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I don't walk into every car review with big expectations, but for the 2018 Honda Civic Type R, it was inevitable.
For years I have been part of the vocal minority, screaming to the unresponsive heavens in the hopes that Honda would one day bring its highest-performing Civic to the US. And then it arrived, and it proved to be good.
Just about every report from the Type R's debut painted it as a competent front-wheel-drive performance car when it came to track or otherwise spirited driving, but I wanted to go deeper. I was hopeful that the Civic Type R would succeed as a daily driver, too -- not necessarily a given, because some performance cars are just too rough for everyday use, especially on Michigan's pockmarked roads.
Thankfully, having spent nearly two full weeks driving a Type R in common situations, I can report that my expectations have been exceeded. The hottest Civic to date is also a formidable daily driver, thanks in no small part to some excellent chassis tech and its hatchback utility.
It seems most people's opposition to the Type R isn't based on the powertrain, but rather on its looks. They have a point -- it's not exactly easy on the eyes, thanks to its garish wing and massive expanses of black-plastic "vents." My tester's bright red paint doesn't exactly speak to subtlety, either.
Personally, I enjoy the boy-racer looks. It's the first Civic Type R in the US; it damn well better look the part. No, Type Rs of years past haven't been this visually aggressive, but the best part is that when you're driving it, you don't have to look at it. If you prefer to fly under the radar, you might consider the Volkswagen Golf R.
Thankfully, the story changes inside, where the design doesn't stray too far from the standard Civic. There are three major differentiators: the red trim all over the dash, the Type R-specific pieces near the shifter and some very supportive (and, again, very red) seats. While they're comfy as all get-out, I'm let down that Honda didn't find a way to heat them. Not every Type R will end up in California, and while the Civic Type R will be more than capable in the snow with the right tires, your tuchus will stay on the frosty side.
The Civic's interior is well sorted, otherwise. The digital gauge cluster is bright and configurable. The center console has storage space for days, and the hatchback's trunk can swallow several houses' worth of groceries. But do note, while the standard Civic Hatchback seats three across in the rear, the Type R deletes the center position for a fixed pair of plastic cup holders.
The Civic Type R relies on a massaged version of the previous generation's 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, good for 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. That torque comes on nice and low, so even if you short-shift, decent throttle application results in ample hustle. It always wants to go. And despite sporting exhaust pipes the size of cannons, the noise is only moderate and never overpowers the ears.
That motor is connected to the single best-feeling transmission Honda has built in over a decade. The six-speed manual has some of the crispest shift feel as you snick-snick-snick up and down the gears. The clutch has a very predictable bite point and plenty of feel, unlike the new Civic Si. There's an auto rev-matching feature you can enable for downshifts, and it works great.
The Civic Type R's preternatural smoothness applies to its road manners, too. Three-mode adaptive dampers are surprisingly comfortable even in the hottest +R mode, but if that bad boy is slapped into Comfort, it deals with Michigan's craptastic roads with ease, soaking up undulations and bumps without transferring everything to the humans inside. This is doubly impressive when taking into account the Type R's thin-profile, 245/30-20 summer tires. It's impressively balanced.
And then there's the fuel economy. The Type R is EPA-rated at 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, and both numbers are staggeringly easy to top if you stay out of the boost. I saw highway economy closer to 32-33 mpg and city economy closer to 25.
Since the Type R only comes in a feature-rich Touring trim, everything is standard -- LED headlights, navigation, satellite radio, it's all there. The car's biggest stumble comes by way of its infotainment.
The problem is that the Civic still runs Honda's last-gen infotainment system, which lacks the snappy response and improved layout that we've seen in the 2018 Accord and Odyssey. Everything works fine, but its low-resolution screen and lack of a volume knob introduce some frustrations if you're looking to ride the cutting edge of in-car tech. There's no head-up display or 4G LTE hotspot on offer, either.
But as I said, what's there works just fine. The voice recognition doesn't get confused when I place phone calls or rattle off directions for the navigation system. Apple CarPlay is included, so I just substitute Honda's nav system for Apple Maps, which I may not enjoy the most but find easier to use than Honda's baked-in offering.
This is usually the part where I'd talk about how I'd personally option the car, but the Civic Type R has one spec and zero options. The 2018 model will set you back $34,100 if your local dealer doesn't slap a stupid markup on it, which is not guaranteed, considering how popular the limited 2017 models were (and still are).
Even though it would be a detriment to performance, I'd mull the idea of opting for a wing delete, were one to exist, if only to help the car blend in with traffic a bit more. I would also spring for a set of winter tires, which are going to bust your wallet wide open -- a quick browse of Tire Rack shows just one set of winters compatible with the Type R's stock 20-inch wheels, and a set of four Pirelli Sottozeros will set you back a cool $1,600.
The Civic Type R has three primary competitors in the US: the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI and Volkswagen Golf R. It has all three beat on price by thousands of dollars, with the Golf and STI starting closer to $36,000 and the Focus RS living in la-la land with its $40,000 price tag. It's important to note that most of these competitors still have costly options, while the Civic's price includes its full loadout.
The Type R trounces all but one car in fuel economy, where the 31-mpg-highway Golf R has it beat. Its power output bests all but the 350-hp Focus RS, and the story is the same with acceleration figures despite the Civic lacking four driven wheels. The Civic beats the STI and Focus RS on cargo space, too, but the Golf R once again has it beat.
But "wrong-wheel drive" doesn't make the Type R any less excellent or worthy of its spot among heavy-hitting hatches (and one sedan). In daily life, this hopped-up Civic acted like its more pedestrian sibling, offering oodles of storage space and on-road comfort that, for minutes at a time, had me thinking I wasn't driving the most powerful Honda Civic ever made. Yet, all it takes is one quick stab of the gas pedal to bring the here and now back to the forefront.
I had some very lofty presumptions before I started my week with the Civic Type R. By the time those seven days were up, it had met and exceeded every expectation I threw at it.