Boasting everyday comfort, boyish looks, and smokin’ race track chops, the Civic Type R knocks on the door of practical sports car nirvana.
A single-propeller floatplane quickly accelerated out of a charming marina in Seattle, Washington. Much to my surprise, it only took the bright-blue bird about 150 feet to take off, and within minutes the Pacific Ocean was visible on the horizon. Our destination? The Alderbrook Resort located in the lakeside town of Union, Washington.
Nestled between the Olympic National Forest and Scenic Beach State Park lie some of the most incredible driving roads I’ve ever experienced. This natural wonderland is where I’d get to experience a Japanese performance icon. But not just any icon — a practical one. One that allows you to bring the family along for a memorable ride.
Pinnacle of Civic
You might be wondering, what exactly is a Type R? It all starts with a 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback with a manual transmission, which then has its engine tweaked for more horsepower; its brakes ballooned for a stronger bite; its body massaged for cooler looks and better aerodynamic performance, and its interior covered in red fabric for, well, because it looks hot.
The end result is a 306-horsepower, Brembo brake-wearing, super-sleek-looking Honda Civic with really bright red seats. Oh, and it has three programmable driving modes: Comfort, Sport, and Type R.
At first glance, the sizzling little hatch rubbed me immature with its aggressive fenders, black wheels, and yup, the big rear wing. And did I mention it has bright red seats?
It would’ve been easy to lose hope at this point. I’ve been seduced by hot hatches before, and our weeklong escapades typically end in disappointment. I wasn’t sure my mind and body were ready for this, but I soldiered on with an open heart.
No More Shaken Passenger Syndrome
It was 6:30 a.m. and birds fluttered in song outside my window. A dense breeze was blowing in from Union Lake, and the distant mountains reminded me of previous drives along the Swiss Alps.
I decided to save myself for the track so I rode shotgun from the resort to our first stop: Ridge Motorsports Park, a road course with more blind corners and elevation changes than your favorite Six Flags rollercoaster.
“Holy crap,” I yelled, “This is comfortable!” The bolstered sports seats may look hardcore, but they’re they’re actually comfortable. A couple of minutes later I asked the driver which driving mode he was in? “Sport,” he answered. I was floored. We had just driven through a less-than-pristine stretch of road, and I didn’t feel my organs shake. As it turns out, I was in for a big surprise.
Is the Type R an enthusiast’s Civic? Yes. Will most owners take it to the track? Probably not. I mean, I wouldn’t. Life keeps me busy, and the last thing I’d want to do if I owned one is to accelerate the components’ wear and tear.
Luckily, the 20 or so Type Rs lined up along pit lane weren’t mine, so I didn’t have to worry about wear and tear, just crash and burn. After a brief talk from professional race car driver Ryan Lewis, I headed out on track for my reconnaissance laps. I quickly realized that Ridge Motorsports Park was a primo track for highlighting the hot hatch’s capabilities. From zero understeer to rev-matching on downshifts, the Type R was precise, lightning-quick, but more importantly, it was fun to drive.
The Civic Type R slices apexes, rockets down straights and brakes deep into turns well enough to where body parts previously incapable of smiling begin to grin.
In the end, Honda didn’t fly me to Seattle to drive a race car. They flew me there to drive a Civic — the epitome of reliability, comfort, and efficiency. And as much fun as it was to drive 120 mph without worrying about cops, it wasn’t the real reason why I was there. My mission was to find out how suited this car is for the daily grind. Plus, buying a street car based on its track performance is kind of silly anyway.
Real World Civic
It was time to find out whether Honda had exorcised comfort and practicality like Ford did with the Focus RS.
With a lingering post-track-day headache, I buckled up for 200 miles of scenic roads. Even better, I had a car to myself (normally it’s two people per car), which meant I could tackle the route at my own pace.
The first leg would take me to the picturesque Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend. The 75-mile drive consisted primarily of 55-mph roads with plenty of stop lights and a fair amount of traffic. With the Type R in “Comfort” mode, my iPhone charging through the USB port, and Apple CarPlay deployed, I zoomed through quaint little towns in style and comfort.
Suddenly I thought, “Wow, this A/C is extremely quiet!” My 2012 Civic’s air conditioning fan is obnoxiously loud. Even with three exhaust pipes in the back, noise levels were civil at cruising speeds, allowing me to conduct a hands-free call with Missi loud and clear.
This is where the “Civic” in Civic Type R began to show. During rush hour, the six-speed manual’s clutch and shifter felt buttery-smooth. The steering feel was never too soft nor too heavy, and the Brake Hold feature made my life easy by automatically applying the brakes at stop lights. Lastly, visibility was great all around, but I wish Honda wouldn’t have skipped blind-spot monitoring.
After five hours on the road, my XL-self wasn’t bruised by the bolstered seats, and my left knee hadn’t disintegrated from clutch actuation. Above all, my lower back was fresh like a cucumber. Had I done the same in the Focus RS, I would’ve had to drag myself out of the seat Wolf of Wall Street-style. Yes, the Focus is that stiff.
Comfort mode truly delivers comfort, and while you’ll never forget that you’re driving a Type R thanks to the red glare of the seats and the occasional turbo swoosh, this hot hatch is also a docile little thing.
Can it Family?
Sadly, I couldn’t take the fam to test family friendliness. That being said, the Type R’s interior dimensions (including trunk) are identical to the Hatchback’s. Stay tuned for when Honda loans us a car to keep at home for a bit.
Despite being offered in a well-equipped single trim, the Type R skips a few niceties that would’ve made it an even better everyday ride.
- Heated seats & steering wheel (Think of the folks up north!)
- Blind spot monitoring (This is a big one.)
- Interior only available in red
Is It Mom & Dad’s Ultimate Hot Hatch?
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: Priorities. After getting nearly twice as much seat time than I expected, I couldn’t help but long for my own Type R. I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore a stunning state, at the wheel of a truly groundbreaking vehicle. Even better, one that the average family can afford.
Really, in many ways, it’s the perfect hot hatch. Think about it this way, what do most people want from a hatchback? Practicality. What do most people want from a Civic? Reliability, quality, and fuel-efficiency. What does the Type R deliver? All of the above, plus a massively gratifying driving experience for $33,900 (plus dealer markup).
It’s not only the ultimate mommy and daddy hot hatch, but everything I could desire in a sub-$100,000 four-door sports car.