2020 Honda Civic Type R: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Honda Civic Type R
The Honda Civic has established a solid reputation in the U.S. as reliable, economical transportation — admirable qualities to be sure, but not all that exciting. However, there is one Civic that exudes excitement before it even moves: the Civic Type R. The R stands for Racing (or rapid or rocket or roaring or really, really fun) and this pinnacle of the Civic lineup certainly lives up to its R label, both in styling and performance. For the 2020 model year, the Honda Civic Type R receives updates inside, outside and — most importantly — under the skin.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFastest Honda
Honda has been selling the Civic Type R in the Japanese market for many years, but the variant didn’t come to America until 2017. Although there have been Type R versions in the Honda’s luxury-brand Acura lineup — NSX Type R and Integra Type R (one of our favorite vehicles of all time) — the Civic is the only Honda-branded vehicle to earn this badging, and it is the fastest Honda production car ever. Demographically speaking, it also brings young buyers to the brand.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFully Loaded Test Vehicle
Honda provided a 2020 Honda Civic Type R painted in Championship White with the standard black/red interior for a few days of testing. Championship White is one of the colors exclusive to the Type R — the other is Boost Blue. The Type R resides at the top of the Civic lineup and comes fully loaded with many features including dual-zone climate control, a 540-watt audio system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. No factory options are available. Total retail price of Civic Type R is $37,950 (including destination and handling). Competitors to the Civic Type R include the Subaru STI and Volkswagen Golf R — this used to be a longer list; most high-performance compact cars that would have competed with the Civic Type R have been discontinued.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSafely Equipped
Among the many upgrades for the 2020 Honda Civic Type R is Honda Sensing, which is now standard equipment. This suite of advanced safety features includes forward collision warning and avoidance, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePlays the Part
One look at the Civic Type R and it’s clear—this car is meant for performance driving. Up front, the integrated hood scoop as well as wider front fenders, larger air intakes and Type R badge in the grille set the Type R apart from a standard Civic, as does the red Honda badge. For 2020 bumpers front and rear have been restyled with body-color trim, and the grille opening is 13 percent larger to improve engine cooling.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear View
The back of the Type R really draws attention. Fender flares give the car a powerful stance, but the larger rear spoiler and other rear-end aero treatments scream boy racer. Honda engineers reshaped the rear spoiler of the 2020 Civic Type R to improve downforce. From a more practical standpoint, the rear spoiler is also nicely placed so it doesn’t block the driver’s view through the rear window. A finishing touch to the aft end is a centrally located 3-outlet exhaust system.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBig Wheels, Brakes
The 2020 Honda Civic Type R rides on 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels fitted with 245/30ZR20 high-performance Continental SportContact 6 tires, which provide enormous amounts of grip. The Brembo 4-pistion front brakes have been upgraded for 2020 to a new 2-piece floating disc that does a better job of dissipating heat, which improves braking during enthusiastic driving. The Type R front and rear suspension also gets updates to improve handling—especially in corners.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRacy Interior
As racy as the 2020 Honda Civic Type R looks on the outside, the interior exudes the same level of sportiness. Up front are highly bolstered sport seats covered in an attractive suede-like material in red and black, with Type R emblazoned on the seatbacks. Although the seats look as if they would be a tight fit, they are surprisingly comfortable with excellent support during high-performance driving. Aluminum pedals add to the sporty look, and rubber insets ensure the pedals do not get too slippery under wet shoe soles.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInterior Updates
For 2020 Honda updates the Type R interior in a few key areas, and our favorite is easily the steering wheel. Honda replaces the leather wrap with Alcantara, which not only looks better but also provides much improved grip for the driver’s hands. Other changes include a new synthetic suede shift boot and new aluminum shift knob, which recall the shifter from the Honda S2000 — a fond memory indeed.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear Seat
Unlike the standard Honda Civic rear seat that accommodates three occupants, the Type R has space for two at the rear. Two adults could easily sit in back thanks to decent legroom and headroom. The red seat belts are a nice touch.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUseful Cargo Space
As driving enthusiasts we love performance cars, and especially appreciate cars that do more than simply go fast. The 2020 Honda Civic Type R offers plenty of room for luggage or whatever else needs to be hauled. An added touch: the cargo cover retracts to the side, so when extra space is needed the rear seats can be easily folded and the retracted cargo cover doesn’t impinge on available rear space, which is as roomy as some small crossovers.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUnder the Hood
Powering the 2020 Honda Civic Type R is a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder VTEC engine with Direct Injection that produces 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Power gets sent to the front wheels via a close-ratio 6-speed manual gearbox — the Type R is not available with an automatic transmission. And thanks to its helical limited-slip differential, the Type R can properly manage the power to the front wheels, virtually eliminating torque steer — an impressive feat with more than 300 ponies at the ready.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDrive Modes
The Civic Type R has three drive modes: Comfort, Sport and +R. The default at startup is Sport mode. Each mode changes the settings for the Adaptive Damping System as well as the stability control systems, In +R mode the damping gets set to its firmest setting, while the stability and traction controls are less intrusive or can be turned off. As expected, Comfort mode provides a more civilized ride.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSound Control
The drive modes in the new Honda Civic Type R also regulate a new feature for 2020 — Active Sound Control. This feature is somewhat controversial since it artificially pipes in natural engine sound through the audio system. While the sound outside the vehicle remains the same, +R mode turns up the engine sounds, while Comfort quiets them down. Many enthusiasts will complain that the engine sound should be pure and not artificially introduced or impeded within the cabin, although the system seems to work fine. The engine sounds good in the Type R, and it doesn’t matter much if sound gets piped into the cabin – it enhances the driving experience and most consumers won’t even realize the sound is artificially introduced or suppressed.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
The Civic Type R is easily one of the most entertaining cars on the road for the money. We had concerns that putting more than 300 horsepower to the front wheels would make it difficult to get that power to the road smoothly, but our concerns were quickly mitigated. Pulling into traffic under heavy throttle results in a bit of wheelspin, but the traction control is so non-intrusive that grip gets re-established almost instantly. Acceleration is extremely strong and speed builds quickly.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceExcellent Handling
Even though the 2020 Honda Civic Type R has great straight-line acceleration, it really shines while cornering. Steering is precise with excellent feedback — the Type R practically begs the driver to go faster around turns. We didn’t approach its limits on public roads, but the Type R stays perfectly composed even when driving into a corner faster than planned. The excellent grip — thanks to sticky tires, strong brakes and improved suspension — makes it evident that this hot Civic would be quite happy on the racetrack.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceQuick Shifter
Performance is further enhanced by one of the best manual transmissions available. The short-throw 6-speed shifter feels right — rowing through the gears is like flipping a switch back and forth. The clutch is not overly sensitive, either — operator comfort gets quickly established from the moment the gas pedal goes down. An added bonus is the rev matching, which makes any driver feel like a professional — when downshifting the revs get matched perfectly, so every downshift is quick and smooth, and drivers are rewarded with that wonderful sound of a blipped throttle.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDecent in Rain
Living in the Pacific Northwest means that part of our drive would of course be in the rain. On slick roads we expected this powerful Type R would quickly make us wish for all-wheel drive, but the suspension, tires and excellent traction control ensure that wet roads will do little to spoil some spirited fun.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceComfortable Ride
In order to possess the level of handling exhibited by the Type R, drivers must often sacrifice some level of ride comfort. Not the case with this hot Civic. Even in the firmest +R mode, the ride is surprisingly comfortable — stiff yet not jarring, even when the road gets bumpy.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRoad Noise
A typical buyer of the 2020 Honda Civic Type R probably won’t care as much, but we did notice the high amount of road noise entering the cabin. While driving at speed down some old backroads outside of Seattle, the noise level became high enough to make carrying on a conversation difficult.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFuel Efficient
Even with all its great performance and speed, the 2020 Honda Civic Type R’s s fuel economy is admirable. The EPA rates the Type R at 25 mpg combined, and after considerable time behind the wheel with a rather heavy right foot, the trip computer indicated almost 23 mpg. A sensible Civic remains beneath the racing garb.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRight for You?
While the Honda Civic fits the bill for a large swath of the American public, the Type R is clearly not for everyone. With styling that screams “look at me, I have a fast car,” many will prefer something a bit more subtle. But the Type R has the performance to match its aggressive looks, and for buyers seeking a daily driver that works equally well carving a mountain road or commuting to the office — with the added benefit of Honda’s reliability and fuel efficiency — the Civic Type R may be the best value on the market.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRating: 9.0
Pros: Outstanding handling; excellent value; useful interior space.
Cons: Intrusive road noise; too flamboyant for some.
Bottom Line: A daily driver with the right mix of Civic practicality coupled with high performance.

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