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First drive: 2017 Honda Civic Type R [Review]

by Drew Johnson

Honda\'s hottest Civic finally lands in America.

This is the 2017 Civic Type R and before we dive into things, let's get the main points out of the way: It's the first time it's been sold on our shores and, unlike its main competition, it's front-wheel drive. So is this newly available forbidden fruit just as juicy at its all-wheel drive rivals? Come with us as we find out.

Making a better CivicAutomakers typically take a bottom-up approach when developing a performance version of one of their normal cars. That is, they take a model that was engineered and designed for mass consumption and simply swap out parts until they have a performance model. Often times that can lead to a compromised vehicle, one that isn't as good as if it was designed as a high-performance car from the onset. Think of it like trying to make a gourmet meal out of a frozen dinner.

But Honda took a different approach with its tenth-generation Civic. When engineers sat down to develop the all-new Civic hatch, they started with the requirements necessary for a high-performance Type R model and worked backwards to get to the base car. Want proof? The base Civic hatchback is 38 percent stiffer than previous-generation Civic Type R.

The Type R was further improved through additional adhesive jointing, resulting in another 3 percent increase in torsional stiffness. Simply put, the Type R's chassis is a rock-solid basis for a performance vehicle.

To that solid foundation Honda bolted an all-new adaptive suspension system that uses a multi-link setup in the rear and a dual-axis strut up front. That last bit is unique to the Civic Type R and quite important to the vehicle's overall formula. In a nutshell, the setup puts the car's strut stroke on one axis and the steering on another, thereby greatly reducing torque steer (more on this later).

The heart of the new Type R is a 2.0L turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder developing 306 horsepower at 6,500rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque between 2,500-4,500rpm. In order to achieve an output of 153 horsepower per liter Honda engineers employed a number of tricks, including an electric waste gate, a cylinder cooling system and, of course, VTEC variable valve timing.

Being a proper driver's car, the Civic Type R is available exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission. The Type R's gearbox is the same basic unit you'll find in other Civic models, but with several key improvements. The final gear ratio has been lowered by 7 percent to improve acceleration and the flywheel is 25 percent lighter to sharpen up responsiveness. The six-speed unit in the Type R also boasts a water-cooled oil cooler, a limited-slip differential and a Rev Match System, the latter being a first for Honda.

Steering in the new Type R is handled by a Dual-Pinion Variable Ratio Electronic Power Steering system that's a mouthful to say, but pretty simple to explain. The system allows for three different steering settings (Comfort, Normal and +R) that range from light and easy to heavily-weighted. Honda also dialed back the rack slightly from the standard car to provide better high-speed stability, but lock-to-lock still requires a short 2.1 revolutions of the steering wheel.

When it comes to scrubbing off speed, the Type R relies on a set of upgraded brakes provided by Brembo. Up front that setup consists of a four-piston caliper clamping a 13.8-inc rotor. The rear discs measure 12-inches in diameter.

Type R personality Of course all of those performance parts would be somewhat wasted without flamboyant exterior styling. In that regard, Honda's didn't let us down.

The Civic Type R looks like a superhero anime bug brought to life. There are bulges, creases and scoops everywhere you look. And best of all, most of it is functional.

Take, for example, the Type R's front splitter. Like a normal air dam it creates a bit of extra downforce, but look closely between it and the lip just below the car's fog light and you'll see a channel that funnels air to the front brakes. And that little winglet on the end of the splitter? It creates an air curtain that helps wind flow around the car's wheels.

A large opening in the Type R's lower grille provides fresh air to the intercooler; the grille just above is used for the radiator. The Type R's hood scoop is functional, but doesn't act as a ram air system. Instead, the scoop provides additional engine cooling and also reduce lift. Believe it or not, that scoop also allowed Honda to lower the height of the Type R's hood, giving the car a more planted look.

Of course styling is largely aesthetic, so the Type R also wears a blacked-out accent pieces above its lights, a red Honda badge and the Type R logo.

Fender flares front and wheel give the Type R a much tougher look and also help accommodate wider tires that measure 245/30/20 at all four corners. Just behind the fronts wheels you'll notice another air outlet that helps with airflow management. As with the front splitter, a set of winglets are located at the rear of the Type R's side sills and help move the air around the car's rear wheels to reduce drag.

Viewed from the rear, the Type R might just be the wildest-looking car on sale today. Let's start at the top and work out way down.

Along the top of the Type R's hatch are a series of humps that Honda refers to as "vortex generators.” Their job is to disturb the air and funnel it toward the Type R's over-sized rear wing, which provides additional downforce for the rear end. Those large honeycomb grilles in the Type R's bumper are just for show, but the rear diffuser is fully functional and helps smooth air coming from under the car. All of that aero work has paid off as the new Type R has less drag and more downforce than the car it replaces.

Of course we'd be remiss not to address one of the Type R's signature design features — it's triple exhaust setup. In reality, only the two outboard pipes act as tailpipes; the center pipe is a resonator designed to increase sound at lower engine speed and reduce drone at higher speeds. Honda decided to go with the unique design feature instead of using a more common butterfly valve.

Inside Honda has mixed in a fair bit of Type R flair with the base Civic's DNA. There's red accents on the car's floor mats, dash and steering wheel (there are even red seat belts), with simulated carbon fiber accents further enhancing the Type R's sporty nature. A gear lever with an up-scale looking aluminum knob sits in the center of the Type R's console.

Front seat occupants are treated to sport buckets with aggressive side- and thigh-bolsters. In place of slippery leather, the Type R uses a mix of grippy faux suede and cloth to keep occupants in place. The red and black motif seen here is the only interior option available.

Just in front of the gear shifter sit two unique features to the Type R — a numbered serial plate and a toggle switch that can access the car's +R setting. The lesser Civic Si has a similar switch, but it doesn't go to 11 like the Type R's.

Track timeOur day with the Civic Type R started with some track time on the I-CAR circuit just outside of Montreal. The I-CAR track is devoid of elevation changes, but contains a good mix of long straits, sweeping corners and tight hairpins, allowing us to really put the Type R through its paces.

Upon entering the track it was immediately apparent that the Type R is a completely different animal than the other performance Civic, the Si. Whereas the Si only feels a little bit faster than the regular Civic, the Type R feels a lot faster than its more mundane counterpart. However, those looking for an all-out dragster should temper their expectations. Honda didn't offer an official 0-60 time, but the Type R should be good for a 0-60 run in the 5.5-5.7 second range, which is slower than the Ford Focus RS (4.6 seconds), Subaru WRX STI (4.7 seconds) and VW Golf R (5.1 seconds).

Of course part of that acceleration discrepancy is down to the fact that the Type R is only front-wheel drive instead of all-wheel drive. But once at speed, the playing field levels out, thanks to a curb weight (3,100 pounds) that is 200-350 pounds less than the competition.

Massively powerful front-wheel drive cars are known for suffering from horrendous torque steer, but Honda engineers have managed to all but eliminate that phenomenon in the Type R. Even if you mash the throttle and let go of the wheel the Type R will continue in a straight line. Honda's dual-axis strut system really works as advertised.

Understeer is another unsavory side effect of wrong-wheel drive, but Honda engineers once again waved their magic wands and made it disappear. No matter the speed or angle of the corner, the front end of the Type R refused to plow off line. You can still sense that the front wheels are tugging the car along, but the Type R is easily the best behaved front-driver we've ever experienced.

When flipped to +R mode, the Type R's steering is direct and well-weighted for the track. There is a little vagueness on-center, but the tiller becomes more communicative the more you turn it. Overall the Civic Type R feels extremely well balanced and is joy to toss around corners. There is some body lean, but it's more a tool of communication rather than a dissuasion.

Shifting is a pleasure in the Type R. Not only does the aluminum ball feel good to the touch, but the action of the lever is satisfyingly crisp with short throws. Purist might scoff at the idea of a rev matching system, but the one in the Type R works flawlessly. And if you really don't like it, it can always be switched off.

Brakes are impressive in the Type R, with massive stopping power and little in the way of fade, even after repeated hot laps.

One thing that did disappoint on the track was the Type R's sound. For all the effort Honda put into the Type R's trick exhaust system, the engine note just came across as muted. We don't often say it, but we wish the Type R had a bark befitting of its bite.

Road testAfter we whipped the Type R to our heart's content on the track, we took the hatchback out for a test drive on the roads of rural Quebec. There we were able to settle in an evaluate the Type R as a regular car.

Since most of the Type R's interior bits are plucked from the standard Civic, everything just kind of works. Ergonomics are good and materials stand up to the Type R's mid-$30,000 price point. Admittedly all of the red accents and fake carbon fiber are a bit gimmicky, but the Type R pulls off the look. The only real swing-and-a-miss in the Type R's cabin is the back seat, which lacks a middle seat and doesn't really match the red front seats (they're black cloth with red stitching). We were also miffed at the switch blanks to the left of the Type R's steering — a flagship vehicle simply shouldn't have those kind of oversights. And Honda, please, add a volume knob to the Civic's stereo.

Despite being quite aggressive in their bolstering, the front seats in the Type R are surprisingly comfortable with plenty of room for thighs and shoulder and good support all around. We will say, however, that our backside became quite hot and sweaty after a couple of hours of seat time. A pair of seat coolers would go a long way in improving the driving experience in the Type R, but that's a pipe dream considering Honda doesn't even offer seat heaters in this package.

Unlike the Ford Focus RS, which has a brutal ride even on smooth surface, the Type R is just as comfortable as any commuter car when in Comfort mode. Hell, the ride is even pretty damn compliant in +R mode. Unfortunately the Type R doesn't offer a customizable mode that would allow you to mix and match the various vehicle settings to your particular tastes.

Although it was designed with the track in mind, the Type R makes for a wonderful road car. Its 2.0L engine provides plenty of giddy-up, but its not overly powerful to the point where you'll get yourself into a lot of trouble. Road noise is a little intrusive in the Type R's cabin, but that should be expected given its aggressive wheel and tire package.

The 2017 Honda Civic Type R is rated at 22mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. The EPA might be underselling the Type R a bit as we saw figures closer to the car's highway rating in mixed driving.

When it comes to buying the 2017 Civic Type R, there is just a single option — color. Buyers can select from Championship White, Rallye Red, Polished Metal, Crystal Black and Agean Blue.

The equipment level in the Type R is essentially equivalent to a Touring grade Civic with amenities like LED headlights, 7-inch touchscreen display, smart entry with push button start, and a dual-zone automatic climate control system. The Civic Type R carries a base price of $33,900 (plus a $875 destination fee), which is a few grand less than its all-wheel drive rivals.

Leftlane's bottom lineAfter taking one bite of this forbidden fruit, we're hooked. The 2017 Civic Type R may not have the all-out speed of the Ford Focus RS or the raspy exhaust note of the Subaru WRX STI, but it's such a well-rounded vehicle that we really don't care.

If you can get past the robot insect looks and the garish red interior, the 2017 Civic Type R is an excellent vehicle for the road or track. And with a price tag just shy of $35,000, it's the kind of everyday super car that's actually obtainable for the average enthusiast. Buy one and enjoy.

2017 Honda Civic Type R base price, $33,900. As tested, $34,775.Destination, $875.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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