Nearly 15 years after it last appeared in the U.S. on the back of an Acura Integra, Honda has announced that the Type R badge is returning. The even bigger news is that for the first time in America, it'll be affixed to a Civic. And we've driven it.
Well, kind of. The catch is that the European car we've just driven, currently the fastest front-wheel drive hot hatch around the N?rburgring Nordschleife (in pre-production form, at least), with a time of 7m50.63sec, isn't the car we'll be able to buy. Hatch-loving Europe gets an altogether different Civic than we do in the U.S. We won't get our Type R until well after the all-new Civic is launched next year, but much of the drivetrain hardware, and certainly the character, of the U.S.-spec Type R will likely be shared with the car Europe can buy. Reason enough to take a look.
Take a look? You can hardly miss it. In terms of price and power, the Euro-spec Type R runs head-to-head with Volkswagen's seismic Golf R. But while the Golf's demure styling barely hints at its performance potential, the Civic Type R is bragging to anyone who'll listen, and plenty that don't want to. With its vents, scoops, arch extensions, that humungous spoiler, and those quad tailpipes set into a diffuser that wouldn't look out of place on a supercar, the Civic looks like something Le Mans race teams might use to whizz around the paddock to pick up some spares.
Almost as dramatic are the underhood changes. The old naturally-aspirated 1.8-liter and its motorcycle-like 8400 rpm redline are replaced by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four and a 7000 rpm limiter. Surprisingly, it's a single-, not twin-scroll blower. To minimize the effects of turbo lag Honda using its VTEC valvetrain technology to cheat a bit by changing valve lift at lower RPM to boost torque.
True, you no longer get that frenzied tacho needle sweep, or the demonic scream that went with it. But you still have to work this motor and the deliciously tight six-speed manual shifter, the only transmission available, and one whose 40mm throw was modelled on the rare-groove 2002 NSX-R's. The engine isn't hugely strong low down, but feels meaty in the mid-range and then kicks again past 5000 rpm on the way to the 7000 rpm limiter. It sounds like it means business in that growly, whooshy, turbo-hatch fashion, but it's not a particularly memorable noise. What this car is though, is way, way faster than the car it replaces.
That last Civic Type R, the not-for-North-America FN2-chassis car, made 197 hp, but a supermini-like 145 lb-ft. Ask for any meaningful acceleration with less than 6000 rpm on the dial and it would only glance up over its newspaper (copy of Hustler contained within) and tut. But this one kicks out 306 bhp and 295 lb-ft. The lunge to 62 mph is down from 6.6 seconds to 5.7 and the top speed up from 146 mph to 167 mph. That compares pretty well with the 290-hp Euro-spec Golf R's 5.2-second dash to 60 mph and electronically limited 155 mph top end, the German's off-the-line advantage coming from its all-wheel-drive transmission's dig.
But you know, beyond those drag starts, the Civic's front-drive status is of as little importance as the rather capable cheapo twist-beam rear axle. A standard helical limited slip diff helps put the power down, and double-jointed front suspension that separates the front knuckle from the strut to minimize steering interference does an excellent job of quelling torque steer. Three hundred and six horses has rarely been this manageable in a front-driver.
Communication between the front wheels and the steering wheel isn't unlimited, but it feels pointy and accurate. There's almost zero understeer and strong body control?more so if you press the "+R" button on the dash that firms up the standard-fit adaptive dampers by 30 percent, reduces steering assistance, and sharpens the throttle response. It's a shame you can't separate those traits. If you're on bumpy asphalt but want the punchier right pedal, you still have to have the tighter damping, which can be too harsh.
Inside you get a dash with more levels than an '80s platform game, and quite possibly the best seats we've sat on this year, even if they are mounted high enough to give you a nosebleed. The super-aggressive bolsters set the tone for the whole car. Yes, the Civic Type R does comfort, but performance is the priority here. It's a much less rounded machine than the Golf R, but more exciting for it.
In the U.K., where the hot Civic is built, and where buyers seem happy to pay prices that'd make your eyes water, Type R fans get robbed to the tune of ?29,995 (a scary $46,700) for the base model, and pay another ?2300 ($3600) for the GT pack with the toys (blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, Garman satnav). When the U.S. version does arrive, it's likely to come close to the $37,400 base price of the Golf R. Should you wait? Probably, but you've got enough time to have some fun with the more polished Volkswagen first.