There are times you encounter some tough questions in life. What should I do with my life? Should I look at it half-empty or half full? Can money really buy happiness?
And that was just to name a few.
Lately though, there has been a burning question in our minds: Civic Type R or STI?
OK, so that wasn't exactly in the same league as some of life's more important questions, but still, it's a valid one for many a car guy. The front drive, 300+ horsepower Type R was priced more than the all-wheel drive, also 300+ horsepower STI when it was introduced. Logic (and the spec sheet) tells many of us to lean in the Subaru's direction, but after spending several days getting to know the new Civic Type R (or CTR) that may change, even if the Honda drives two wheels less.
This Type R is quite symbolic for Honda, a company that needed a big win after being battered and bruised by one issue after another. They are working through problems like the Takata airbag issue (still ongoing) and were affected by the Kobe Steel data falsification scandal. Their homeland and their factories had to weather acts of god like an earthquake, and with it, a tsunami. Even their factories abroad took a hit a few years ago in the form of flash floods, sometimes resulting in a lack of cars to physically sell in our market. If those weren't enough, their much anticipated Formula One comeback as an engine supplier met with catastrophe; so much so that McLaren filed for a divorce.
To say that Honda needed the Civic Type R to deliver on the promise is an understatement. Judging by the styling, they did... at least if you had aspirations to be a boy racer.
Honda took the Civic, sent it to their skunkworks, and what came out was this. They made quite a few revisions like bigger openings on the bumper, a functional NACA-style duct on the hood, the wider body with the flared fenders, the big wing with the vortex generators on the roof, and the triple tailpipes sticking out the back. The wheels are massive 20-inchers with 245/30 R20 tires; they're so big that they actually make the big Brembo rotors up front look tiny by comparison. There's a body kit too, but despite the carbon fiber look, they're not actually CF; I have to say, that was a bit disappointing.
It's not as obvious as it should be, but if you look closer, you'll realize that this isn't a 4-door sedan. The base car for the Type R is the Civic 5-door hatchback, a body type that isn't offered by Honda here; so if you see a 4-door “Type R”, it's most definitely an inspired example.
I open the door, but before getting in, I reach down to pop the hood. As I did so, there was a plate on the door frame that indicated the point of origin: the United Kingdom. Now that may seem surprising to many, but Honda actually hasn't produced the Type R in Japan for a while now; at least not since the 4-door FD2. This one is made at their factory in England, making it just about as British as a Lotus or a Mini, and means it has to travel halfway around the world just to be here.
The engine, however, traveled even farther: it's made in the U.S.A. So what we actually have here is a car that was first conceived in Japan by a deeply Japanese company, but is now made in a place in the UK that was known for making the Spitfire, with an engine built in a country known for V8's and in a state that's perhaps most famous for Procter and Gamble. And Lebron James. Honda may have taken the term “global” a bit too literally.
Still, it's of no consequence; the 2.0-liter under the hood is most definitely powerful: 310 horsepower is nothing to scoff at, and neither is 400 Nm of torque. To put that in perspective, the original Type R had 185 PS from its 1.6 liter B16B. The reason the new Type R is powerful is direct injection; a technology that enables a more complete burn by squirting very fine mists of fuel directly into the combustion chamber. That means a bit more power and better efficiency. Oh, and Honda put in a turbo too, which is probably why this engine's output sailed past the 300 horsepower mark.
Finally, I'm inside the Type R. Actually this is my second time in it; the first one was a quick sample drive at the Batangas Racing Circuit last year, but this is the first time I'll truly get to take it around the street.
Despite the racing-inspired look of the interior and those reclining bucket-type seats, the Type R is very, very comfortable. Any car that wears the Type R badge isn't known for pampering their occupants simply because outright performance and creature comforts are on opposite ends of the same spectrum. The more performance you want to extract, the more you'll have to sacrifice for comfort, particularly because of weight. Yet somehow, I feel relaxed sitting in this driver's seat, a clear contrast to some performance cars I've tried before like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X; the Recaro seat's bolsters really dig into your flanks if you enjoy your ramen excursions or your tonkatsu nights (with unlimited rice) a bit too much. Like me.
The more I look around the cabin, the more I realize that this Type R is still a Civic in every possible way. Power windows: check. Power steering: check. The Civic's nice infotainment system: check. Heck, it even has the same brake hold feature that's so very useful in traffic. This isn't a stripped down Japanese -err- European street performance machine; its a fully functioning automobile with all the conveniences of a top of the line Civic. One thing that they did delete is that pesky touch-sensitive volume control on the steering wheel buttons; I never liked it, and it just wasn't fit for a machine where you don't want to accidentally max out the volume while driving hard.
The back seat is, well, a nice place to be too. Like the standard Civic RS sedan, you do sit a bit low and the big red racing-style seats do block the view quite a bit, but it's alright; there's still plenty of legroom. And because it's a Type R, you get red seat belts! Being a hatchback, the trunk is also quite sizeable and can be expanded by folding the rear seatbacks; it's not fully flat, but there really is plenty of room. There's also a tonneau cover that retracts to the right; useful if you have something tall in the boot like a two tiered cake. Yes, I delivered a cake my wife made to a birthday party with the Type R.
Powering up the Type R is simply pushing the start button, lighting up that engine and initiating a rather nice “gauge” ceremony; like the Civic RS, the CTR has screens instead of analog gauges. Unlike the RS, however, this Civic only comes with one transmission type: a proper 3-pedal, 6-speed manual with a short throw shifter and a titanium gear knob, just like the original.
Now it's one thing to have a performance car that has nice and soft seats despite their appearances, but I expected that the ride would be harsh and that the action of the clutch would be one hell of a workout for my left leg, but no; the Type R rides and drives like any other Civic. In normal or even comfort mode (on the drive selector) the suspension has quite a bit of give, offsetting the size of the wheels and tires that barely have a side profile. Even the resistance of the clutch isn't anywhere near as stiff as expected; as a point of reference, a friend brought out his Evo 6, and the clutch on that was quite tough by the Type R's standards.
The CTR's manners really made it a friendly car to drive around town for average everyday chores. The guys who knew what this bewinged car is were probably wondering what I was doing loading groceries onto the back of this 300+ horsepower car in the supermarket or what I was doing driving it in Metro Manila traffic on a payday Friday, but it was really performing its civic duty despite that horrible pun. It didn't wake up the neighbors when I started it up for a night's drive. Heck, even the fuel economy was superb: what other high performance car can achieve 8.9 kilometers to a liter in city driving with traffic that lowers average speeds to just 20 km/h?
When I started playing around with the performance features and took the car to some winding roads, the Type R transformed into something incredibly fun, especially with +R mode engaged; it sharpens the throttle response, relaxes the traction control, and stiffens up the suspension. Basically, it activates everything you want to carve mountains with.
The acceleration is something better described as thrust. Most people talk about the EK9 as a bit of a screamer past 5500 rpm, but the Type R felt more like an Evo thanks to that turbo. It's not laggy, but the boost is profound; once it fully kicks in, the smile on the driver's face just gets a little bit bigger with the rush. This is a car that can do 0 to 100 km/h in about 5 seconds, after all.
But more than that, it's the CTR's manners in the corners that surprises me the most: this does not feel like a front wheel drive at all. This thing grips and grips, and when it does give (which is harder to induce than expected) the Type R is perfectly dialed in that it's very controllable. And rocketing out of the turns doesn't result in unwanted wheelspin from the inside front tire thanks to the LSD. This is a car that you can flirt with the limits, but come out unscathed.
Even more unexpected was the transmission's programming. I approach a corner at speed, I then dive on the brakes, but just when my foot was pivoting to blip the throttle, the digital tachometer showed that the Type R blipped on its own. That's the rev-match function; effectively simulating heel-and-toe braking and downshifting. Personally I found the automatic rev-matching weird; thankfully it can also be deactivated so you can do-it-yourself, and this car has perfect pedal placement to do it with.
This CTR isn't perfect, but it's right up there. The only things I would change would be removing the carbon faux-ber kit or replacing them with real CF, and perhaps even downsizing the wheels to something more manageable like 19 or 18 inchers if possible. The 20 inch wheels are just too big and can make you a bit paranoid given the many potholes around. Inching down would probably even help get the brakes to fill in the wheels more aptly.
Sitting at a cafe up in the mountains east of the metropolis with a warm cup of 3-in-1, I'm trying to sum up the experience that is the 2018 Honda Civic Type R. This thing is far from what I expected it to be on the road. On the track and on an open road it's a monster that you can bend to your will, especially if you have some long straights and banked corners.
Many will argue that the FK8, a chassis code that almost sounds like an obscenity in chatspeak, is not a pure Type R in the sense of the term. Purists will argue that the purest ever Civic Type R is the EK9, and I would agree. But this 2018 CTR is more than that: it performs daily tasks expected of any compact automobile.
That, perhaps, is the not-so-obvious selling point of the Type R. Sure, everyone will hype the performance or the Nurburgring lap time of this Civic with the red H on its grill, but the Type R is more than just about its outright performance on the limit. This 310 PS machine is about accessible, enjoyable, and daily-driveable performance. You don't have to wait until the clock strikes midnight, wake up on wee hours on Sunday mornings or go on faraway trackdays to enjoy what the Civic Type R is about.
That, in my opinion, is what makes this special, perhaps even more so than the STI.