Honda Civic 2019 type r

2019 Honda Civic Type R review

Rating: 8.6
$39,960 $47,520 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
  • Engine Power
  • CO2 Emissions
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Big wings, big wheels, big power. Honda has thrown the kitchen sink at the Civic Type R, and the result is a finely tuned front-drive weapon.
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The development of modern cars is influenced by all manner of external factors. Most drivers demand certain luxuries, which add weight. Governments demand better efficiency, which affects performance. And most people drive their cars in traffic every day, where on-limit handling is totally irrelevant.

Those external influences might not matter to the average buyer, but they're rough on people who really like driving – like, really like it.

Launching a four-door, four-seat hatchback with a polarising aerodynamics package and no automatic option in the age of automotive compromise is a bold move, but the 2019 Honda Civic Type R isn't designed to please everybody.

It's a love letter to people who really like driving – people who really enjoy the thrill of driving. Everyone else be damned.

The extreme-ness kicks off with the exterior. Penned by a designer booted from the Fast and Furious set for being 'a bit much' (not really), the Type R packs supercar levels of aggression into a larger-than-average hatch body, headlined by a towering rear wing and ankle-breaking front splitter.

Plus, three exhaust pipes like you get on a Ferrari F40. It's a lot, but the shape is surprisingly well resolved in person, and Honda says all the aero add-ons are actually functional.

The cabin is similarly aggressive. The driver sits ensconced in a brilliant set of in-house bucket seats trimmed in red and black suede, and the metal pedals are placed perfectly for those who love rev-matching. There's even room for a set of chunky boots in the footwell, although flat-soled Converse are definitely preferable.

The leather steering wheel is wrapped in racy red and black leather and extends out nicely to meet the driver, while the gearknob is a compact, metal unit befitting a car bearing the Type R name.

Some of the fundamentals are less than ideal, though. Although the digital instrument binnacle is clear, with a huge rev counter and clear digital speedometer, it's harder to navigate than the best, and the 7.0-inch infotainment system misses out of satellite navigation. With that said, it gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to counter the negative.

While we're listing tech niggles, there are times we wondered whether someone at Honda had smeared Vaseline over the rear-view camera lens. And there's no volume knob, just a touch slider.

At least the car's practical foundations are strong. The regular Civic is a big hatchback, and the Type R reaps the benefits with 414L of boot space, generous door pockets, and usable back seats. Honda has somewhat inexplicably dropped the central rear seatbelt, making it a pure four-seater.

Given the exterior and cabin are so racy, you'd expect the Type R to feel a bit manic in the city. But if you can deal with disapproving looks from mums in traffic, the hot Civic is surprisingly comfortable, especially with the mode rocker switch flicked into Comfort.

With adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, Honda's camera-based blind-spot monitoring system, and lane-keeping assist as standard, you don't miss out on any of the tech that makes an average (top-spec) Civic a breeze to daily, either.

The clutch is light and direct, and the fact peak torque is available between 2500 and 4500rpm (how very un-VTEC) means you don't need to downshift, downshift and downshift again to slip into gaps in traffic.

Even Sport mode is doable, although the heavier steering and stiffer damping mean you're busier behind the wheel.

But there's always a sense the Type R wants to go faster. Dip the throttle beyond half travel in the bottom gears and it lunges hungrily towards the redline. Bury your right foot when it's wet and the front wheels quickly run out of answers, overwhelmed by a torrent of torque.

Thankfully, they mostly do it in a straight line. You'll get slight tramp in some cases, but torque steer is remarkably well contained for such a powerful front-driver.

The turbocharged four-cylinder 'Earth Dreams VTEC' engine under the bonnet is a bit of a firecracker, with a character belying what's now a fairly conventional layout. Peak power is 228kW, peak torque 400Nm – both in the upper echelon of the hot-hatch class.

With peak torque on tap between 2500 and 4500rpm, it's tractable down low like its turbo'd rivals, but the way the Civic lunges through to its 7300rpm cutout feels more manic. Some small-displacement turbo engines can feel one-dimensional, but the engine in the Type R rewards drivers willing to wring it out with an angry, revvy crescendo to match the low-down shove.

More noise would be nice, though. You get plenty of whooshing, hard-edged induction noise at the top end, but the engine just sounds a bit flat in day-to-day driving, especially when you consider how loud the exterior is.

That engine is mated exclusively with a six-speed manual gearbox. Can't drive a stick, sir? Maybe the base Civic would be a better fit...

The motoring journalists I grew up reading were constantly waxing lyrical about how good Honda transmissions are, and the Civic Type R is proof the brand hasn't lost its touch. The throw is short and feels properly mechanical, snapping from gear to gear with a satisfying flick of the wrist. Even a hint of resistance on the third-to-fourth shift – caused by a life of abuse at the hands of motoring journalists, we'd suggest – couldn't put a dampener on things.

Interestingly, Jez and Curt have both said it's not quite on the level of the ’boxes fitted to the DC2 Integra Type R and S2000. Having driven neither of those cars I can't add to the debate, but suffice to say it's one of the most enjoyable manual gearboxes I've had the pleasure of shifting.

It's also geared nice and short, which means you can run out to redline in, say, second gear without fear of being locked up for life. That does mean the car's pulling a slightly-too-high 2400rpm in sixth at 100km/h, but it's a small price to pay.

Honda includes automatic rev-matching as standard, but the system is buried in a menu that can only be accessed while the car's stopped with the handbrake active. The touchscreen diving seems a bit ridiculous given there's an empty button slot directly above the mode rocker switch – why not just put rev-matching there?

Anyway, save yourself the fiddling and turn the system off when you take delivery. The pedals are in the right spot for DIY rev-matching, and it's something we'd wager the average Type R driver enjoys doing anyway.

The sense of purpose pervading the Civic's powertrain, the barely contained aggression lurking within, has been carried over to the rest of the car's controls. The brake pedal is pleasingly firm from the top of its travel, and the steering is direct with just two turns lock-to-lock.

The little hints of purpose filtering through the car around town bubble to the top when you're really having a crack. Long story short, the Civic Type R is nothing short of brilliant to punt hard.

Honda hasn't really bothered dialling a false sense of playfulness into the chassis, there's just a sense the car wants to hoover up the road in the fastest, most efficient way possible. It forces you to focus on making every input count – to dig the scalpel from your kit bag in place of a hammer.

Switching into +R mode stiffens up the dampers and adds weight to the steering, but the car maintains its composure when confronted with mid-corner bumps or imperfect road surfaces. It's taut, but never harsh or brittle, and you're always able to dial things back with the mode switch.

With the car's purposeful feeling comes a degree of edginess – take liberties and the rear will get involved, occasionally triggering stability control – which serves to focus the driver. This isn't a car to be taken lightly, which feels appropriate given the Type R badge on the bootlid.

Although our mega test has already proven it's a track weapon, I think we need another Type R and a racetrack to just really confirm that. Don't worry team, happy to take care of that one.

Maintenance takes place every 10,000km or 12 months, with the first 100,000km worth of services capped at $323 per visit. Honda's five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty carries over to the Type R. It drinks 95RON fuel, and we averaged 10L/100km through a mix of city, highway and hard driving.

Confession time: I really didn't understand the Civic Type R upon our first meeting. A humungous nail nuked one of the liquorice-thin 245/30 tyres, and I was helping with photography in near-freezing weather, where there was no way of putting power down in first or second. Call it a perfect storm.

The appeal is clear now, though. Its $51,990 before on-road costs is a lot of money for a front-drive hatchback, but you could easily argue the Civic Type R is one of the most thoroughly honed front-wheel-drive performance cars ever to grace our roads.

It's a surgical instrument proving Honda still knows how to make enthusiasts smile, and I desperately need to spend more time with one to delve deeper.

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