The 2020 Honda Civic Type R might be the best hot hatch you can buy for less than $50,000, but it comes with a few caveats.
It’s not possible to buy a new Volkswagen Golf R at the moment, the model on hiatus until the Mk8 version arrives in time for 2022. Then there’s the Hyundai Veloster N that comes darned close for a fair bit less money. But if you’ve got budget to play with, can get past the looks, and will accept nothing less than track-verified capability, then rest assured this is the car you’re looking for. Then again, if you’re reading this you probably don’t need to be told. You already know.
It’s a shame to have to start here because it’s probably the Civic Type R’s weakest point, but to this reviewer’s eye the exterior doesn’t make it a car I’d be clamouring to have parked in my driveway. [There’s a good reason it landed on autoTRADER.ca’s list of the five ugliest cars you can buy. – Ed.]
This could definitely be a matter of demographics; I don’t feel like this car was designed with a 40-something parent in mind, though I’d be quite happy to own several of its competitors. The interior evokes similar reactions, though it redeems itself through the use of premium materials and those hot-red seat belts and synthetic suede upholstery panels (which look better in person than in photos).
Honda’s advanced safety suite is included with the Type R, which equips forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control. Automatic high-beams are also included, and I’ve always thought that Honda’s automatic emergency response system – which will use a connected phone to call emergency services if the car’s occupants aren’t responsive after a crash – is a technology I’d want to have in my corner.
This is not usually a category where a car like this would score on the higher side, but one of the benefits of the Civic Type R is that it doesn’t demand giving up a lot of practicality relative to any other compact car. It’s got four doors and 727 L of cargo space behind the second row, and aside from the split window treatment on the rear, all-around visibility is excellent.
User Friendliness: 8/10
Not only are the controls thoughtfully laid out, but there are important touches here like deeply recessed cupholders in the front that keep drink containers away from the driver’s elbows. I’m an especially big fan of the cupholders mounted into the middle seat in the second row, which are sturdier and more useful than the armrest style. So few people use that middle seat to hold people anyway that I wish more cars came with this feature.
While it’s not unusual, it must be pointed out that neither the sport seats nor the faux-suede-wrapped steering wheel included here come with a heating function (though the exterior mirrors are heated). Also, while Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are included, the infotainment system is still Honda’s previous-generation version, which isn’t as user-friendly as the more recent smartphone-like iteration. On the upside, there is a wireless phone charging pad.
Time for the good stuff. Honda’s 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm, which pushes its 1,415-kg (3,120-lb) weight through the twisties delightfully with its close-ratio six-speed manual transmission and helical limited-slip differential. Throttle response adjusts according to driver-selectable drive modes, although they do more legwork in adjusting the handling characteristics. However, it’s great that this car always boots up in sport mode because it clearly knows its role. If your heel–toe game needs work – and see below if it doesn’t – the rev-matching system is meant to help smooth downshifts. (I find it gets in the way more often than not and would choose to keep it disabled.)
They may get chilly on cooler days, but the sport seats in the Civic Type R suit my tall-torso, wide-hip build perfectly. (Does that mean they wouldn’t suit this car’s typical buyer quite as well? That’s possible, but I’m hardly complaining.) I’ll also happily rave for days about the pedal box, which is tightly arranged for smooth action and the effortless heel–toe downshifting that I wish I was better at. The action on the shifter is beautifully crisp, though I don’t like the shape of the knob as much as I did the cue-ball-style version used in previous model years, which I found easier to grip. (Admittedly, this is an easy and low-budget fix.)
Driving Feel: 8.5/10
The Type R’s adaptive dampers are where those drive modes really come into play, combining with the electric power steering to give the car clear differences between Comfort, Sport, and +R settings. More importantly, the handling is wonderfully responsive but never gets teeth-rattlingly stiff in the first two modes, which makes this car suitably usable on the average winter-ravaged roadway. (Sadly, this is a road-only test, so commentary on the full track capability of +R mode will need to wait for another time.)
Fuel Economy: 7.5/10
You know, this could be worse given how much fun this thing delivers. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) rates the Type R at 10.6 L/100 km in city driving, 8.3 on the highway, and 9.6 combined. In a week of mixed driving – which included a highway run to a favourite section of twisties and a few runs through them – netted me an average of 9.3 L/100 km of premium-grade fuel. I’d say that’s a fair price for an afternoon of wholesome entertainment.
This is not the cheapest car in its segment – and it’s worth noting that the price is going up a tick more for 2021 with the addition of functionality for the new LogR app – and so the question of value really comes down to either how far you’ll truly be able to push this car to its edge, or how much street cred matters to you. Whether you expect to roll up in this at track days, autocross events, or simply cars-and-coffee meets, the Type R very well could bring the right elements to the table to be worth paying a premium for.
It’s a rare breed who will thoroughly appreciate everything the Honda Civic Type R brings to the table. That joke about manual transmissions being a millennial anti-theft device didn’t come out of nowhere, for example, yet people in my age bracket may find they’re getting too old to credibly pull off this styling. Still, when you know you know, and this car is unquestionably, unapologetically designed for the people who do just that.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4|
|Peak Horsepower||306 hp @ 6,500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||295 lb-ft @ 2,500–4,500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||10.6 / 8.3 / 9.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||727/1,308 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2020 Honda Civic Type R|
|Price as Tested||$45,460|