For those who may not know it, the current front-wheel-drive king of the Nurburgring is no longer the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S. Earlier this year, the Land of the Rising Sun sent its latest samurai, the fifth-generation Honda Civic Type R, to slice through the iconic track with an impressive lap time of 7:43.8. That’s 3.39 seconds faster than its German rival, which had lapped the Nordschleife in 7:47.19 in 2016.
After Honda Cars Philippines had sold out the first batch of 100 FK8 Civic Type Rs in no time at all, we drove a Championship White test unit to see if all the hype about this performance hatch was legit. Title and reputation aside, is this car really that special to be a keeper?
From its Philippine unveiling in March 2017, I admit I was never a fan of the Type R’s flamboyant, Gundam-like styling. There’s just too much going on, especially when the car is viewed from the rear. The front pretty much looks like the Civic RS except for a wider, more sinister front-end kit. This includes a center grille revealing the low-lying turbo intercooler with air vents on the side allowing airflow into the front brakes, a hood scoop that turns out to be a small channel for cool air to access the engine bay, and, of course, the off-center Type R badge and red ‘H’ emblem signifying the nature of the beast. A faux carbon-fiber skirt that starts at the front bumper and makes its way all around to the rear diffuser adds a nice sporty contrast to the body color.
From the side, your attention is drawn toward the Type R’s huge 20-inch aluminum alloy rims, finished in Berlina Black with lips outlined in red, and wrapped in okonomiyaki-thin 245/30 Continental ContiSportContact 6 tires. The red Honda center cap is the cherry on these tasty wheels with matching four-pot Brembo calipers hugging the front ventilated and drilled rotors. Attractive and purposeful? Yes. With such thin shoes, you should seriously watch out for potholes though.
The sharp lines, the flaring fenders and the quirky cuts from the side profile are reminiscent of my Robotech fanboy days. The outrageous rear end screams as if to remind you of the Type R’s badassery in the least subtle of ways. The busy double spoiler and trimmings make you overlook the fact that it’s a hatch—until you open up the roomy 414L boot. I will not question Honda’s aerodynamic engineering as vortex generators on the roof are claimed to propel air toward the rear spoilers, creating more downforce. However, I feel that form has overtaken function in this area. The triple-tip exhaust that’s unique to this Type R isn’t just some rice-rocket design as it adds a slight bump in power (according to Honda). It’s a standout feature which I really like.
Forgive me for pointing this out, but after a thorough exterior inspection, I can’t help but think that there’s a whole lot of useless plastic. Fairly large portions of the front bumper vents are closed off with parking sensor slots (just in case one decides to have these installed). That goes for the rear bumper as well. Good thing there’s a backing-up camera (displayed on the seven-inch infotainment touchscreen) to make up for the lack of parking sensors. Even the air escape vents on the front fenders are closed. Frankly, the car’s aesthetics are a bit overkill.
The moment you open the driver-side door, you’ll discover an interior as inviting as the cockpit of a fighter jet. Black and crimson accents—with hints of faux carbon fiber and Alcantara—create striking contrasts that look really good and true to this hot hatch’s spirit. Once tucked in the driver’s racing seat, I couldn’t believe how cozy and ergonomic the saddle was. After adjusting my seat, the power side mirrors and the rearview mirror, I couldn’t wait to hit the road. Despite the fake bits, I’ve got to hand it to Honda for always doing a splendid job with the interior design. It made me forget how the car looked from the outside.
Where the Type R shines is in the drive. The drama begins after you push the start button to awaken the 2.0-liter, 306hp VTEC turbocharged mill. All the digital instruments on the dash light up. Driving modes come in three options: Comfort, Sport and +R, with Sport as the default setting (so I stayed on it initially). You rev the engine to its 4,000rpm idling limit only to realize that it’s rather subdued. I was expecting something viciously audible from the exhaust, but the setup was fairly quiet. At least the neighbors will appreciate how silent this car is. Kidding aside, the lack of the slightest gurgle didn’t make me smile.
I depressed the clutch, grabbed the beautifully finished titanium shift knob, popped it into first gear, and off I went into EDSA’s morning rush. Surprisingly, the drive through metro traffic was a breeze and the clutch didn’t put a strain on my left foot. It actually felt like a normal, refined hatchback. Fuel consumption at the busiest time of day yielded roughly 6km/L, but with performance cars like this, does fuel efficiency really matter?
Once the Type R breaks away from stop-and-go traffic, it comes to life like a dragon set free from its shackles. Though you could rev the hell out of VTEC engines, they are notoriously known for lacking torque—this machine does not. A generous 400Nm of torque is fully available early in the rev range (from 2,500rpm), thrusting the car into aggressive territory in no time. The powerplant is eager and lively but never brutal. Properly invigorating with tolerable turbo lag.
Shifts are brisk and crisp with rev-matching control, making it a fun experience through all six gears. It’s like rediscovering the joys of driving stick while having a commendable amount of power on tap. You can be a newbie and the system won’t be harsh on you, though it requires hours of practice to masterfully time the shifts to squeeze out every bit of juice the engine has to offer throughout the power band. I managed to pull off an acceleration time just shy of six seconds from a dead stop to 100km/h.
Even though I did not have any track time during our test period, I was able to do some spirited driving for a few hundred kilometers, including some good runs up and down Marcos Highway leading to Baguio City in furious +R mode. The Type R’s outstanding handling and maneuverability blew me away to the point where I forgot I was dealing with an FWD car. Thanks to the helical-type limited-slip differential, traction is optimized and helps counter torque steer. You simply point the tiller in the direction you want and then floor the throttle. It is quite obedient and good fun at corners with more-than-ample stopping force courtesy of Brembos.
To tone the experience down, I switched to Comfort mode to see if the missus and the kids could put up with the ride as they were seated in the back. Yes, the ride still remained firm but reasonably pliant as damping softened up a notch from Sport mode. In short, the Type R could easily pass for a daily car in terms of how it handles our road conditions. I do know of some owners who have downsized their wheels to 19 inches to increase the margin of comfort, but the stock setup holds up fairly well provided you choose the right mode (which correlates to the damping adjustments) for the drive. I heard no complaints from the family, and that was enough for me.
On my trip back to the big city, I thought long and hard about whether the Type R is worth its nearly P3-million price tag. Honestly, it’s a great car. It won my admiration on the open road and in real-world conditions. Then again, some of you may have experienced spending a special night with someone who knocked your socks off—someone you won’t ever forget but who just isn’t the right fit for you. Turns out the Type R is that someone for me.
Honda fans have been waiting for this mean machine for some time, and now their prayers have been answered. The Civic Type R is indeed a special car—it’s just not for every automotive enthusiast.
HONDA CIVIC TYPE R
|Engine||2.0-liter in-line-4 direct-injection VTEC turbo gasoline|
|Power||306hp @ 6,500rpm|
|Torque||400Nm @ 2,500rpm to 4,500rpm|
|Dimensions||4,557mm x 1,877mm x 1,434mm|
|Upside||Fun to drive. Superb handling. Comfortable seating.|
|Downside||Exaggerated styling. Thirsty fuel consumption. Hefty price tag.|