If the VW Golf R is for people who'd rather have their go-fast car stay stealthy and fly under the radar, the Honda Civic Type R is basically a squadron of Lancaster bombers blaring ZZ Top. It's basically impossible to miss it. There's the huge wing. The huge fake vents. The red trim. The three center pipes. The diffusers under the bumper and on the hatchback. And that's just the stuff at the back.
Honestly, as we're not 12 years old, we were a bit embarrassed to drive it. At least in daylight, which is mercifully pretty dim at this time of year in the Pacific Northwest, where Senior Editor Alex Kierstein and West Coast Editor James Riswick drove the Type R. Yet, despite aesthetic-related reservations, both were eager to drive a car that has drawn nothing but driving-related praise since introduced for 2017.
The Type R in question was a 2019 and had a sticker of $37,230, including the $930 destination charge that covers its transit from Swindon, Wiltshire, England (the engine is from the United States and the transmission from Japan. Quite the global car, eh?). There are no factory options, and you basically get everything available on a loaded Civic minus leather upholstery (there's eye-searing red microfiber instead) and the Honda Sensing suite of safety tech. It wasn't available on the 2019 Type R or Si, but as the latter has had it added for 2020, we're guessing the same will happen for the range-topping Civic.
West Coast Editor James Riswick —The Honda Civic Type R is every bit as excellent as I had heard and anticipated. It's one of those cars that just feels right in the first few feet underway – the wheel and shifter placed just right, the seat fitting snuggly, the clutch easy-peasy in effort and engagement, throttle actually responsive, steering feeling attached to something, and the adaptive suspension not warning your spine in advance that it's going to be a rough few days. It was readily apparent that I could use the Type R as a daily driver.
The thing is, though, it's also absolutely nuts. The 306-hp turbo inline-four is so overwhelmingly meaty that it causes wheel hop when approaching redline in first and second. There's also a hint of torque steer when coming out of corners, but it's actually shocking there's "a hint" rather than "an abundance" given the burden being shouldered by the front axle alone. Really, it makes you wonder what the Type R could accomplish if fitted with Acura's torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. It's already uproariously capable on a winding mountain road, making it incredibly easy to get into a rhythm with it as you dance from corner to corner. I routinely was going much faster than I thought thanks to the tremendous, reassuring grip. Keeping the car in sport mode (yes, it's the default mode, how cool is that?) provides just the right amount of steering effort for such an endeavor, while Comfort's extra bit of play makes for more relaxed highway driving. There's a Type R mode, too, but it sets the adjustable dampers so firmly that it was a detriment on the less-than-perfect pavement of my mountain road evaluation route.
If there's one particular high point, it's the shifter. Easily rowed as in every Honda dating back two decades, but its weighting and the way it snicks into gear is more pleasingly mechanical. The metal ping-pong-ball-sized shifter fits perfectly in your hand too, but like its similarly metal predecessors in the Honda S2000 and original Acura TSX, you'll need to keep a glove in the car for cold and hot days. Remember when Harry grabs the door handle in "Home Alone"? Own a Type R in Phoenix and I'm pretty sure you'll eventually end up with have a shifter pattern branded into your hand.
Senior Editor Alex Kierstein – The Civic Type R pulled into my driveway as a Hyundai Veloster N was leaving. I was expecting to draw some serious contrasts between the two hot hatches, but not which way they’d break. The thing is, the Veloster N dulls some of the CTR’s shine – if your taste in front-drive hatches leans European, that is.
Despite being Korean, the Veloster N shows a serious German influence thanks to a guy named Albert Biermann, lately of BMW’s M Division. His notoriously inflexible bosses apparently gave him enough leeway to shine, because the N has some seriously dialed-in handling in the grandest Teutonic tradition. The Performance model, in its stiffest setting, feels like a GTI Nürburgring handling mule. It’s a riot, and a masterclass in chassis tuning.
The Civic Type R is a very, very different beast. For one, the steering feels more artificial than the Veloster’s, which isn’t something I ever thought I’d say about a Type R in comparison to a Hyundai. The Veloster N also feels more tossable, friskier, around town than the somewhat more distant Civic Type R – and the Hyundai’s multiple-position exhaust valves may have something to do with it. The Veloster N is throaty and purposeful even in its quietest setting, while the Type R is muted and mild. And where the Veloster is somewhat understated, the Type R is garish, like it drove through a Mugen catalog from 1998, while the interior’s blocky, cheap-looking plastic makes the Veloster’s (dark, perhaps even boring) interior look classy.
The Type R’s shifter, as Riswick notes, is sublime. I grew up idolizing import tuners, and while I never owned anything of note, I was surrounded by 3000GT VR4s, second-gen MR2s with wild TRD body kits, and a supercharged Integra GS-R with a legit OEM Type R shift knob that I thought was the coolest thing in the world. That very similar aluminum shift knob in the new Type R is, for lack of a better word, mythical. And the transmission you row with it is as fantastic as any the company’s made, and that’s no small compliment.
I can’t change the fact that I evaluate modern Hondas through the lens that crystalized when I was younger, but I miss the Hondas I idolized growing up that were understated – the B18-swapped EK hatchbacks, unobtainable NSXs, DA Integra GS-Rs with B17s, and the home-market Type Rs which always looked best in Championship White. They had subtle charms, whereas the new Type R screams at every onlooker, inviting them to gape. It also screams in performance terms, too, but maybe it should sing instead.
The frustrating reality is that, to me, the Veloster N does a better job at being the sort of fast front-driver that I’d want to own. It's a serious machine that drips with the kind of deep development knowledge Biermann earned in Munich and at the Nürburgring. But it's tinged with the "happy puppy that wants to play" enthusiasm that made classic hot hatches a blast to push hard, even at moderate speeds. The Type R has all the performance bona fides, but to me delivers the goods with less charisma – and furthermore it's hard to fully appreciate what the Type R does well when so much of what’s bolted or glued on breaks the spell. Even with all that nonsense stripped away, though, I'm confident the Veloster N would still make the stronger impression. I'm not sure if that says more about Hyundai or Honda.
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