2017 Honda Civic Type R: Forbidden fruit no more

The world's fastest front-drive production car is finally coming to North American shores, and it's pretty damned good.

Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Tim Stevens
6 min read

This, dear readers, has been a long time coming. The 2017 Honda Civic Type R is finally here. Honda's been making lightweight, race-ready Type R versions of its cars for about 25 years now, with the Civic first getting the nod in 1997. Those cars have shown up in Japan, Europe, Australia and... basically everywhere but the US of A.

Finally, finally, that's changing. For the 10th-generation Civic, Honda decided to throw America a bone -- a 306-horsepower, turbocharged bone. It's the fastest Civic ever, the fastest production front-wheel drive car on the planet, the most powerful Honda ever released in the US and it's really, really good.

2017 Honda Civic Type R takes aggressive looks to new heights

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Fifth time's the charm

2017 Honda Civic Type R

If the wing doesn't tell you, the badge is pretty hard to miss. 

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

R is for racing and so when the humble, sixth-gen Civic received the "Type R" nameplate back in 1997, it seemed like a bit of a curiosity. But as any fan of Japan's Best Motoring program will tell you, or indeed anyone who's ever obsessed over Gran Turismo, the Civic Type R has always been something worth respecting. And, for those of us in the US, something worth coveting.

For this 10th-generation Civic, and fifth iteration of the Civic Type R, Honda changed the rules somewhat. The biggest shift? It's a four-door hatchback. While the eighth-generation Civic Type R was a four-door sedan, the car has traditionally been a two-door hatch. The extra doors will be controversial to some, but the platform is important. That the 10th-generation Civic is largely the same car globally meant Honda could practically clear the necessary regulatory hurdles to bring this thing to the States. And boy are we glad they did.

This new car sports a refined version of the 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-four motor that drove the previous Type R, too. Yes, it's turbo'd and so it isn't quite the screamer of yore, but it still has i-VTEC, so you can at least still make all the Fast & Furious jokes you want.

That turbo means a very healthy 295 pound-feet of torque at just 2,500 RPM and a maximum output of 306 horsepower. (That figure is slightly lower than the the car is rated for elsewhere, thanks largely to higher octane fuel in the rest of the world.) It'll also do 28 mpg on the highway, 25 combined. That turbo blows air through a front-mount intercooler and the engine spins a slick-shifting, close-ratio six-speed manual transmission. For the first time, Honda's outfitted the car with an auto-blip downshift system. Haven't quite mastered those toe-heel downshifts? The Type R has you covered.

No peg-leg burnouts here

2017 Honda Civic Type R

Rubber-band tires and a trick front diff help keep things moving in the right direction.

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306 horsepower sure seems like a lot to shove through the front wheels of any car, but Honda brought an awful lot of tricks to the table to keep it in play. First up, and probably most important, is a helical limited-slip differential. This is a proper, mechanical LSD, not one of those half-assed virtual diffs that brake one wheel to try to mitigate wheelspin.

A good differential ensures both wheels spin at close to the same speed, giving you far better drive out of corners while also helping to mitigate another dreaded front-wheel drive trait: torque steer. Many powerful FWD cars require a firm grip on the wheel as they try to jerk the steering to one side or another under hard acceleration. There's barely a hint of this in the Type R.

I did launch after launch with my hands off the wheel, even with wheelspin, and the car tracked perfectly straight. The only whiff of torque steer you get here is that the steering gets a bit vague when accelerating hard out of turns, self-centering slightly reduced, but that's barely worth a mention.

To fight torque steer, Civic Type R features a custom suspension setup up front. The steering knuckles, to which the wheels and brakes mount, are shaped such that the steering axis is inline with the center of those giant, 20-inch wheels. When the delivery of the torque lines up with the turning axis, that greatly reduces the amount of stress applied to the steering.

How's that understeer?

2017 Honda Civic Type R

Torque steer? Perish the thought. 

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The real test of just how good the Civic can put all that power to the ground is to hit the track, and that's exactly what we did. The circuit at ICAR in Mirabel, QC, is small and flat but fun and deceptively fast, with walls everywhere ready to punish the slightest indiscretion. It's also quite bumpy in places. In other words, it's perfect for testing the Type R at speed, and the car passed with flying colors.

The car dives into corners with far more zeal than the Ford Focus RS, happily putting the power down at the apex and slingshotting you down the next straight. Again, the steering feel is occasionally a bit vague, but the car responds remarkably well both to steering changes and throttle adjustments. If ever I ran a little wide, it never took more than a quick lift off the gas to tuck the nose back in.

The slinky 245/30 ZR20 Continental SportContact 6 tires offer good feedback and plenty of grip and, yes, while it was typically the front tires that gave up first, the car never flopped over into terminal understeer -- where turning the wheel further just doesn't do anything. Adding more steering input always brought the nose closer to the apex, thanks I'm sure in no small part to a stability control system capable of braking the inside wheel.

2017 Honda Civic Type R looks amazing in Championship White

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Regardless of the trickery at play here, the Civic Type R drives really, really nicely on the track. I got up to speed quickly on an unfamiliar course and was immediately having a blast, even when I ran out of grip. That's not something you can say for many FWD cars on the market.

It's also worth pointing out that the brakes performed well. The pedal feel is firm and, despite a hot, sunny day, stayed so throughout the day. Our stints were admittedly short and ICAR's setup doesn't have many big braking zones, but I was never left doubting my ability to scrub off speed

'Comfort' means comfort

2017 Honda Civic Type R

The mode toggle switch lies just to the side of the excellent shifter.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The new Type R has three driving modes, the most posh being "Comfort." In this the suspension is at its softest, throttle most relaxed and steering most light. Believe it or not, in this mode, it's actually comfortable. Those lovely seats, too, don't punish you. There's some road noise, no doubt about that, and the car feels floaty at times, but those are minor complaints. The Type R's ride quality is on another planet compared to harsher options like the Subaru WRX STI.

Dial things up to Sport mode and everything cinches down a bit. This is the default mode and the best one for most of your occasionally sporty driving antics. But, if you want to go harder, toggle your way up to +R. Here the suspension is stiffest, throttle most reactive and the steering most linear to give the best precision.

Even in this mode, when driving on the limit, that curious triple-pipe exhaust is far from loud. That's great if you're trying to be a little stealthy, but I have a feeling that certain members of the aftermarket community will make a mint selling louder options for this car.

Speaking of stealthy, the Type R is anything but. I lost count of the number of turned heads, big smiles and thumbs up I received over two days of driving this thing. Despite being "just a Civic" the awareness of this car, even in rural Canada, is impressive. That giant wing alone will earn you plenty of attention, but while all the vents and louvers may seem somewhat excessive, know that it's done for purpose. Whether cooling, ducting or reducing lift, the aero appendages here are functional.

The hottest

2017 Honda Civic Type R

You don't need sidewalls to have a good time. 

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While cars like the Subaru WRX STI, Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R offer plenty of thrills and performance, when it comes to offering a compelling mixture of race-focused performance and day-to-day usability, the Type R is looking tough to beat. And, at $33,900, it's cheaper than the rest, too -- at least, it should be. Dealers are certainly adding a bit more to that figure. And granted, the other cars all feature all-wheel drive, and the complete lack of active safety niceties like adaptive cruise and lane-departure assist on the Civic is disappointing, but nobody's perfect.

The 2017 Civic Type R is a remarkable car and a new benchmark. Yes, dear readers, it was certainly worth the wait. 

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