A helical limited-slip differential is standard equipment, and helps the Type R’s road manners considerably.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Launched in 2017, Honda legitimately knocked it out of the park with their top-tier hot hatch, the Civic Type R. We have now spent a considerable amount of time with the Type R, including awarding it our Car of the Year trophy in 2017. It’s rare for a vehicle to continue to win awards deeper into its life cycle, but the Type R has also been crowned DoubleClutch.ca Performance Car of the Year in the below $50,000 category for 2019. We consider the canyons around the Los Angeles area a mecca, where members of our team annually take a pilgrimage. This year’s voyage included the keys to a favourite, the 2020 Honda Civic Type R, for a week’s worth of canyon carving.
A bit of a departure from the base Civic Hatchback’s pricing of $24,190 and the sedan’s $17,890, the Type R’s suggested retail price of $41,690 seems a bit high. However, when compared to real rivals like Volkswagen’s Golf R and the Subaru WRX STI (reviewed here), it begins to look like a bargain. The Civic lacks the complex all-wheel-drive systems that the other players offer, but when it boils down to the driving engagement and sheer capability, it redeems itself fairly quickly.
The Type R’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (codenamed K20C1) is direct-injected. Turbocharging is brought on by a single-scroll unit that can push up to 23psi of boost, making for a generous 306 horsepower at 6,500RPM, and 295 lb-ft. of torque, available between 2,500 and 4,500RPM. There is definitely some turbo lag off the line, but the six-speed manual, the only available transmission, does an exceptional job allowing the driver to keep the car in the right part of its powerband. Whether it’s a quick highway pass or an uphill pull in the Angeles National Forest, the Type R is up for it and hurtles forward with minimal hesitation.
A helical limited-slip differential is standard equipment, and helps the Type R’s road manners considerably. Equal length driveshafts and beefed up suspension with adaptive dampers mean this is the most capable street-going Civic ever created. Steering feel is excellent, and the car goes exactly where it’s pointed – the Type R does things that no front-drive car should be able to do. Anyone discounting it for being front-drive only will swallow their words after one aggressive drive. If you find that you need to stop, the aluminum four-piston Brembos provide good brake feel and can bring the car to a halt in a hurry.
The clutch and shifter are among the best in the business, a typical play for Honda, with light clutch action with decent feedback and good shifter feel. An automatic rev-matching system will perfectly match RPMs with the desired gear, meaning drivers can focus on pointing the car rather than ensuring the throttle is blipped at every downshift. Many purists consider systems like these to be sacrilege, but after using and evaluating them significantly, I’ve come around. Three driving modes, with +R being the most aggressive, adapt the suspension, response and steering feel to make for a bit of a split personality.
With regards to fuel economy, the Civic Type R is rated at 10.6L/100km city, 8.3L/100km highway and a combined average of 9.6L/100km. We spent about 800km behind the wheel of the Type R, including a considerable amount of bumper-to-bumper traffic and also many satisfying hours in the canyons. Our average was 8.7L/100km, which was better than expected given the conditions, though the small 47-liter tank means frequent fill-ups are necessary. The Type R also requires 91-octane premium fuel, as do all of its rivals.
The interior is one area in which the current Civic doesn’t do all that well. This generation was introduced for the 2016 model year, and it has already received its mid-cycle refresh which included the re-introduction of the volume knob. While the Type R’s performance seats are very supportive for aggressive driving, they aren’t heated in any way. Rear accommodations are only made for two, with no center seat, so tread with caution if you’re regularly transporting passengers.
A central touchscreen controls infotainment, and is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. That said, if you’re not using smartphone connectivity, the native Honda system is dated, slow to operate, and the graphics are in dire need of an update. A digital primary display in the instrument cluster provides all pertinent information, but the interface to customize it is clunky and also not user-friendly in any way. The steering wheel is not heated, though materials all around are fairly nice with carbon fiber and faux-suede accents throughout the cabin.
Lastly, given that this is a performance-focused car geared specifically towards the purist, the Honda Sensing active driver safety suite is not on board. The Type R lacks adaptive cruise control, collision warning, blind spot monitoring, or anything of the sort. Honda’s LaneWatch blind spot camera system is on board, along with the HondaLink emergency response service, but that’s about it. It’s worth mentioning that while the Subaru WRX STI also does not come with a safety suite, the Golf R (reviewed here) has a package available with all of these necessities.
The styling of the Type R isn’t for me; it’s a little bit on the aggressive side and looks too boy-racer for my liking. That said, this isn’t a car you buy for the styling, but for the driving engagement you get. The 2020 Honda Civic Type R is easily one of the most engaging hot hatches on the road right now, and one that’s tame enough to live with for the daily grind. It also makes for a phenomenal track weapon, and offers enough practicality in the cargo area for the basic necessities of a young family. This is a true all-rounder.