel when you put power down in a corner and I could feel the traction nannies working, but momentum and drive remained strong, so I left everything on and found the electronics are impressive.
Weight distribution for the Type R is 62/38 percent, front/rear. Understanding this, I slowed my steering inputs and was patient going back to the gas in order not to create understeer. I’m happy to tell you I had no problem rotating the Type R on corner entry. Several decreasing radius corners at RMP gave me ample opportunity to work on this.
The brakes work well and I felt no fade on the racetrack, but note that I only did three or four laps at a time in a lead-follow format apart from two laps on my own at the end of the day. The Type R has 13.8-inch cross-drilled rotors clamped by four-pot Brembos up front and 12-inch rotors with single-pot calipers in the rear.
We don’t usually dwell on lap times here at Automobile, and these driving events are not really setup for doing an “ultimate” lap time, anyway. That is because each car will have a slightly different setup, tire pressures are all over the place based on heat and usage, curb clipping can get you a second or more on some tracks, etc.
That said, I managed to get a hand-held time: During my two open laps, with a full tank of fuel, hot tires, no curb clipping (apex cones were on all curbs), and using Plus R mode, I managed a 1:54.9—a time, I am told, that would put the car mid-pack in an SCCA Super Production class event at this track.
The Type R’s dual-axis front suspension works, period. Torque steer is a non-event. The 245/30R-20 Continental SportContact 6 tires on 8.5-inch rims do a stellar job of gripping the road, easily pulling more than 1 g in steady-state turns. The Conti tires look like they should last reasonably well from the light wear I saw at the track. On occasion, I did feel some pull through the steering wheel, but this was more due to an uneven road surface than actual torque steer, and it was minimal.
I like the look of the Type R’s three-exit tail pipe. All three pipes are functional: two for exhaust and the middle one for sound and resonance/booming control. The exhaust noise is growly, but quieter than competitors such as the Subaru STI and Ford Focus RS. Honda said it went with sporty but not overly loud. Honda also mentioned the aftermarket community being more than capable of producing a different exhaust if the need is, ahem, there.
There are some tasty and unique interior treatments as well. A nice D-shaped steering wheel, an aluminum shift knob, and a pair of very comfortable (road trip) and supportive (racetrack) seats. These are Honda developed seats and only come in red.
I have heard some negative comments about the look of the Type R with all its wings, splitters and scoops, etc. It does all look a bit British Touring Car, but I’m actually good with that. It’s a Type R, not your average Civic grocery getter. I also have no issue with the look of the Porsche GT2/3/RS, Subaru STi, BMW M4 GTS, or Mercedes-AMG GT R. The aero pieces on the Type R work. Turn 1 at RMP was a good test, and I could feel aero support in that turn at more than 100 mph. Honda is not making stuff up: 66 pounds of downforce at 124 mph may not sound like much, but I could feel it working on the track.
Our road drive showed me the Type R is also an excellent everyday car, as long as you like driving a stick (they don’t come any other way). It has a ton of room inside, especially with the back seats down. Some tire noise did come through to the cabin from the well-worn Washington roads, but nothing that impacted normal chit-chat levels.
Honda says the U.S. should receive about 5,000 Type Rs a year. At $34,775, the car costs less than the Volkswagen Golf R, WRX STi, and Focus RS. Many would argue these models are not rivals, as they are all-wheel drive. Well, if you want to look at it like that, and if we judge the Type R as purely a front-wheel-drive weapon, then it’s in a class of one.
The lack of torque steer while pumping out this much power and performance is definitely an eye opener. It’s been many years since I owned a stick-shift or front-wheel-drive car; I am, contrary to most in this business, a huge fan of double-clutch gearboxes. Despite this, I found the 2017 Honda Civic Type R to be a breath of fresh air at a reasonable price while offering genuine driving pleasure. With that in mind, the Type R has a real shot to draw some new blood into the enthusiast-driving world.