As the original owner of a 1999 Acura Integra Type R which I bought at the tender age of 19, Honda – and particularly the Type R badge – holds a special place in my heart.
The Integra Type R was the pinnacle of entry-level sports cars of the era and widely considered the best front-wheel drive sports car ever made. Honda needed to build it as a homologation special which means in order for the brand to race it in a particular series, it had to produce and sell a limited number of them to the public.
It was a cut above the Integra GS-R and had upgrades including a strengthened chassis with extra spot welds, thicker metal around the rear shock towers and lower subframe, weight reduction (reduced sound insulation, 10% thinner windscreen, lighter wheels), a rev limiter set at 8,500 rpm, a hand built engine featuring hand-polished and ported intake ports, high compression pistons, revised intake and exhaust systems and suspension upgrades. I was able to get all of this for just $30,800 at the time.
Acura replaced the Integra with the RSX in 2002 and finally removed this type of car from its lineup in favor of making the Civic a performance machine.
Fast forward to 2017 and the Civic Type R hits North American shores for the first time. The Civic has a wacky design with a big wing, lots of flair and more importantly lots of power: 306 horses to be exact. Over a hundred more horsepower than my measly Integra had.
The car was facelifted in 2020 and essentially unchanged for 2021. Sitting inside you immediately feel the race-bread heritage envelop you with the bright red bucket racing seats, stainless shift knob and suede Alcantara steering wheel. The theme extends to the console and dash with red stitching and/or pin striping along with carbon fiber. I found the touch screen a bit small and the infotainment design passable but that’s not why anyone buys a Type R.
Where the Type R really shines is its how it drives. The 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine makes the aforementioned 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque mated to a six-speed manual transmission only (as it should be). The Civic Type R is the most powerful front-wheel-drive Honda ever made and the most powerful Honda-branded vehicle ever sold in North America.
When you push the Type R you want to select the R drive mode which takes the cars from efficient grocery getter to performance machine. The setting firms up the suspension dampers, adds resistance to the steering input and alters the throttle response to provide a thrilling experience.
In the corners is where the Civic Type R really shines. The firm chassis coupled by the downforce that the hood air intake creates keeps the car glued to the pavement. The intake channels the air through a tunnel to each side of the vehicle. Yes, that means you can brag that all of the fancy vents are actually functional.
Most people prefer rear-wheel drive cars for track duty because front wheel drive often produces torque steer. There is none of that here thanks to something called double knuckle technology that was integrated into its front axle.
While not employing the same type of VTEC jump that my 1999 Type R has, the engine has far more torque and pulls in any gear including at the low end of the spectrum. The clutch is light and shifter is amazingly comfortable (except when it’s been in the hot sun all day and it burns you).
What I don’t like is the fact that Honda decided to augment the engine sound with artificial sound coming from the car’s audio system. Here is how Honda describes it:
Working through the audio system’s speakers, ASC (active sound control) electronically enhances engine sound by tailoring and/or augmenting certain frequencies in a natural way, with progressively stronger character as the driver moves from Comfort to Sport, and finally to +R mode.
I’d prefer it if the car just made the correct sound to begin with.
The Honda Civic Type R can be had in one single trim starting at $46,200 before transport and prep. There will always be people who say that spending $50K on a performance compact is nuts but who cares? They said it when I spent $30K on one two decades ago and they’ll saying it again two decades from now. There is something special about a Type R so get one while you can. This year’s models are already all sold out.