Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: July 16, 2019
The first time I drove the Honda Civic Type R (codenamed FK8) in 2017, I knew I needed one in my garage. The hype was real and it amounted to a performance bargain that brought the fight against the equally impressive Volkswagen Golf R, Nissan 370Z, and even the BMW M240i. The Type R enters 2019 without any significant changes. There is a new Sonic Grey paint colour joining the white and black, and hard buttons left of the 7-inch infotainment screen, but if you were expecting radical revisions you obviously haven’t driven it. The Type R transcends what seems possible for a front-wheel drive car with never ending grip and four-door practicality to persuade your spouse that this is just “another four-door Civic”. It’s so close to being perfect, but more on that later.
A bit of background first. This is the first Civic Type R to ever be sold in Canada. We have been heavily deprived of these track-oriented rockets that sing and charge up to their heavenly 8,000 rpm redlines. So when Honda announced that the Type R was coming to this side of the pond, Civic enthusiasts got more excited than the first time they experienced VTEC. The Type R also set a world record for the fastest production front-wheel drive car around the famed Nurburgring, and was faster than the Shelby GT350 and last-generation Audi R8 V10. That’s one way to set a first impression.
When it came to styling however, the Type R always found itself on the blunt end of the stick. It’s been labeled as gaudy, overly excessive, and appears to be styled by a Gundam fanatic that obsesses over Japanese vending machines. Yet, you have to remember that the Type R clearly caters towards young driving enthusiasts, many of whom are now millenials and have grown up in an age of anime - Gundam Wing, Dragonball Z - and absolutely adore the comical styling, acute angles, and over the top body panels. I am one of them. The planetary STI-style wing doubles as a picnic table and is so large in fact that you can’t even see it in the rear view mirror. The same goes for the excessively flared fenders, rubberband-thin 20-inch wheels with barely any sidewall, and signature Championship White paint. It’s the perfect looking Civic.
The emotional stimulation continues when you hit the start button, awakening the Type R from its slumber. The entire chassis thrums with the beat of mechanical explosions under the new aluminum hood, but it’s not the same kind of noise you would expect. Unlike previous Type R models, this one is turbocharged. Its petite 2.0-litre turbo-four generates 306 hp and 295 lb-ft, 54 hp more than the Accord that uses the same engine but in a different state of tune. It is the torque however that is key to understanding the Type R’s new behaviour: max torque is produced from just 2,500 rpm up until 4,500 rpm. You no longer have to work for the power and stretch its lungs to the point of implosion. Now, it’s fed to you through a silver spoon.
Compared to the 1.5-litre turbo in the Civic Si, the 2.0-litre revs quicker and it doesn’t feel like the telephone line between engine and gas pedal is broken. In fact, driving the Type R fast and near its limit almost feels too easy, and the absence of any turbo lag means power flows freely and smoothly. But the engine can’t receive all the credit. The short-throw six-speed manual transmission is a darling with a heavier clutch and lower pedal uptake than the Civic Si. The shift from third to fourth gear gives you that satisfying machine clunk, and it is the most confirmative feeling shift gate this side of a 911. Actually, I take that back. I think this one is better. Even the aluminum sport pedals emit a satisfying thunk when released. The sheer volume of auditory and tactile cues make you feel wholesomely engaged behind the wheel and at one with the Type R, sowing a marriage between man and machine.
While its radical sheetmetal may scream boy-racer, the Type R is actually a very beginner-friendly vehicle for those learning how to drive stick. The clutch’s bite point is high up on the pedal and hard to miss, and the polished gearbox makes it difficult to stall. In fact, the only time I actually did stall was when I mistook third gear for first gear during a launch. Entirely avoidable, as there’s an indicator embedded within the instrument cluster that displays the current gear.
In addition, there’s a Brake Hold function that when activated, will keep the vehicle from rolling backwards down a hill when you’re clutching in. There’s also a fallback feature that will keep you from stalling in case you do happen to embarrass yourself like I did. The system will automatically restart the car for you as well. Add on automatic rev-matching, and you’ll be looking like a hero in no time. This can be disabled in vehicle settings menu, and I’m sure many enthusiasts will be glad that Honda even offers that option.
Over the standard Civic Sedan, the Type R has been stiffened for a huge bump in structural rigidity - I’m talking 200% stiffer front springs and 160% stiffer rears - and despite three modes of damper adjustment, the Type R produces a firm ride but it’s compliant enough to use on a daily basis. Where the Type R shines is with driving confidence and cornering grip. Not only is the Type R lighter than its rivals but Honda has tuned the chassis so well that AWD simply isn’t necessary. The traditional vices of FWD like torque steer and understeer are all but absent. The Type R devours the bends with a form of grace that I did not experience in the Golf R or WRX STI. The nose bites down hard, the entire body rotates with ease, and the vehicle doesn’t try to wrestle the steering wheel away from your fingertips. There’s an elasticity to the steering - a bit vague on-center but weights up nicely during rotation, offering a direct two-way line to the front tires. I still think the Camaro Turbo 1LE exhibits crisper and more organic steering, which is understandable as the Type R’s front wheels have to both steer and propel, tainting the message, if you will.
The one and only downside to the Type R, which I alluded to at the beginning of this review, is the exhaust noise. Turbocharging adds power but it takes away the sense of noise and occasion. In fact, the Type R is only marginally louder than the Civic Si. It’s got a bigger growl and a fancy three-pipe exhaust complete with a resonator but the song never climaxes. The notes plateau mid-range and howl at the same note until the needle pings at the limiter. Adding salt to the wound is the fact that a lot of noise is piped in through the speakers. An aftermarket exhaust is essential, though many of them do not sound that great either - a vacuum cleaner at best. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video to hear the Type R for yourself.
The Type R is a herculean missile that defies front-wheel drive tradition. The power it produces is incredible, and how it translates that torque into forward acceleration is nothing short of superhuman. The Type R has charm, it feels like a race car bred for the street, and is one of the most engaging vehicles under $45,000. If you can forgive the lack of auditory drama and are lucky enough to snatch one of these high demand hatchbacks (we have heard countless reports of dealers still imposing a heavy mark-up on them), you’re in for a treat. The Type R may not rev up to the stratosphere anymore, but it will get you there oh so much faster.
Model: 2019 Honda Civic Type R
Paint Type: Championship White
Base Price: $41,590
Price as Tested: $41,590
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,557 / 1,878 / 1,434
Curb weight (kg): 1,415
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 306 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 2,500 - 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 10.6 / 8.3 / 9.6
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.4
Tires: Continental ContiSportContact 6; 245/30R20