Mountain Wheels: Honda’s ferocious Civic Type R reinvents the rocket (column) |

Mountain Wheels: Honda’s ferocious Civic Type R reinvents the rocket (column)

2017 Honda Civic Type R.
Courtesy photo |

2017 Honda Civic Type R Touring

MSRP: $33,900; As tested: $34,775

Powertrain: 306-HP 2.0-liter four-cylinder with six-speed manual transmission

EPA figures: 25 combined (22 city/28 highway)

There is the Honda that you think you know — maybe one of umpteen generations of Civic over what is closing in on a half-century, with a reputation for reliability and normalcy, but certainly not pure automotive insanity.

And then there’s the new Civic Type R, Honda’s very deep dive into the otherworldly and ostentatious, performance-centered insanity of bewinged bruisers such as the Subaru WRX STI or the fearsome Ford Focus RS.

The results conjure what might be considered the anti-Honda, or the first Honda with four wheels that’s more like a superbike, such as the company’s new CBR1000RR.

Much like the wing-and-Brembo-racing-brakes situation recently addressed in my review of the Subaru competition, the Civic takes that concept and cranks it all up a notch or two. Maybe six.

The Civic’s most outrageous form ever here takes a Space Shuttle-inspired design that’s all fins, foils and angles, plus (mostly) real race seats and a performance-oriented character that’s still considerably below $40,000.

The visible intercooler seen through the menacing mesh up front, skirted with maybe the most aggressive carbon fiber aero package every available on a mainstream automobile, suggests ferocity — as does a red pinstripe, just for added silliness, even on the wheels.

And that’s all correct, as Honda’s packed a 306-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder under the hood, with 22.8 PSI of boost and 295 lb.-ft. of low-rev torque. That American-made engine’s tall output is rendered more effectively via a rock-solid six-speed manual transmission and a helical limited-slip differential (plus cool, automatic rev matching) that helps move this 3,117-pound rocket in ways that will eat suggestively more fearsome machines like Mustang GTs for breakfast, and lunch.

Credit that to its front-wheel drive build, versus the all-wheel setups of its major upgraded-hot-hatch category competitors. At a stoplight, winding the Type R up just a tad and dropping the hammer can produce forward-biased acceleration like a Soyuz rocket. Tested out on the Nurburgring, it’s the fastest front-wheel-drive production car in the world.

In that instance, it does help that you’re literally squeezed into deep-bottomed race seats — plush-edged as they may be, which makes the car more pleasant to use, beyond the first time you sit in the vehicle. They’ve got slots made for five-point harnesses, or just pure intimidation factor.

And just like all those weird right-drive Nissan Skylines and Fairladys and exotic Need for Speed grey market stuff out there, there have indeed been five generations of Type R builds, but this British-assembled exotic is the first available for traditional domestic access.

What’s more, it’s a four-door sedan with minor concessions to rear-seat passengers (just two spots, with a hard divider, but not a hell of a lot of legroom) yet still absolutely poised on the ready-to-race side of things — maybe autocrossing, unless you want to spend another $40,000 stripping the interior, putting in a roll cage and making the engine even more powerful.

As you may remember, I recently gushed about the sparky but almost pedestrian-by-comparison new Civic Si, which is a pretty rad ride; Type R cranks that all up to 11, or more.

Looks are indeed polarizingly bold and there are angles, fins and body lines more supercar than subcompact, including some trailing aero bits off the roof that are more McLaren than modest Honda. A big, active scoop on the hood, the very pronounced brake vents fore and aft of the wheels, and the giant, multi-angular wing (actually two of them, a lower with a rear wiper) all push style in the direction of the Acura NSX. Oh, and three center-mounted tailpipes. Yes, three.

Possibly the lowest-profile tires on 20-inch rims I’ve found on a stock car (again, just a bit under $35,000), the Continental Sport Contact rubber is wide, and crammed all the way up into the wheel wells. The stickiness and solidity is pulverizing, bordering on the supernatural. I wish I had more winter-ready news for you, but in this instance, I make no apologies. An adjustable adaptive damper system can dial the crunch in a bit, or turn the car totally Frankenstein.

Does the Type R’s turbocharged din seem a little synthetic and droning to you? Maybe see how it sounds at 97 MPH on a closed track, or get a little more volume out of the 12-speaker, 540-watt stereo system. Forward pull is utterly relentless, and turbo lag almost unnoticeable if you mind your gear choices.

Perfect? No, but pretty unreal for the price tag. I found lots of loose trim around the edges and got a pronounced, high-volume metallic buzz in the cabin. Non-menacing automotive use can get you close to 30 MPG, and more spirited behavior can empty a tank in a half hour. That’s all up to you.

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