Review: 2019 Honda Civic Type R
Despite its looks, the Type R is not some razor’s edge track monster. It’s something much better.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good - Accessible fun, loads of street cred, exceptionally livable
- What’s Bad - A cascade of unwanted attention, manic styling, red racing seats only a teenager could love.
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I turned 29 this year and if I’m honest, it’s been scaring the shit out of me.
The traditional narrative is that, as your 20s come to a close and you emerge into your 30s, you should more or less be transitioning from a state of chaos and youthful expression to a state of routine and responsibility.
I haven’t really done much of that. Sure, I’m paying my bills, living with a partner and taking care of dog — but it’s all a far cry from a steady career, marriage or kids.
My age panic stems from nagging questions, “Am I supposed to embrace those things?” Am I falling behind my peers for not having them? Is it bad I don’t want to sacrifice fun?”
I’ve always assumed that as responsibility and need increases, it stands to reason that your opportunity for self indulgence and fun decreases. I’ve certainly experienced it with even my minimal commitments to adulting.
Having kids, for example, theoretically means an increased difficulty to own and enjoy exciting cars for most. Certainly it would for me.
Maybe I’m delaying the inevitable. Maybe you absolutely can’t relate and your life goal has always been to settle down with kids and the picket fence — all these changes are welcome. But even so… you must still crave a little fun, right?
Accepting responsibility can’t mean that you’re ready to relinquish all joy in your life and buy a crossover SUV. It just can’t.
Which is why I’m glad the Honda Civic Type R exists.
What is the Type R not?
Don’t let the Type R’s (let’s call it “spirited”) exterior styling, red racing bucket seats or 306 horsepower turbocharged VTEC engine fool you. This is not some fire-spitting rally car, ready to devour the uninitiated.
The fact is it’s as easy to drive (and drive fast) as any Honda Civic available for purchase today.
I certainly wouldn’t call it a puppy dog. But the car never, ever bites you.
It doesn’t torque steer. The clutch is light and forgiving. The exhaust (despite there being no less than three tailpipes) is quiet.
Despite the Type R’s 2.0-litre engine being both VTEC and turbocharged (a recipe for startling top-end acceleration), even with the car set up in the raciest mode, “R”, completing a second or third gear pull to redline is smooth, easy and just not scary.
Which is not to say the Type R is slow. It will accelerate to 60mph in 5.2 seconds and will run a quarter mile 13.6 seconds. No slouch by any standard.
And you might be prone to say, “Sure that probably doesn’t seem exciting when you’re used to driving high horsepower cars.” And you may be right. But I maintain that the average person could beat on this thing all day and not break a sweat.
Does it all feel less raw and exciting than an older, modified Honda? Or even a newer, high horsepower grand tourer like the Mustang GT? You bet.
But it’s also not tiring. The car never wears you out. And that’s a plus.
A giant compromise on wheels.
That’s what the Type R actually is.
It’s not quite a boring family car. And it’s not quite an exhilarating sports car.
Let me explain.
The Type R comes loaded with every modern automotive convenience you could imagine.
The car’s 7’’ touch-screen is wonderfully simple and intuitive. The navigation is so much of a breeze, I actually started using it over my phone (which pretty much never happens). The bluetooth connectivity follows this trend. Simple, easy, intuitive.
Speaking of your phone, the wireless phone charging pad located under the entertainment console and in front of the shifter is also a welcome convenience.
The 542-watt audio system has no less than 12 speakers, including a subwoofer and has reasonably good fidelity, even at high volume.
Fuel economy is also a big win for the Type R. Even putting the car through its paces, redlining gears on back country roads, I achieved roughly 9L/100km. Even filling the tank with 91 octane, it was about $50 to drive about 400km. No complaints there at all.
There is of course the standard rear back-up camera. But the Type R also has blindspot cameras which display on your entertainment screen while changing lanes — a nice touch for highway driving and so much less annoying and intrusive than regular blindspot indicators.
Put the Type R in “comfort” mode and there’s perceivably little difference between it and your base model Honda Civic in terms of how it drives.
However, it’s not your base model Honda, which means you’ve had to compromise some things to get that precious “Type R” badge.
First, it’s not the most comfortable car in the world to drive. Those racing bucket seats may wet the appetite of everyone’s inner high schooler, but they’re honestly slightly less comfortable than being punched in the spine. They also turn the car into a mine shaft when you try to get out of it.
I didn’t have a single passenger not complain about the seats. Granted a few were “non-car enthusiasts” but a few of them were tried and true gearheads. One was even a drift car racer. All despised the seats.
They were embarrassing too. Driving coworkers to a meeting or my girlfriend out to dinner made them feel like they were being transported around town by someone barely old enough to vote, living off a steady diet of Monster Energy Drink. Very unbecoming for an adult man on the verge of 30.
I get that these seats are a salute to the Honda Type Rs of old, but not all old things are good things. Like horse and buggies or polio.
The suspension is also a tad stiff, even in “comfort” mode. Drive this car through the streets of Toronto and your tailbone will begin to numb. Is it as bad as say, a live-rear axle Mustang or low-slung Corvette? No, but you do feel it.
Then there’s the shift knob. Again, I’m told that having a smooth, aluminum shift knob is Type R tradition. But the fact is, this thing slips out of your hand when you try to power shift. It just does.
If there’s anything that’s distinctly “sports car” about the Type R, it’s the exterior styling. It has two wings, three exhaust tailpipes, flared wheel arches, a visible front-mounted intercooler, a (somewhat) functional hood air scoop, carbon fibre-look skirting, and a roofline that looks like the lovechild of Sonic the Hedgehog and a claw hammer.
It’s exciting stuff. And say what you will about the Type R being “overstyled” — I can’t imagine ever getting tired of it.
The compromise here is that you’ll get plenty of unwanted attention. You’re a magnet for cops and wannabe Fast and Furious cast members alike on the street. It’s an annoying push and pull between people trying to street race you and people trying to bust you for street racing.
Which is not to say the extra attention isn’t, at times, flattering. I had one fellow Honda Civic driver speed through sets of lights to catch up with me, just to yell, “Nice car, man!” at me.
I also wanted to test this car’s “street cred”, so I drove it back to my hometown, to the local Tim Hortons parking lot, where I spent numerous nights sitting on the hood of my car, shooting the shit and chatting with other fellow gearheads. My early 20s well spent.
The parking lot is still a mecca for young car enthusiasts. It’s filled with tuned up Civics, Jettas, trucks — anything a 20-year-old can comfortably afford and modify.
I parked the car right in the middle of it all, went in to grab a coffee and came out to find no less than half a dozen members of Gen Z staring at the Type R and chatting about it. I had a bit of a chat with them regarding their thoughts on the car, and decided that young people weren’t so bad after all.
So, busy styling? Sure. But it’s exactly that busy styling that can make someone’s day or infuse you into a community.
The fun stuff
One last thing on compromise. All those conveniences the Type R has — the accessible performance, the great gas mileage, all the modern comforts, means it’s just not as fun or exciting as a real sports car.
I think people — certainly that group of Gen Z from the Tim Hortons parking lot, want the Type R to be a monster.
I certainly wanted it to have enough turbo boost to push me back into my seat like a GT-R, for it to have a loud exhaust that crackled and burbled (if only in “R” mode) like the new Supra, and for it squeal tires around every turn, like a Focus RS.
I was hoping the Type R would be a compact GT350R
But it isn’t. The exhaust doesn’t scream, it hums. The turbo whistle is a whisper. And the acceleration, as discussed, is never much of an event.
This car could be so much more exciting if they just gave it another 50 horsepower, a wider downpipe, and exhaust.
That being said, when I took this car up to Belfountain, Ontario on a beautiful fall day, flipped it into “R” mode, and hooned it through some back roads, I absolutely fell in love with it.
It’s the tapas restaurant of cars; a little bit of everything.
The manageable power meant I could use ALL of it ALL OF THE TIME and never wear myself out.
Also, what a joy it is to have a six-speed manual transmission. With clutch pedals seemingly going the way of the carburetor, it’s easy to forget just how much fun and more involving it is to change your own gears.
The Type R’s steering is sharp and direct in “R” mode. Fitted to the Type R’s 20’’ black rims are Continental SportContact 6 tires, which enable the Type R to hit 0.99 g of lateral grip. These tires are very, very confidence inspiring. You never, ever feel like you’re going to lose grip. You always feel that the car is capable of cornering more aggressively than you’re willing to push it.
I also didn’t mind the seats as much that day.
The Type R isn’t a mad, tire-roasting sports car. But it is buckets of fun.
Then, after flogging the car all afternoon in “R” mode, I flipped it into “comfort” as I drove back home through the city. And suddenly the Type R made all the sense in the world to me. Because you compromise everything, you don’t sacrifice anything. It’s the tapas restaurant of cars; a little bit of everything.
You can’t let life get boring
Admittedly, I was slightly disappointed by the Type R upon initial impressions. My gut reaction was that it was just a regular civic with a busy body kit and some uncomfortable red seats.
I just wanted more. I expected to have the same feeling as when you drive a 5.0 Mustang GT or Camaro SS for the first time. That immediate reaction of “okay, this is aggressive, this is special”. Despite the looks, the Type R doesn’t do any of that when you first start driving it.
But the appeal of the Type R is that it is mostly normal and hum-drum… until it isn’t. This isn’t the car you buy as an alternative to a modern muscle car or even a new Supra. If you do that, you will almost certainly be disappointed.
This is the car you buy as an alternative to a crossover SUV — to remind you, if only on occasion, that you’re not dead yet.
It’s accessible, convenient and usable. But it also has a lot go-fast equipment and styling, and more importantly an ability to remind you that life isn’t all about responsibility. Sometimes it’s just about having fun and enjoying things for the sake of it.
Enough if you do have to grow up eventually.
Photos by Ryan Bolton
2019 Honda Civic Type R
BODY STYLE: 5-door hatchback
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, front-wheel drive
ENGINE: 2.0-litre, 16-valve, Direct Injection, DOHC, VTEC®, turbocharged 4-cylinder, 306 horsepower @ 6500 rpm ; 296 lb-ft @ 2500-4500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual transmission (MT) with rev-match control
FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium Gasoline in L/100 km) 10.6 city 8.3 highway 9.6 combined
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 9.2L/100 km
CARGO CAPACITY: 727.7 (litres, rear seats up) / 1308.2 (litres, rear seats down)
PRICE: MSRP $43,476 (as tested)