There’s a flavour for pretty much anyone, whether you’re after something basic and reliable if not a touch bland, or a sporty small car with a good kick to it. Even if you consider Jalapeños a midnight snack, there’s a flavour for you, too: it’s called the 2021 Honda Civic Type R, and even after all these years, it still does a damn good job of setting your tongue on fire.
Introduced — or rather, reintroduced, if you live in North America — to much fanfare in 2017, the big-winged hot hatch should be old news by now. Even with its days clearly numbered, very little of that shine has dulled: the FK8-generation Civic Type R is still one of the best buys not only in the hot hatch segment, but also in the world of affordable sporty cars, period. So, what makes the Civic Type R still so zesty, even to this day? Three things: nostalgia, performance (duh), and of course, day-to-day livability.
Above all else, nostalgia is one helluva drug, and the Type R badge actually means something. Back in the good ol’ days, Honda cut its teeth on sensible, reliable, but also engaging and downright fun cars. Motorcycles, too, but that’s a bedtime story for another day. The memories of Hondas we’ve known, loved, and maybe even hated came from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Everybody has an opinion as to when Honda peaked, but it’s hard to argue the impact of anything Honda (or Acura) wearing a Type R badge in an era of Rugrats, CDs, and fluorescent iMac G3s. The S2000 might be an icon, but the O.G. Integra and Civic Type R are legends — and legends never die.
Naturally, when the Type R badge is affixed to the Civic’s trunk from the factory, you bet it knows how to boogie. Unlike the high-revving screamers in the Type Rs of yesterday, the new one’s powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine — no surprise there. It’s rated at 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, sent to the front wheels via a six-speed manual — no surprise there, either. You also get a whole host of other souped-up bits and pieces, including adaptive dampers, Brembo brakes, a limited-slip differential, and Continental SportContact 6 tires, among other goodies.
It’s enough to satisfy even the most ardent spec-sheet snobs, but what’s really surprising — even to this day — is what this car is capable of. There’s a bit more turbo lag than you might remember, but otherwise, the Civic Type R is unreal; you’d think that, given its “wrong” wheel drive layout, you’d have to constantly fight the steering wheel to keep the front wheels straight, but that simply isn’t the case. There’s barely a hint of torque steer when you drop a couple of gears and nail the go-fast pedal, the clutch/shifter combo is incredibly crisp, and although the stock Continental tires may as well be rubber bands, their grip is tenacious despite the road noise. There’s even great feedback through the steering wheel and next to no body roll when you test the limits of adhesion, though we still wouldn’t mind a bit more volume from the exhaust.
But there has to be a modicum of day-to-day practicality and livability to the Civic Type R. It’s easy to spend a lot of time inside: finding the perfect driving position takes no time at all, and the flashy red sport seats are so supportive, it feels like a nice, cuddly bear is giving you a hug while you clip apexes. Being based on the outgoing Civic hatch has its advantages, too: visibility all around is excellent, and cargo space punches in at a generous 728 litres with the rear seats up, and 1,038 litres folded flat. Those rear seats are actually roomy and usable, by the way, aside from the middle-seat delete. Meh, nobody likes the middle seat, anyway.
There is one glaring area where the Civic Type R shows its age: the tech. Honda’s improved its infotainment game with its newer and shiner models, but the Type R seems to have been either forgotten, or Honda knows Type R buyers really don’t care. Still, it’s still running the same slow-to-respond infotainment system that was already outdated in 2017, with the same clunky interfaces and low-res camera feeds when you pop into reverse or flick on your right turn signal. At least there’s a volume knob now, and plugging in your phone and running Apple CarPlay or Android Auto solves many of these issues. Fair warning: you don’t get heated seats or a sunroof, either.
If you can live with all that — and chances are you can, because if you’re buying a Civic Type R, you probably don’t care about things like infotainment — you can live with the styling, too. Say what you will about the look, Honda promises those vents, wings, and bulges are functional; it’s ugly, but consider it a functional ugly. Besides, if you wanted to fly under the radar a bit more, there’s guaranteed to be at least one person out there down to Type R-ify their Civic hatch with a trunk swap. Or just buy a Golf R.
Here’s something that’ll make you cock an eyebrow: Honda asks $46,200 for the 2021 Civic Type R, more than $2,500 over last year’s car. Sure, Honda freshened the styling and added a number of active safety bits last year — and those changes carry over into 2021 — but the price bump is certainly a head-scratcher. Honda is keen to point out that LogR, a new-for-2021 data-logging app, is exclusive to the Type R, but does that really warrant a $2,500-plus price bump? If it’s any consolation, the standard Type R is about $10,000 less than the extremely limited Civic Type R Limited Edition, and it’s otherwise as full-jam as full-jam gets: your only choice is whether you want your Type R in white or dark grey. Phoenix Yellow rises from the ashes for 2021, but only on the Limited Edition — and all 100 examples destined for Canada are already spoken for.
Granted, the 2021 Honda Civic Type R is showing its age, and it’s not quite the value proposition it once was. But there’s a degree of timelessness to this car: even after all these years, Honda knows how to build a spicy hot hatch.