by Roger Biermann
Hot-hatchery has moved on a long way, to the point where even a Golf GTI isn’t considered the pinnacle of the compact hot hatch anymore. That’s a battle left to the likes of the Golf R, Focus RS, and the polarizing Civic Type R. Of these, the Honda is the only one to adhere to front-wheel drive, channeling an almighty 306 horsepower through a six-speed manual transmission to the front axle of one of the most balanced front-wheel drive chasses in existence. The in-your-face styling screams teenage rebellion, but a 170-mph top speed and a Nurburgring lap record under its belt show there’s nothing childish about the Type R. This is anti-establishment hot-hatchery taken to the extreme, wicked and winged, but capable of daily comfort and with updates made for 2019 to improve usability and practicality.
Just about the entire Civic range received updates for 2019 and the Type R is no exception. However, the changes focus primarily on the interior where Honda has finally seen fit to give the infotainment system physical controls including the elusive volume knob we’ve missed out on for so long in Honda products. Physical fan speed buttons have also been added, while cupholders are now larger and more practical, the electronic parking brake button has been redesigned, and the steering wheel controls have been redesigned for better usability. The only change to the exterior for 2019 is the addition of Sonic Gray Pearl to the available color choices.
A standard Civic is already considered by many as overwrought in design, but the Type R adds an insane amount of extravagance in the form of a hood-mounted air intake, huge rear-mounted wing, roof-mounted vortex generators, a triple-pipe center exhaust, various canards and underbody spoilers, red H badging, flared wheel arches with cooling ducts, red brake calipers, and black 20-inch alloy wheels. Functional features include LED headlights and LED foglights. And did we mention the wing?
Despite making use of the standard Civic platform’s 106.3-inch wheelbase, the range of wings, spoilers, and other addenda increase the hatchback’s overall length by nearly two full inches to 179.4 in. Likewise, the width grows to 73.9 inches representing a more than three-inch growth over a standard Civic. Despite riding lower to the ground, the wing and vortex generators on the roof increase the Type R’s height to 56.5 inches, while a curb weight of 3,117 pounds is 100 lbs heavier than the largest Civic hatch but still less than all-wheel drive rivals like the Golf R and Focus RS by several hundred pounds.
Honda retains a somewhat small color palette for the 2019 Civic Type R with just six hues to choose from, all at no additional cost. Striking colors like Aegean Blue and Rallye Red join Crystal Black Pearl and Polished Metal as color options carried over from regular Civics, while Championship White remains a Type R exclusive hero color. New to the palette for 2019 is Sonic Gray Pearl, giving the Type R a stealthier look.
With 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque sent to the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox with trick differentials to help put the power down, Honda claims the Type R will breach the 0-60 mph barrier in five seconds flat, making it the quickest front-wheel drive hot-hatch on sale in the United States. But most rivals with comparable power outputs are quicker in the benchmark sprint, due to the inclusion of all-wheel drive systems on rivals like the Ford Focus RS, Audi S3, and VW Golf R. Where the Honda has them beaten is in its top speed, with a 170 mph top speed, enabling it to set the record for the fastest front-wheel drive vehicle to ever lap the Nurburgring.
Under the hood of the Civic Type R is the most powerful iteration of Honda’s 2.0-liter turbocharged Earth Dreams four-cylinder engine, equipped with VTEC to enable a higher redline with peak power figures of 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque available. The engine is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox with auto rev-matching functionality to mimic heel-n-toe downshifting.
Despite high figures eked from a relatively low-displacement motor, Honda’s use of turbocharging has resulted in one of the strongest, smoothest iterations of turbocharging around. The system is heavily reliant on boost, made blatantly obvious by the uninspiring soundtrack likened best to a leaf-blower winding up, but manages to get away with minimal turbo-lag. From a standstill and when on the move, responses are eager and the Type R is quick to accelerate with a rush of turbocharged torque. The six-speed manual gearbox is integral to the experience, with a shift modeled from the original NSX supercar - short of throw and positive in action - besting anything from the likes of Ford. Auto rev-matching ensures clean downshifts without an interruption in the smooth, but brutal performance supplied by the Type R. The system can, however, be disengaged for the performance driver wishing to hone their own skills.
Handling is priority number one for the Type R, equipped with adaptive suspension, a helical limited slip differential, and large 20-inch high-performance summer tires among the numerous upgrades made to the chassis and steering systems. In short, it’s the sharpest performance hatchback around, eagerly diving into turns with a sharpness not found in any of the current crop of hot hatches. The steering is weighty and gives more than sufficient levels of feedback, while the firm suspension telegraphs tarmac in analog detail. Changes of direction are hellishly quick, while grip levels are immense and rival the best all- and rear-wheel drive chasses this side of genuine supercars. Coming unstuck is a feat of true bravery as the commitment, or stupidity, required to exceed the limits of adhesion is reserved for only those with superhuman reflexes.
The ride is firm, firmer than a Civic Si by a good margin, but still manages to maintain a high level of overall comfort on all but the choppiest of surfaces. The adaptive suspension allows the dampers to be slackened off for improved comfort - although the default drive mode is Sport - while in their firmest setting they’re unyielding enough to conquer the Green Hell. Still, it rides like a cloud compared to the Ford Focus RS, while its outright ability blows the Golf R into oblivion with still comparable levels of comfort. In braking, the huge Brembo four-piston aluminum front brakes bite hard when the anchors are dropped, matching performance machines with a price-tag five times higher than this mere compact hatchback.
Hardcore performance has never been this comfortable as a daily driver, the duality being of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde proportions.
Despite performance by the bucket, the Type R’s turbocharged drivetrain possesses a duality that enables relative frugality when needed. While 2019 figures have not yet been verified by the EPA we don’t expect much deviation from those of 2018, with the Type R’s fuel economy estimates pegged at 22/28/25 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, making it more parsimonious than a Ford Focus RS, but marginally less economical than a Golf R. With a gas tank size of 12.39 gallons topped up with premium unleaded fuel - the Type R will take regular, but at the expense of performance - buyers can expect a range of 310 miles under mixed driving conditions.
Interior enhancements to the Type R are suitably performance focused, with supportive front sport buckets equipped for track days and daily driving alike, even if they are garishly upholstered in red suede-like fabric. Other embellishments add a sense of specialness, such as a Type R specific steering wheel - also with large amounts of in-your-face red - and an aluminum sphere gear shift lever. But the rest is regular Civic, which is no criticism as the standard model has one of the best interiors in the game, combining high-quality materials with even higher levels of practicality, both from passenger comfort and cargo-holding capacity perspectives. It may lack the luxury of the Golf R’s leather seating surfaces, but it’s one of the finest cabins to be sat in. More so, there’s improved usability with the addition of physical controls for fan speed and the infotainment system - a welcome correction of last year’s biggest gripes.
Much like the exterior of the Type R, the inside is anything but subtle. While the gratuitous use of bright red accents on the seats are somewhat overwhelming, the buckets themselves are immensely comfortable. The driving position is low slung and leaves the driver enveloped and completely immersed, while the buckets are hugely supportive, both for daily use and trackability. They manage this while being supremely comfortable over long distance drives and daily commutes alike. The rear seat room is unaffected by the front buckets, which means there’s an abundance of both headroom and legroom, suitable for six-feet tall occupants and ensuring seating capacity for four remains intact. But while the rear seats may be as comfortable for daily use as the standard Civic, spirited drives will see rear passengers tossed about in a nauseating manner. If you’re heading to the track, leave all but the front passenger at home.
The Civic Type R doesn’t offer much in the way of interior customization, equipping the supportive sports seats with black and red suede-cloth upholstery, red stitching, and Type R embroidery on the seatbacks beneath the integrated headrests. The lurid red accents continue with red seatbelts, red inserts on the black leather steering wheel, and with red detailing on the dash. The standard shift-lever is a brushed aluminum sphere, but a partial red leather item can be equipped, while further customization includes carbon-fiber dash inlays with matching upper door inserts. Pedals are aluminum sports items, while other interior details include a black headliner and black suede door inserts.
The Civic Type R’s daily comfort and usability wouldn’t be complete without a large cargo bay - a hallmark of the standard Civic hatch. A large hatchback opening and low load sill grant access to a standard 25.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, sacrificing nothing compared to the standard Civic. A 60/40 split folding rear bench increases this to a cavernous 46.2 cubic feet. Both figures are among the best in the class, and even with the rear seats in place there’s space enough for a week’s worth of grocery shopping.
The in-cabin storage spaces are equally as practical, with a redesigned center console for 2019 boasting larger cupholders than before, while the standard bin beneath the center armrest remains generously large. Door pockets cater to most water bottles, while the glove box is decently sized too.
With sporting intentions in mind, the Civic Type R still gets a fair amount of interior features to ensure daily comfort. Power windows are equipped with auto up/down functionality for the front pair, while the ignition is by means of push-button start. Cruise control is equipped as standard, as is dual zone climate with rear ventilation ducts. There’s a front-located 12-volt power socket, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, sliding sun visors, and a range of Type-R specific embellishments like a serial number plate, aluminum shift knob, and black and red leather steering wheel. Rearward visibility is improved by means of a multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines.
The Civic Type R features a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, updated for 2019 with physical control buttons including a volume knob, which vastly improve the experience even if the system isn’t as intuitive as that in the Volkswagen Golf R. The system features AM/FM/SiriusXM/HD radio inputs, while also accepting media streaming via Bluetooth. The system is fully compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and connects with smartphones via the HondaLink mobile app. Sound quality is taken care of by means of a 540-watt premium sound system with 12 speakers including a subwoofer. The infotainment system also features satellite navigation with voice recognition and HD digital traffic information.
The Honda Civic Type R has been involved in three previous recalls - none pertaining to the 2019 model year, and only one of which was of any severe consequence. Two of the recalls related to missing owner’s manuals and incorrect information on the certification label, whilst one involved a loose magnet on the power steering system that affected weighting and responsiveness and increased the risk of a crash. Few other Type R specific problems have been reported. J.D. Power gave the Type R an overall reliability rating of 77 out of 100, higher than the 73 achieved by the Focus RS. Honda’s standard warranties are applicable to the Type R, including three-year/36,000-mile limited vehicle and five-year/60,000-mile powertrain coverage.
Crash tests for the Civic Type R are incomplete, with the NHTSA having only tested side impact and rollover resistance, scoring both full marks, while the IIHS hasn’t tested the Type R in any way. The standard Civic Hatchback achieves top scores from both, but it’s worth noting the Type R doesn’t receive the advanced collision avoidance systems equipped to the base hatchback.
With high performance comes the need for high levels of safety, which is why Honda equips the Type R with high-performance brakes and suspension, specialized tuning for the traction and stability control systems, and six airbags (dual front, side impact, and side curtain airbags). But While there’s no Honda Sensing collision avoidance as found on the standard Civic Hatchback, however, the standard rearview camera is included.
The Type R suffix is hallowed amongst Honda aficionados as the pinnacle of performance, and the 2019 Civic Type R continues the storied name in fine style. Whereas the previous iteration - not brought into the USA - set out to conquer the Nurburgring at the expense of a crashing ride, the new one has taken stonking performance and equipped it to one of the best front-wheel drive chassis ever engineered, all with enough comfort to use on a daily basis. The ride may be noticeably firmer than a standard Civic, but it’s still softer than a Focus RS, while still maintaining near supercar levels of grip and composure under duress. The turbocharged powertrain is responsive and eager to respond when beckoned.
But the duality of daily comfort is ever-present, with sports seats - perhaps a little overly styled with liberal amounts of red suede - providing comfortable support, while the interior space seats four adults with ease. Material and build quality are high, while practicality is uncompromised. If you can live with the outrageous styling, there’s no better hot hatch in our books.
The Civic Type R is its own standalone model, with only one variant to choose from with a base MSRP of $35,700 before tax, registration, licensing, and an $895 destination charge. But the price in the USA has been known to fluctuate as dealers set their own prices with mark-ups and incentives varying from dealer to dealer. But that MSRP isn’t at all unattractive, undercutting both the VW Golf R and Ford Focus RS which both come in at over $40,000.
The Honda Civic Type R is a single standalone model, although calling it a base model would be a disservice, as it forms the pinnacle of the Civic range. It comes as well equipped as a halo model should with LED headlights, an assortment of spoilers, vents, and wings, a reverse camera, keyless entry, push-button start, power windows, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, sports seats, a 60/40 split rear seat, and a seven inch touchscreen infotainment system. The latter is paired with a premium 12-speaker audio system, features built-in navigation, and comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, as well as SiriusXM and HD radio capabilities. Much like the Si derivatives, there are no Honda Sensing driver assistance features.
No additional packages are offered with the Type R, however, Honda does provide a few standalone accessories, the most useful of which is a wireless phone charging pad at $305. The rest are merely cosmetic add-ons, such as the carbon fiber door mirror housings at $520, a carbon fiber spoiler at $1,200, carbon fiber dash inserts at $799, and a red leather shift knob at $199. Unless you’re a complete carbon-snob none of those are worth the outlay.
Honda makes the choice an easy one with only one Type R trim available, which leaves just a single decision to make - to Type R or not to Type R? If the answer is indeed to Type R, then you’ll be happy to know the single trim is packed with all the necessary features and niceties you need and almost none of the things you don’t.
The front-wheel drive Golf GTI simply can’t compete with a Type R, so it gets its big brother, the all-wheel drive Golf R to join the fray. With similar power outputs to the Type R, it’s the Golf R’s AWD system that gives it an edge in performance, with a sub-five-second 0-60 mph sprint, particularly when equipped with the DSG automatic transmission. But once rolling, the Type R claws back with immense grip and an immersive experience, while the Golf R is rapid point to point at the expense of driver thrills. It’s fun and sounds better than the Type R, but there’s an underlying impression that you’re only enjoying as much as the electronic nannies allow you to, whereas the Type R feels like it's at the command of the driver. Both of these hot hatches are equally practical, but the Golf R feels more premium with leather upholstery and a more refined infotainment system. It does, however, cost more than the Type R by nearly $5,000. If a rapid point and shoot experience with high levels of refinement are what you’re after, the Golf R is the pick, but if you want a hot-hatch for the thrill of driver involvement, the Type R simply can’t be beaten.
The Ford Focus RS straddles a higher ‘hyper-hatch’ category thanks to outputs of 345 horsepower and all-wheel drive with a trick ‘drift mode.’ It matches the Type R for a six-speed manual transmission, but the Civic simply blows the Focus out of the water when it comes to driving experience. The Focus RS rides harshly, and while it covers ground in an aural, and teeth-shatteringly rough bombardment of the senses, the Type R manages to ride pliantly while covering ground just as quick, if not quicker. The Type R also offers better levels of driver engagement, from the sweet shift of the manual gearbox to the sublime seating position in comfortable-for-days bucket seats. The Ford beats the Type R on come metrics though. It's quicker to 60 mph and features an easier to use infotainment system, but the Type R’s interior feels of higher quality and boasts better interior space and practicality, all at a lesser price. They say you choose horses for courses, but there’s really only one horse to choose here, and it’s the Type R.