A closer look at Honda's fabled Type R performance models
Here's the story so far on Honda's high-performance model line, before the new Civic Type R finally arrives in the US.
Jon WongFormer editor for CNET Cars
Jon Wong was a reviews editor for CNET Cars. He test drove and wrote about new cars and oversaw coverage of automotive accessories and garage gear. In his spare time, he enjoys track days, caring for his fleet of old Japanese cars and searching for the next one to add to his garage.
One of the biggest stars of this young auto show season has been the new Honda Civic Type R Prototype, which promises at least 300 horsepower and a six-speed manual transmission in production form. While rivals such as the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI and Volkswagen Golf R all work with all-wheel drive, the CTR will continue to go its own way with a front-wheel-drive layout.
All of the expected go-faster changes are present and accounted for, with larger air intakes, carbon-fiber front splitter, 20-inch wheels and a honkin' rear wing, but the most noteworthy bit of news is that the new Japanese hot hatchback will finally be sold in the US. When the Civic Type R lands in dealerships in the States some time next year, it will mark the first time a Honda-badged Type R model has ever been officially offered in our market.
In preparation for the new Civic Type R's US arrival, let's take a quick crash course in the history of Honda's fabled Type R line.
1992-1995 NSX Type R
Fittingly, Honda's Type R story begins with its groundbreaking NSX supercar, which was originally developed with the help of racing legend Ayrton Senna. Its aluminum monocoque was a first for a production car, helping to shave weight, but the Type R treatment took weight reduction even further by removing the stereo, air conditioning and tossing out most of the sound-deadening material. In total, Honda engineers cut an additional 308 pounds for the special model, a seriously welcome diet for hardcore drivers and track-day regulars.
The NSX Type R's Championship White paint is a direct nod to the RA 272 Formula 1 car that Richie Ginther drove to victory at the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix, Honda's first Grand Prix win. The race car was painted in the same white hue, and naturally, the "R" in Type R stands for "Racing."
Watch this: The Honda NSX was a Japanese mid-engined masterpiece
A 3.0-liter V6 with 276 horsepower and 217 pound-feet of torque powered the NSX Type R, which was the first production car to wear the Championship White paint job and red Honda badge. The NSX Type R was only sold in Honda's home market of Japan, where it had a total production of 483 units over its three-model-year production run. Today, it's a highly sought-after classic that regularly commands a substantial premium over lesser NSXes.
The Type R treatment was brought to the masses for the first time in late 1995 with the arrival of the Integra Type R, a model that in the beginning was again only available in Japan. A high-revving 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 197 horsepower and 134 pound-feet of torque provided power, and was mated to a five-speed manual transmission.
Suspension improvements and body reinforcements improved handling, in addition to weight-reduction efforts that saw features like the sunroof, cruise control and rear wiper falling by the wayside because they did nothing to improve the car's performance.
1997-2000 Civic Type R
For its third act, Honda gave the EK9 Civic the Type R badge to go along with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that made 182 horsepower at 8,200 rpm, and 118 pound-feet of torque. Like the Integra Type R, the Civic Type R also scored a five-speed manual transmission.
Weight-reduction efforts in the Civic Type R saw about 66 pounds chopped off compared to other Civic models, while the suspension received firmer shocks, springs and a thicker rear antiroll bar. Like previous Type R models, the first CTR was a Japan-only offering.
Honda's first Civic Type R was a 182-horsepower hot hatchback
The 1997 Integra Type R was the first Type R model sold in the US, albeit under the Acura brand. Compared to GS-R models, the Type R had 25 more horsepower from its hand-assembled 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, for a total of 195 hp. A higher compression ratio, low-friction pistons, high-performance cams, larger throttle body, hand-polished intake and exhaust ports and a freer-flowing exhaust all contributed to the power gain.
Models sold from 1997-1998 were all painted Championship White, while 2000-2001 cars were offered in yellow and black, with air conditioning and a sound system as standard. A total of 3,823 ITRs made it to the US during its run, with 320 coming in 1997, 1,000 in 1998, 1,350 in 2000 and 1,158 in 2001. Even today, the ITR is considered one of the finest-handling front-wheel-drive cars ever made.
Honda shakes up the US sport compact scene with the Acura Integra Type R
Honda's Type R badge would become even more practical with the debut of the Accord Type R in Europe, which was sold in Japan as the Accord Euro R. The car served as a basis for Honda's successful racing campaign in the British Touring Car Championship. A 2.2-liter four-cylinder provided 209 ponies, which were yoked to a five-speed manual transmission.
Upgraded suspension components, strategic body reinforcements, a limited-slip differential, exclusive exterior styling touches and interior upgrades that included Recaro seats and a leather-wrapped Momo steering wheel completed the Accord's Type R transformation.
2002-2006 Integra Type R
While we knew the car as the Acura RSX in the US, the Honda sports coupe continued to be known as the Integra in Japan. The debut of an all-new generation model also saw the arrival of a fresh Integra Type R, which sadly was a Japanese domestic exclusive.
In place of the old 1.8-liter four-cylinder was a new 2.0-liter unit making 217 horsepower, which was mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Of course, a stiffer suspension, body reinforcements, weight reduction steps, limited-slip differential and front Brembo brakes were part of the Type R package. Dressing the interior again were Recaro seats and a Momo steering wheel.
Honda deprives the US of the second-gen Integra Type R
The second-generation Civic Type R marked the first time the performance model was officially sold outside of Japan, with availability stretching to European markets. A 197-horsepower version of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder powered the hot hatch, which worked with a six-speed manual transmission. Chassis, suspension and brake upgrades were included, but goodies like a limited-slip differential weren't included on European models.
Japanese spec models did receive a limited-slip unit, however, along with a more potent 217-horsepower engine with a balanced crankshaft, different cams, intake manifold and exhaust manifold.
Before the original NSX rode off into the sunset in 2005, Honda ginned up a second Type R iteration that inherited all the weight-saving tricks of the first model, but took things a step further with improved aerodynamics. The deletion of air conditioning, radio, power steering and sound insulation were joined by lighter carbon-fiber bodywork that reduced front lift and improved high-speed stability.
Suspension tuning was reworked to cope with the higher downforce levels, while lighter wheels, stickier Bridgestone Potenza RE070 tires and brake upgrades also upped handling capabilities. Honda claimed the hand-built 3.2-liter V6 featured the same 276 horsepower as the standard NSX, but the drive-by-wire throttle was retuned for quicker response. Only 100 examples were built. One of them made it to the UK, while the other 99 were sold exclusively in Japan. Today, this car's collectible value is such that a clean, original NSX-R would buy you a garage full of lesser NSXes.
Honda does another Type R to bid farewell to the original NSX
The third-generation Civic Type R appeared in Japan as a sedan, which marked the first time it wasn't sold as a three-door hatchback. A 222-horsepower version of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powered the CTR, and worked with a six-speed manual transmission. To save weight and strengthen the chassis, more aluminum was employed, along with greater use of adhesive seam bonding in place of welding. That effort had Honda claiming that the CTR sedan's chassis was 50 percent more rigid than that of the second-generation Integra Type R.
Of course, being a Japanese-market Type R, all the expected performance equipment was installed on the Civic as standard, including a limited-slip differential, front Brembo brakes and exclusive exterior body jewelry, including a big ol' rear wing.
For Europe, the third-generation Civic Type R continued with the three-door hatchback formula, but was down on power compared to its Japanese counterpart. While the 2.0-liter four-cylinder and six-speed manual gearbox drivetrain were the same, its Euro-spec engine was only rated at 198 horsepower.
A torsion-beam rear suspension and lack of a limited-slip differential also hampered the Euro-spec CTR from being all the hot hatch it could've been, but the latter would be remedied later when Honda introduced a special Championship White edition that came standard with a Torsen diff. Europe's CTR hatch would also become available in Honda's homeland, with 2,010 examples going on sale alongside the CTR sedan in Japanese showrooms badged "Civic Type R Euro" for the 2010 model year.
Honda stays the course with a Civic Type R hatchback in Europe
Things certainly changed with the arrival of the fourth iteration of the Civic Type R. For the first time, a Type R model relies on a turbocharged engine instead of the naturally aspirated powerplants that gained cult status for their linear powerbands and ability to rev to the moon and back. A forced-induction 2.0-liter with 306 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque is bolted to a six-speed manual. It's this model that gives us our best preview of what is headed to US showrooms some time next year.
Watch this: Is the 2016 Honda Civic Type R too much car for the road?
In addition to a mechanical limited-slip differential, this generation of CTR gets two-stage adjustable dampers, front struts with separate steering knuckles to better cope with torque steer, and Agile Handling Assist torque-vectoring that applies light braking to the inner wheel for quicker cornering.