“It’s basically a development tool for us,” he tells me. “It brings all the weak points of a car to the surface. The lap time is basically a verification that every department has achieved its objectives. Having said that, even we were quite surprised when we managed the lap time we did…” – Hideki Kakinuma, the Civic Type-R’s chief engineer.

In 2017, the Honda Civic Type R set the lap record for a front-wheel drive vehicle at the famed Nürburgring Nordschleife, with a 7-minute, 43.8-second lap time. To illustrate how bonkers that time is, the Lamborghini Murciélago LP670-4 SuperVeloce was just a hair quicker at 7:42. With a 661 horsepower V12 engine and V12, the Lamborghini was just 1-2 seconds quicker. 

We set out to see how Hideki’s mad creation felt on normal streets around the LA area. From the steep Carraciola-Karussell to the offramps of Interstate 110. I sourced a Type-R from the car-sharing app Turo and set my sights on the Angeles Crest Highway.

The Type-R comes with a direct-injected, 2.0L 4-Cylinder K20C1 engine with 306 horsepower. The engine is mated to a close ratio 6-speed manual transmission continuing the tradition of its predecessors with limited-slip differential as standard. The K20C1 is race-proven, powering purpose-built racecars, including F4 and F3 feeder series for the climb to Indy Car, British Touring car, IMSA, and many other forms of endurance racing.

Honda’s 2.0L turbocharged engine has a lightweight aluminum cylinder head. Compared to the naturally aspirated K20A, no valvetrain or intake/exhaust manifolds will interchange between the two. Even the water jackets are significantly revised. The exhaust manifold is cast with the head as one unit. The cylinder head has a two-piece water jacket.

By making the ports waterjacketed, it helps control exhaust manifold temperature, as well as exhaust temperature. This also helps with emissions. The 2.0L turbo engine has 16 valves (4 valves per cylinder) and dual overhead camshafts. It used thin-wall hollow camshafts driven by the low-friction timing chain. The engine is equipped with Honda’s VTC (Variable Valve Timing Control) for intake and exhaust.

Fans of the wild induction sounds of Honda’s past VTEC motors will be slightly disappointed to hear VTEC no longer exists on the intake side.. The K20C1 features a different valvetrain setup, featuring single, beehive-style springs and VTEC only on the exhaust side. Previous VTEC motors existed as a means to package a larger camshaft without making the car utterly un-drivable at lower rpm. With the quick-spooling turbocharger installed on the K20C1, 295 lb-ft of torque is on-tap at only 2,500rpm.

In addition to this, engineers installed the Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (i-VTEC) which changes valve lift, timing and duration of the exhaust valves to reduce turbo lag through increased exhaust pressure at lower rpm. The cylinder head also features sodium-filled exhaust valves and small M12 spark plugs.

The K20C engines are produced only with direct injection which able to provide such high fuel efficiency together with low emissions. The 2.0L turbo engine has high-pressure (20MPa) multi-hole fuel direct injectors with a small-diameter bore which delivers fuel directly into each cylinder. The shapes of the intake ports and piston crowns were optimized to generate a strong tumble flow and promote fuel mixture consistency within the cylinder. That said, the newer intake ports have much less flow than previous K20 engines (158cfm vs 300cfm) due to the tuning characteristics/needs of a direct-injected engine.

What’s it like to drive?

The Type-R I drove was clearly well-used, with over 30k miles of Turo duty. The wheels were marked with severe road rash and the seat fabric worn down. Incredibly, the drivetrain felt tight and responsive. Honda does manual shifters better than almost any other manufacturer and the Type-R is no exception. The gear shifter action felt positive and didn’t have any notchiness or weird crunching sensations of other cheap manuals. However, I still preferred the 6-speed manual of my Honda Accord Type-S (Acura TSX) I drove for a few years while living in Europe because the action was more effortless and “clicked” into the gates more re-assuringly. 

With 306 horsepower, the Type-R accelerates briskly. However, if you hammer it in first gear, the front tires start to jump and squirm and you hit redline in a split second. Second gear pulls are really where you feel an extended rush. It’s quick, but the turbo doesn’t have the lag-then-punch sensation of turbo cars of the past. The power felt more linear. Honestly, I thought the car would feel faster but that’s probably because I tested a BMW M2 Competition shortly before this, which is in another league power-wise.

The best thing about this car is definitely the steering and body controls. On the Angeles Crest Highway, which is filled with curvy mountain roads, the Type-R really shines. I felt like I could take the curves at any speed. This sensation is helped along by the ultra-aggressive seat bolsters. You definitely get the “race car” feel sitting here. The steering reacts quickly and responsively to every input. The peak joy of driving this car is that feeling when you set the car into a corner and feel the confidence to hammer it out of the corner without any body roll or drama. It just goes. You start to feel invincible and heroic. 

I found myself shifting gears incessantly while cruising around, even in a slow parking lot, just to feel the quality “click” of the gear shifter over and over again. It was such a joy to operate.  On the mountain roads, I left the car in second or third and just let the wave of torque carry me from corner to corner. 

In terms of normal everyday driving on the highway and city streets, the suspension has a comfort mode that helps makes things manageable. From reading other magazine reviews, you would assume the car rode like a Lexus. It doesn’t. It probably rides a little worse than a normal Civic. That’s not a bad thing. It’s perfectly liveable day to day and given how thin the sidewalls are, it’s a minor miracle that Honda engineers were able to tune the suspension to exhibit nearly zero body roll yet it doesn’t have any spine-crunching shocks.

How does it compare?

Competition is fierce in the mid-30s range. What the Type-R has over the competition is the unbeatable combination of practicality, comfort, and pure performance. Just check out how massive the cargo volume is. If you have to transport kids around and a stroller in the back, the Type-R can totally do it! Combined with Honda’s stellar reliability record, you might be able to persuade the spouse as well!

With 46.2 cubic feet of space (seats folded), the Civic Type R approaches mini-SUV levels of cargo volume. (Notice the dent on the back bumper too. This thing has taken a beating)

What’s the Verdict?

I have a special connection to Hondas due to my ownership experience. The Honda Accord Type S (Acura TSX) I owned is top 3 one of my favorite cars ever because of how well-built it felt, the VTEC motor, and the shifter. This car takes all my favorite Honda attributes and puts it on Meth. I’m still dumbfounded at how special the suspension tuning is.

However, I feel like this specific car wasn’t a great representation of what the Type-R ownership experience would be like. This particular Type-R was pretty rundown since it was rented out a few hundred times, so it doesn’t have the “new” feeling anymore. The styling is pretty subjective as well. I really love the fender vents and how butch it looked from certain angles. I’m not a fan of the spoiler, fake vents, or the red outline trim that runs the length of the car. The front-end of the car is definitely my favorite view. 

If I wanted a reliable and practice car with supercar levels of suspension tuning and sophistication, this would be it. However, it does fall short in a few major areas. I think having a more pleasant exhaust note and better styling would have endeared this car to me more. The exhaust sounds pretty standard and the sound a vehicle makes scores a ton of points for me. Even my old Honda had that incredible intake sound which is sadly missing here.

At the end of the day, it’s an amazing enthusiast’s car that I’d feel confident hammering mountain roads all day without fail, and yet there’s no practical downside in daily operation.

– Joseph Tseng
Editor carsinsiders.com