Mountain Wheels: Honda’s pure sport Civic Type R is purpose-built for action
With the official beginning of ski season, let me expedite coverage of a pretty summer-oriented vehicle I had earlier this year and its more real-world cousin. Though, look forward to my tale of the new Corvette, which I am scheduled to drive in Colorado on Thanksgiving week. That ought to also be amusing.
Today, let’s focus on what is perhaps the most unexpected iteration of that steadfast imported institution: the Honda Civic. For a couple of years, we’ve been experiencing the new Honda’s unbelievable high-achiever race variant, the Type R, and I got another shot at it this summer.
It’s an ultra-fearsome, wing-slathered racer-boy fantasy of a car, with 306 horsepower from a snarling turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s got oversized race seats, a six-speed manual transmission, three exhaust pipes and a look and demeanor that is all performance, all of the time. It is a wondrous, fin-clad destroyer of worlds. The worst possible vehicle to gift a first-time teenage driver. An affordable, ridiculous automobile.
Curiously, it’s also still pretty genetically linked to the more standard Honda Civic Sport, which I also had much earlier last year, but spent much of a snowy spring week stuck in the driveway as it was really not going anywhere at all on all-season tires. I would likely keep the Type R in your garage until spring.
Both are, or were, made in the United Kingdom, though the high-output Type R sports an American-made engine. The fates of Brexit mean that manufacturing arrangement might not last all that long.
Both are stickered at reasonably close prices: a $36,995 base for the Type R and $28,850 for the hatchback Sport, though its 180-horsepower output and CVT transmission mean sporty, but not explosive, behavior.
Sporty and explosive are literally the only reasons for the Type R, which lives entirely in the world of the Subaru WRX GTI or the late Ford Focus RS, though both of those vehicles mixed their high power with all-wheel drive, making them arguably more suited for all-season adventures. The Type R is front-wheel drive (yes, 306 horses of front-wheel-drive yanking power) and, with winter tires, I guess still more winter-ready than a Corvette.
I did what you’d probably do if a car that looks like this showed up in your driveway: I kept it hidden for about three days. Then, I picked a day to do the entire Peak to Peak Highway, from Golden Gate Canyon all the way up to Estes Park and into the heart of what is now sadly a gigantic burn zone, the Stove Prairie canyon road that ends near the Mishawaka Amphitheater.
The Type R behaves like a cross of a high-output Honda sport bike and the Acura NSX, its far-off Honda family relative. And with pure-sport, low-profile 245/30 ZR 20 tires, there is a lot of steering input required at all times — one cannot casually tool along with two fingers on the Alcantara-wrapped wheel at any time.
No, this is a car that calls for full attention, all of the time, because it really can corner so aggressively that your fillings might come out. The vehicle’s low-to-the-ground feeling and absolutely endless turbo power turn every outing into a track day.
One irony about that six-speed transmission and its Ferrari-styled dogleg reverse gear is how absolutely easy it is to use and shift. It’s the kind of transmission you’d like a kid to learn how to drive on, just to keep that tradition alive, but maybe not in this particular vehicle.
The electronic rev-matching did seem a little synthetic after five hours of shifting on mountain curves, but the attempt to replicate a race experience at less than $40,000 is pretty admirable.
Like a race vehicle, there’s also some ergonomic issues: The race seats are as deep and bolstered as the hard Recaro seats in an autocross car, but they’re also as squishy as a Muppet, so that’s a weird combo. The shift knob is placed way up high on the center console, becomes blazingly hot in the sun and requires a big reach, especially when center elbow rests are rock hard.
You don’t buy a Type R for pleasant motoring. You buy it to blow the doors off every pickup truck and to have absolutely every WRX owner in the Western United States get up in your face. If that’s your scene, this is your car.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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