Is this the best front-wheel-drive sports car ever?
Thinking of clever ways to describe cars pays my bills, so rarely does a car leave me struggling to find words to describe it—yet that’s the situation I found myself in after driving the new 2017 Honda Civic Type R. I settled for three: “Holy s—. Wow.”
There’s not any one thing that makes the Civic Type R so special, but rather it’s Honda’s holistic approach to building what’s not only arguably the greatest hot hatch the world has ever seen but also the best front-wheel-drive sports car ever.
I know I sound crazy, especially to anyone who’s driven a Civic Si in the past decade or so. On paper, the Civic Type R’s competition—the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI, and Volkswagen Golf R—would all seem to blow the Honda out of the water, just by the virtue of all three offering up performance-enhancing all-wheel drive. And yet the Civic Type R works—and so incredibly well at that.
The magic starts in the English city of Swindon, on the very same production line that produces run-of-the-mill Civic hatchbacks for worldwide consumption. The base Civic hatchback body, already significantly stiffer than the previous-generation Civic Type R, gets adhesive joints in a few key areas to increase torsional stiffness. As the Type R makes its way down the production line, the British workforce buzzes around it, fitting it with a dual-axis strut suspension up front, a multilink unit in back, and unique electronically adjustable dampers at all four corners. Under the hood goes a hot-rodded version of the new Honda Accord’s 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, making a class-competitive 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to a Springfield rifle-slick six-speed manual and a mechanical limited-slip front diff. The package is rounded out by racing buckets inside, a revised rear bench omitting the middle seat in favor of formfitting outboard seats and a center console, and functional styling add-ons that could’ve only come from a country that created Gundam and Initial D.
With our Vbox and test gear hooked up, we lined our Championship White Civic Type R up for its first launch. Thanks to its limited-slip diff eliminating torque steer and a lack of turbo lag, the 306-hp Type R accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. That’s less than a second slower than the 350-hp all-wheel-drive Focus RS’ 4.5-second time but more tellingly quicker than both the 305-hp WRX STI and six-speed manual-equipped 292-hp Golf R, both of which benefit from grippy all-wheel-drive launches and need 5.7 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph. The Civic Type R maintains second place through the quarter mile, too. It’s 14.0-second run at 102.5 mph (165 km/h) trails the Focus RS’ 13.3-second run at 103.3 mph (166 km/h), but the Civic still just beats out the WRX STI (14.1 seconds at 98.5 mph (158 km/h)) and the Golf R (14.1 seconds at 102.7 mph (165 km/h)). In braking tests, the Civic Type R manages to tie the Focus RS’ 104 foot stop from 60 mph, beating the WRX STI’s and Golf R’s 109 foot stop. The overall trend continues on the figure eight; the more powerful Focus RS (24.0 seconds at 0.81 g average) manages to just beat out the Civic Type R’s 24.7 second at 0.78 g performance, while the WRX STI and Golf R fall behind, at 25.1 seconds at 0.75 g and 25.4 seconds at 0.77 g, respectively.
Even more important than how the Civic Type R drives at the track is how it drives on the street. More often than not, high-power hot hatchbacks are beset with compromise—peaky engines, punishing rides, and poor fuel economy are the rule of the day. Not the Type R. The Civic Type R is an absolute sweetheart, no matter what you throw at it. On a good back road, it’s a precision instrument; around town or on the highway it is an easy-going cruiser. The Honda turns in on a knife’s edge, absorbing bumps and bruises from the road without upsetting the driver or chassis no matter what drive mode you’re in. Steering is crisp and quick, and throttle response is linear. The Civic Type R’s engine is a little monster, with tons of power, little lag, and a sky-high 7,000-rpm redline, backed up by a Ryan Gosling-slick six-speed gearbox topped by a brushed aluminum knob. “This is the most impressive new Honda I’ve driven since the original NSX,” said international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie. “The Type R delivers utterly remarkable performance and handling, yet it’s impressively refined to drive. It’s the best-front drive chassis in the world. Period.”
Although the Civic Type R drives phenomenally no matter what’s thrown at it, what’s arguably more impressive is how livable it is on a day-to-day basis. The Type R is comfortable and quiet on the highway, doesn’t beat up you on rough pavement around town, and it still retains the Honda Civic hatchback’s trademark versatility. Up front, the driver and passenger get to sit in what are arguably the best racing seats ever fit into a street car. “The seats are among the best sport buckets I’ve ever sat in—holding monsters that don’t pop you in the jewels when you get in or out,” said editor-in-chief Ed Loh. The backseat retains the huge, adult-friendly dimensions, albeit at the expense of the middle seat. The Type R’s trunk is huge, too, retaining the standard Civic hatch’s ingenious cargo cover, which retracts into a mount on the right side of the cargo area, meaning you can drop the rear seats flat without having to worry about where to store a cargo cover.
Also notable is the Honda Civic Type R’s fuel economy and sticker price compared to the Golf R, Focus RS, and WRX STI. On the former front, the Civic Type R’s 22/28/25 mpg (10.7/8.4/9.4 L/100km) city/highway/combined EPA rating is among the best in the segment. It tops the Ford Focus RS’ 19/25/22 mpg (12.4/9.4/10.7 L/100km) and the WRX STI’s 17/22/19 rating while nearly matching the VW Golf R, which is rated at 22/31/25 mpg (10.7/7.6/9.4 L/100km) with the manual and 23/30/25 mpg (10.2/7.8/9.4 L/100km) with the optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Where the Civic Type R most easily beats Volkswagen, Ford, and Subaru is in sticker price. Although a cheaper version is reportedly coming, the Civic Type R currently comes in one spec, the loaded, no-options-available Touring trim, which stickers for $34,775 USD in the limited-run 2017 model and $34,990 USD for the 2018 Civic Type R. The next cheapest competitor is the Subaru WRX STI at $36,955 USD; the Golf R and Focus RS cost considerably more. The Golf R starts at $40,195 USD, and Focus RS prices start at $41,995 USD.
Although words might have ultimately failed me, the Honda Civic Type R doesn’t need ‘em. This is a car that speaks for itself, and one that’ll be the performance benchmark for both front-drive cars and hot hatchbacks for years to come.
|2017 Honda Civic Type R (Touring)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$34,775|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 4-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||2.0L/306-hp/295-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,114 lb (62/38%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||179.4 x 73.9 x 56.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.4 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.0 sec @ 102.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||99 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.99 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.7 sec @ 0.78 g (avg)|
|1.6-MI ROAD COURSE LAP||1:25.07 sec|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22/28/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/120 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.80 lb/mile|