2021 Type R on test: giving Honda's hot hatch some stick
Search Driven for Honda for sale
2021 HONDA CIVIC TYPE R
- Fantastic engine, sharp manual
- Handling nuance
- Sports car seats
- Nerdy culture surrounds it
- Looks like it's crashed into a Tupperware factory
- Cluttered instruments and infotainment
Let me tell you the story of the manual-transmission gearlever in the revised Honda Civic Type R. There’s now a 90g counterweight inside the knob, designed to improve shift feel and accuracy. The boot is suede and that knob is now a teardrop shape, which the press information breathlessly describes as being “reminiscent of [the] beloved EK9 Civic Type R”.
Please bear with me for a moment while I go and Google what an EK9 is.
Oh right, that one. Do you reckon Honda might be taking this whole thing a bit too seriously? Obsessing over the minutiae of gearshift action, two-piece brake rotors that remove 17 per cent of play before they engage, adding bits to what is already a pretty ridiculous body kit to balance out a reduction in downforce from a 13 per cent larger grille... the list goes on.
I know people who drop model codes into Type R conversation will be very po-faced about all this, but aren’t hot hatches just supposed to be a bit of a laugh? They’re not bespoke creations where every detail is agonised over – the whole point is that you take an ordinary family hatch, throw a big engine and sportier suspension into it and go have fun.
But with the Type R, you feel like the factory expectation is that you’re out every weekend trying to shave a few tenths off your track-day lap times.
Indeed, that’s exactly what you can do in the latest Type R, because it has a data logger driven from your mobile phone that includes information on real-time performance, steering and braking smoothness… and, um, lap times. The app is called Honda LogR and of course it can store all that info so that you can show it to your mates, who own EP3s or FD2s (cheers Google).
Did I mention the Adaptive Damper System (ADS) can now assess road conditions 10 times faster than the previous system, while new suspension bushings and joints have further sharpened the very sharp steering feel of the Type R?
Here’s the thing: the Type R is an easy car to make fun of because it just goes too far into the fine detail. It’s the geekiest hot hatch out there and proud of it.
Here’s the other thing about the Type R: while so much of the specification is designed to please people who wear a race suit to bed instead of proper jammies, it’s simply a brilliant thing to drive on the road. All that track-focused tweaking does nothing to diminish the way the Type R engages the driver in the real world.
The engine is unchanged: a 2.0l turbo that delivers 228kW/400Nm – both at the pointy end of outputs for four-cylinder, front-drive hot hatches. The powerplant is still fast, furious and fairly lag-free; it gets a bit more aural oomph in the new model with Active Sound Control (ASC), which pipes enhanced engine sound through the audio speakers. Tut-tut all you want, but it sounds perfectly natural.
The handling is really all about nuance, but it can be about speed if you want: the steering is substantial and the mechanical grip extreme. There’s a real difference between Comfort, Sport and R+ modes, but even the most aggressive setting is perfectly usable on Kiwi backroads.
At start-up it actually reverts to the middle setting, Sport, which is where you be most of the time anyway. You don’t even have to flick into R+ when you’ve decided to play, although you do get a more prominent exhaust note and a more aggressive version of the automated rev-matching downshifts for the manual gearbox.
It all feels incredibly specialised, but then you look around the interior and remember that it really is just based on a Civic after all. The instrumentation and displays are pretty untidy, but the Type R seats are sensational and the steering wheel is now wrapped in tactile Alcantara. With garish bright red bits… which match the bright red inserts on the seats.
So the Civic Type R is an astoundingly sophisticated hot hatch with a remarkably unsophisticated sense of style. Sure, some of that addenda is functional, but in other markets there’s a Type R Sport Line with smaller spoilers and a lot less red warpaint, and that really appeals. Granted, that’s all a matter of personal taste. Actually love the new Boost Blue Pearl colour, though.
So back to business and kudos to Honda for persisting with, and trying to perfect the manual transmission, when so many manufacturers have given up completely. Yes, that limits the Type R’s appeal (there’s no automatic option of any kind), but isn’t that the point? It’s a special car made by, and for, people who really care.
HONDA CIVIC TYPE R
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four
GEARBOX: 6-speed manual, FWD