2017 Honda Civic Type R Track Tested!
Honda Civic Type R feels equal parts urgent and composed at Ridge Motorsports Park.
Make no mistake, the Honda Civic Type R is the halo car of the brand, even more so then the NSX. The Type R nameplate carries lofty expectations, especially in the United States where said nameplate has long been forbidden fruit. Enthusiasts rush to grab Type Rs off the showroom as quickly as they can, before someone else does. Is the hype justified, or is it just that, hype?
Fortunately, Honda flew a batch of media personalities, myself included, to Washington to experience Civic Type R. Rural Washington is beautifully serene, greenery envelopes everything. After hopping behind the helm, I was piloting a Championship White Civic Type R towards Ridge Motorsports Park. The greenery passes by quickly, and effortlessly, in the Type R. The satellite navigation kept me from straying too far off the path, and soon the Type R and I had arrived. Just in time, too, catching the rising sun as it rose behind the CTR.
Wow. Championship White is the best color for the R, hands down. For reasons of both brand heritage and purely on the basis of aesthetics, Champ White is the way to go. Do yourself a favor and double click those images, they’re desktop sized. It’s easy to take great pictures when the subject looks like this. With the FK8 bathing in the early morning light the changes from the standard Civic hatch become apparent. The broadened shoulders, wider hips and lowered stance make for the most aggressive Honda design to date. The Civic Type R is no shrinking violet.
It’s time to hit the track.
Ridge Motorsports Park is an incredible facility. It’s also incredibly new, having only been around for a few years now. Several of the prominent areas on track are replicas of famous corners from other circuits. Specifically, keen-eyed viewers will note that the Nurburgring’s Carousel (albeit as a right-hander), and Laguna Seca’s infamous Corkscrew make appearances in the video. There are several others, as well, and I will leave it to you to spot them.
Each driver was given two 20-minute sessions with the Type R, with the explicit instructions to not pass other drivers. My inner track day bro was foaming at the mouth, but what can you do? The first session was spent learning where the track went and wondering how fun the Type R would be at one of L.A.’s tracks, like Buttonwillow.
When going slowly, the Type R struck me as a great learner car for someone wanting to learn how to drive a fast front-wheel drive car on track. The seats are both supremely comfortable, and cosseting. You won’t slip around in the seat when driving hard. The seating position is also excellent, able to get nice and low, offering great helmet room. Similarly, the controls all fall to hand in a very natural way. I never missed a shift or had to hunt for any of the controls. At low speeds the Type R has an almost lackadaisical personality, as if it, too, is wondering what the hold up is.
If you bodge your braking zone or are a bit slow at the wheel when finding your apex, it’s all good, the Civic Type R has your back.
The second session is when things got fun. By this point, the pace had picked up as everyone knew where they were going. The first flying lap was telling, with the Type R easily cresting 125 mph down the front straight. The lackadaisical demeanor was gone, the Civic Type R was voracious. I could feel it coming alive, and it wanted to play.
The K20C1 engine is amazing.
The K20C1 engine is a beast of an engine, and Honda is clearly underrating what it’s capable of. My butt dyno says it’s closer to 320-330 horsepower than the 306 Honda advertises. It pulls hard to the 7,000 RPM redline, with a minor softening of the power delivery around 6,500 revs. The powerband is broad, too, if you load the engine up, the turbo will happily spool and deliver a wallop of torque by 2,000 RPM. Though, don’t shortchange yourself on opportunities to row through the gears, because the 6-speed transmission is a joy to operate.
It’s a pretty smooth operator, to boot, feeling pretty refined even as you zing it to the red line. The least refined trait is the direct fuel injection system ticking away under the hood, but that’s nothing new, and is a trait of all direct-injected engines.
Speaking of the sound, it’s not half bad! This is something that worried me after driving the Civic Si. That is a damn fine sport compact, but was just too quiet when stomping on the go pedal. The Type R offers a distinctly turbocharged sound, like a rabid sewing machine. Honda four cylinders have always had a nice metallic thrum, and the K20C1 is no exception. The diverter valve (read: blow-off valve) also makes itself known whenever you lift off throttle, which is a nice touch. That said, the exhaust is, effectively, silent, so all of the go-fast noises are coming from the engine bay, and not the exhaust. Potential buyers may be enticed into hacking off one of the mufflers behind the Type R’s fancy tail pipes.
The brakes are superb.
Not a single issue, or instance of fade. The brake pedal was rock solid all day, and offered good communication and feedback through the pedal. I am a brake killer, always have been, likely always will be. I have blown out more calipers, cracked more rotors, burned more brake pads down to the backing plates, and boiled more brake fluid than most. My antics become something of a local track day meme, with friends giving me a “No Brake Jake” warning sticker for the back of my car. If I didn’t get brake fade that is really saying something.
The hardware at play is solid. Tucked behind the ridiculously oversized 20″ wheels are brakes by Brembo. (For the record, 18″ wheels will clear the brakes.) The front setup is a large, ventilated and drilled disc, measuring 13.8″ in diameter and 1.3″ in thickness, with a four-piston caliper. Rear braking is handled by a notably smaller, 12″ diameter solid disc with a traditional single-piston caliper. I know that the front brakes are doing most of the work, but finding a small, non-ventilated rotor out back was still surprising. That said, the efficacy can’t be denied. If the brakes work, the brakes work. Fun fact: Honda went as far as modifying the brake booster to improve the driver feedback.
The chassis tweaks and suspension are phenomenal.
As is the way with a Type R model, the FK8 rides on a bespoke suspension setup. Adaptive dampers are standard equipment, and work in the background, continuously adapting to changes in the pavement, available tire grip and the driver’s inputs. Much like the Si, they are sublime, though, naturally, these are much “smarter” than the shocks used in the Si. Likewise, almost everything is seemingly improved over the standard car. In fact, there are only a few suspension bushings and control arm design that are shared with lesser Civics. From the suspension uprights outward, big changes are at play.
The Civic Type R utilizes a dual-axis front suspension. I’ll try to minimize the technical jargon (we are doing an exclusive article on the more advanced concepts), but in short, due to the way the the strut and control arm is mounted to the knuckle, torque steer is minimized and the front suspension geometry is massively improved for performance driving. Speaking of which, those fancy uprights come with a larger hub to better handle the stresses that will be put upon it. Therefore, the CTR rolls with a 5×120 wheel bolt pattern, like what you find on Corvettes, BMWs and some Acura products. So, no, you can’t just bolt up the Type R wheels to the Civic Sport hatchback and pretend.
Let’s get back to the track.
Did I mention that the Civic Type R is fast? Okay good, because it is. After a few flying laps I was touching 130 in the front straight. Fortunately, the brakes were more than up to the task of reining things in. Which makes things all too easy from here. I mentioned before that the CTR seemed like a great learner car when it comes to how to drive a front-wheel drive car quickly on the race track. However, reflecting on that, I think it’s more appropriate to say that it feels that way because the car is so utterly capable.
Approaching a corner? Here’s the low-down: brake, point the nose of the car towards the apex, and then full throttle down. The car has such a great point-and-shoot personality that all good front-wheel drive Honda track cars have.
However, the distinction here is that the Type R has a lot of torque, so even if you over-slow for a corner, it’s just a matter of hammering down on the loud pedal and pointing the car where you want it to go. The limited-slip differential mitigates any wheelspin, the front end finds grip and the car takes off. It’s magic. Being front-wheel drive, it still is best driven and treated like a momentum car, but if you bodge your braking zone or are a bit slow at the wheel when finding your apex, it’s all good, the Civic Type R has your back.
The handling balance is excellent for a factory-effort, front-wheel drive car.
It remains relatively flat under cornering and has great composure. However, that doesn’t mean it’s boring at the limit, or that it doesn’t want to play. The Type R gives you options. It can trail brake into a corner and rotate, or it can be a buttoned up straight-shooter, the choice is yours.
Entering the Carousel showcases this excellently. You brake hard, coming down a step decline, while the pavement kinks over a bit. All of the weight is on the nose of the car during this maneuver, and the rear end feels notably light, and prone to wiggling around. At this very moment, the car is “on its toes.” However, hold the steering wheel straight and the car stays straight, or, crank the wheel, aim for the apex, and feel the light rear end gently come around and help the front end see where to go. This all happens in an instant, but dynamically, it speaks volumes about the car. It’s sharp, and playful, but rarely bites back.
Do I have any qualms, or reservations about the new Civic Type R?
A couple, yes. Though my test car did not overheat, the coolant temperature gauge was beginning to climb by the end of the session. It went from just below the half-way mark to a hair above the half-way point. That is fine, but I suspect that if I wheeled the Type R at one of my home tracks that I know well and therefore actually able to push it, it would likely have cooling problems. Another one of the test cars came in early as it had hit limp mode and would no longer make boost. The verdict was out as to what happened with that car.
In a similar vein, I wish the Type R had an oil temperature gauge, as well as an actual water temperature gauge, with numbers. Several of the Type R’s competitors offer this as standard equipment. I am leery of stock in-dash temperature gauges that only show “cold” or “hot.” How hot is too hot? If the temperature gauge had values, this would be much more useful. Water temps hitting 230? Take a cool down lap. Oil temps hitting 280? Take a cool down lap. This could be difference between running warm and popping a motor on track.
Prospective buyers may also want to wait a few months. Honda has not officially confirmed it, but it does seem that going forward, two trim levels of Civic Type R will offered, one geared towards grand touring, and a more hardcore, track-focused variant. Depending on your preferences, it may be worthwhile to wait and see what option boxes can be ticked in the new year. Oh, and if you are seriously considering one, try waiting another week as my on-the-road review of the Type R will be dropping soon. You may find that quite handy considering that’s how 99% of Civic Type R’s will accrue their miles.
There are the pros and cons, as well as my opinion.
Obviously, my opinion is only as useful as you find it to be. On the other hand, the facts are indisputable. Overall, it’s damn good car. Truly, it is. Of the current crop of hyper hatches, the Focus RS was the top dog, until now. After driving the Ford, I thought about how enjoyable it was to drive. After driving the Civic Type R, I thought about buying one. Still am.