Civic Type R Is Honda’s Technology Showcase
Honda’s hottest-ever Civic maxes out FWD technology to go 175 mph and handle better than ever.
Despite humble roots, Honda’s 2023 Civic Type R is a Porsche for the rest of us: A small car destined for greatness, with more entertainment value than a three-day Netflix binge.
In familiar Honda fashion, the roots of that greatness can be traced to smart tech and engineering rather than showy design (aside from bordello-red seats, best paired with Championship White paint that has for decades been a Type R signature). Chief engineer Hideki Kakinuma led the development effort for the 2023 Type R. It’s the sixth generation of this affordable overachiever – but only the second sold in the United States.
This 171-mph (275-km/h) Civic already tops its cartoonish-looking predecessor, and not just because of its more-tasteful, grown-up design. The Civic Type R now is history’s fastest front-drive vehicle at both Germany’s Nürburgring and Japan’s Suzuka circuit, including a blistering 7-minute, 43-second lap of the ‘Ring.
A week-long test of the $44,890 Honda in New England affirmed Kakinuma’s goal, to blend furious pace with driver involvement, safety and everyday practicality. Kakinuma said the frustrating limitations of previous Type Rs, from chassis dynamics to packaging and performance, were all addressed.
“The Civic Type R is not just fast, but is a sports model that can be driven with complete confidence and fills the driver with an overwhelming desire to keep driving,” Kakinuma said. The Type R “symbolizes the car Honda has dreamed of making,” he continued.
Architecture, chassis fettling
Based on the 11th-generation Civic and its new global architecture, the Type R gets a 1.4-in (36-mm) longer wheelbase, a wider track and a 15% jump in rear torsional rigidity. Fenders flare both front and rear and Honda even reshaped and widened the Civic’s rear doors to smooth the transition into swelling rear arches.
Lighter, stronger materials wrap the body and chassis, including circular frames around the front strut towers and behind the rear seats. The Type R uses 3.8 times more structural adhesive than before, especially around spot welds to boost joint stiffness. A lightweight resin hatch and front bulkhead save weight. On the practical front, the hatch remains vacation-friendly and there’s 1.4 in more rear legroom. The aforementioned seats deliver a hot-red combo of style and support, with cutouts for five-point racing seatbelts.
Honda’s trick dual-axis front suspension integrates aluminum knuckles and a new damper fork to reduce steering-axis offset by 0.75 in (19 mm), despite a 3.5-in (90-mm) wider track than a standard Civic. The dual-axis layout seems to quell virtually any torque-steer antics, making for easier romps to 60 mph (97 km/h) in a fleet 5.3 sec., or a 13.9-sec. quarter mile.
A standard helical limited-slip differential boosts traction on corner exits, without telltale tire-squealing to upset The Law. Front spring rates are twice as stiff as a basic Civic and a hollow front stabilizer bar is 1.7 times stiffer. Smartly retuned adaptive dampers boost ride comfort and control. Natural-feeling, ultra-quick electric power steering requires just 2.1 turns lock-to-lock, while a dual-pinion steering rack varies ratio over a 17% range.
Flick the consummate six-speed manual transmission with its weighted aluminum shift knob — there’s no automatic — and stomp the gas. There’s the barest tug of torque steer – impressive in a muscular front-driver whose direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0-L I4 rises to 315 hp and 310 lb-ft (420 Nm). A flywheel lightened by 18% reduces inertia by 25% and reaches rev targets 10% faster; the engine redlines at 7000 rpm – yet first or second gear bang into the rev limiter in a hurry. Efficiency rises via a low-inertia turbocharger with resized, reshaped turbine blades and a 10% bump in intake flow, all delivering a noticeable boost in mid-range torque.
Four adjustable driving modes include a fiery R+ setting. A useful Individual mode allows the driver to keep the adaptive suspension in its most-compliant form, while cranking up throttle response, steering, exhaust and other systems for maximum punch and feedback. That R+ mode stripes (swaps?) the reconfigurable, 10.2-inch digital driver’s cluster with a racy horizontal tach and a row of Formula 1-inspired illuminated shift lights. Even the automated engine rev matching is adjustable and faster than before. The Honda also achieves peak torque at a lower 2,600 rpm, making it easier to loaf around town with no urge to constantly downshift.
Despite flaunting fewer unsightly body doodads than before, the Honda generates more cooling and aerodynamic downforce. A handsomely enlarged honeycomb grille boosts the effective opening by 48%, while a functional hood vent dissipates heat from a beefed-up radiator core. Subtle vent triangles on the grille direct air to cool hard-working Brembo brakes, including 13.8-in. (351-mm) front rotors with four-piston calipers. Compared to the previous Type R, Honda claims a 10% reduction in pad temperatures after five track laps. Out back, a composite rear wing on die-cast aluminum stanchions not only looks more professional and imposing (at least to some eyes); it also increases downforce and reduces drag versus the outgoing model.
A switch to 19-in wheels, perhaps counterintuitive given the previous 20s, brings a quartet of gains, engineers said: Less unsprung weight and reduced drag, while a taller sidewall provides enhanced ride compliance and room for some of the fattest tires on any front-driver: 265/30/19 rubber boosts the contact patch 8%.
A straight-through exhaust design boosts flow by 13% and ends in a somewhat gaudy trio of trumpeting outlets. The larger central unit gets an adaptive, driver-adjustable valve that squeezes a slightly better tune from Honda’s 4-cylinder honker.
The 2023 Civic Type R’s biggest flaw? A puny 12.4-gal. (47L) fuel tank will have drivers swearing the Honda sprang a leak, despite a decent 22/28 city/highway mpg EPA rating. Road
noise is a constant wingman, the result of obsessive performance focus and lightweighting; the Civic Type R weighs 3188 lb (1446 kg). And if we’re nitpicking, voice commands for the Honda’s screen-based infotainment system are essentially useless.
Fortunately, most drivers will be too busy whooping it up to worry about chatting up the screen. This hatchback is all about balance: The Civic of Champions feels solid and silky, freewheeling and pragmatic. The $43,990 Type R will blitz a backroad as quickly as many $100,000 performance cars, but with room for family and a bit left in the bank account. There’s only one question for chief engineer Kakinuma: How is Honda going to top this one?