Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: October 4, 2020
Honda listens to their customers. Remember when the Civic debuted without an actual volume dial, and with a touch-sensitive slider instead? The criticism was unreal. Suddenly everyone needed a volume dial. Luckily, constructive feedback is a two-way street and benefits both parties. With the Civic Type R, Honda listened once again.
Not that the Type R needs improvement. On the contrary. The Civic Type R (codenamed FK8) is a masterstroke of front-wheel drive engineering, a herculean missile that defies hot hatch tradition. It was one of our favourite performance vehicles when we tested it back in 2017, and retains a soft spot in our enthusiast hearts. 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. Sure, the turbo-four doesn’t sound great, its muted exhaust barely living up to VTEC expectations, but the low-end torque more than makes up for it, and most buyers have an aftermarket exhaust lined up anyways.
Furthermore, the chassis is bewilderingly stiff and agile, providing a punishing but still usable ride quality for everyday commuters. The impossibly thin sidewall 20-inch 245/30 tires are a nightmare when traversing over butt-clenching potholes and parking near high curbs, but they look damn spectacular. It’s a hatchback too, and comes with that inherent practicality. There is no middle rear seat sadly, making it a limited four-seater, but this is solid level performance from a car that won’t cost an arm and a leg.
Fast forward to 2020, and Honda has listened to some of the complaints and feedback. Revisions are minor but impactful. Hold your breath because this list is quite a doozy. Performance wise, the 2020 model gets an upgraded and stiffer suspension setup with an adaptive damper system that reacts ten times quicker than before. The front and rear bushings and ball joints have also been stiffened up for what Honda says should result in better handling and steering feel.
Larger and more powerful brakes are also on the menu, with a new two-piece front brake rotor set that replaces the outgoing single-piece discs. These are lighter as well, scrubbing away some unsprung weight, should be more durable, and should dissipate heat quicker. Honda also says the brake pedal’s dead zone has been cut by 15mm for a more immediate bite. Lastly, the front splitter has been reworked for better aerodynamics, as well as a 13% larger front grill that allows for better cooling and addressing prior overheating issues.
Honda has also responded to the exhaust criticism but rather than tweaking the actual exhaust, they’ve added sound enhancement through the speaker system like the Lexus RC F, and dials up the volume as you engage more aggressive driving modes. Does it add any difference? Yes, but only from the inside. There is clearly more bass in the mid-range, an area where it used to sound a bit lifeless. Now the exhaust exhibits a more purposeful and engaging character. The soundtrack is slightly more distinctive, and it may be hard for some drivers to get past the fake synthesized noise, but if that’s what it takes to make the Type R a more complete and holistic fighter, so be it.
As with every model year upgrade of the Type R, there’s a new paint colour shown in our photographs called Boost Blue. Otherwise the epidermis remains the same, with its love it or hate it looks. We fall into the former camp. We did grow up playing with Gundams afterall. Championship White is still our go to colour, but this new shade of blue isn’t too bad either, and is easier on the eyes than expected. Definitely catches more heads too.
Inside is mostly carried over except for the new teardrop-shaped shift knob, which replaces the rounded aluminum knob. This example is still subject to extreme temperature variations, but carries a heavier aftermarket vibe, feels more natural under grip, and should bode well with Honda enthusiasts expecting a substantially weight knob. And no matter which exterior paint colour you choose, the interior scheme is the same black and red as it’s been before. There’s not much to say other than it’s a functional and ergonomically sound cabin. The fabric seats are wonderfully supportive, though the high and sharp thigh bolsters will jab you where the sun don’t shine if you’re not careful easing into the vehicle. The infotainment unit is nothing to write home about - the menus are messy and just don’t carry the same kind of functionality as a Dodge UConnect or Hyundai infotainment system. There is an actual volume knob and real shortcut buttons on the side to remedy any worries about it being touchscreen dependent.
But do the 2020 revisions amount to an entirely new and different driving experience? Truthfully, no. The steering feel, brakes, and suspension all feel exceptionally familiar, and would take a back-to-back comparison to truly feel the nuances between the 2019 and 2020 models. What I did notice however, is that the driving experience does feel slightly more cohesive. The engine, gearbox, pedals, and exhaust sing in one tune, and it’s rarely ever off-beat. I’m not sure if that’s just in my head, or maybe because I haven’t driven a performance vehicle with three pedals in a few months. But nevertheless, the changes do not seem to penalize any part of the Type R.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine remains unchanged, pushing out 306 hp and 295 lb-ft. Knowledge of how to operate three pedals is the entrance fee for this love letter to enthusiasts. The Type R may not rev up to the stratosphere anymore, but it will get you there oh so much faster. It is the torque that is key to understanding the Type R’s behaviour, with max torque produced from just 2,500 rpm right 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.
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. The feedback from the shifter is positive and engaging. There is absolutely no ambiguity in the gated slots, it’s not messy or notchy like a WRX, and is pinpoint precise in its short lever action.
The clutch pedal is forgiving and lenient as well, catering towards both beginners and pros with its broad bite point and smooth action. The most noticeable difference between the Type R and other turbocharged manual cars is that there are no jitters or stutters from the gearbox during the usually rough 1-2 shift, especially when in the wrong RPMs or when rev-hang is persistent. The Type R executes transitions in a polished yet gentle manner, and will assist you with standard rev-matching, ensuring the needle is in the optimum area for downshifts. This can be disabled in the vehicle settings menu, and I’m sure many enthusiasts will be glad that Honda even offers that option. Further adding to its beginner appeal is 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 an anti-stall feature that will restart the car for you in case the car does stall, keeping you from embarrassing yourself or holding up traffic in a yellow-light left hander.
The 2020 Honda Civic Type R remains an entertaining and engaging hatchback with daily driving potential and otherworldly appeal. The added exhaust speaker noise adds some much needed mid-range bass and elevates the overall sensory experience, and though we can’t notice a distinctive mechanical difference with this year’s subtle revisions, we can’t deny that it’s still an edgy pocket rocket delivering exceptional value and top-tier performance. Carry on, Type R. Keep on shining.
Model: 2020 Honda Civic Type R
Paint Type: Boost Blue
Base Price: $43,690
Price as Tested: $43,690
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