BMW, Take Note: Honda’s Keeping ‘Type R’ Exclusive

There aren’t many vehicles with the Honda Civic’s bandwidth. One reason for the compact sedan’s popularity is there’s a version for everybody. The base Civic is a comfortable and fairly-reliable commuter. For those who want a bit more spice, there’s the Civic Si. And, a few years ago, Honda finally brought over the Civic Type R, marking a return to affordable performance absent since the S2000. With these performance trims, the Civic lineup resembles BMW’s M-branding somewhat. But there’s one thing Honda’s doing with the Type R moniker that BMW could learn from.

The Civic will be the only Honda Type R

2021 Civic Type R Limited Edition
2021 Civic Type R Limited Edition | Honda

Recently, Honda announced a limited-edition 2021 Civic Type R that’s worth the price of entry. At the same time, The Drive reports, Honda also announced some changes to the whole Civic Type R lineup.

2020 Honda Civic Type R rear
2020 Honda Civic Type R rear | Honda

To reduce the likelihood of overheating, the 2020 Type R’s grille is larger, with a reworked front air splitter. Non-limited-edition Type Rs also get recalibrated dampers, as well as strengthened suspension components. Honda also installed new, lighter front brake rotors, and pads that better-resist fade. In addition, the 2020 Civic Type R gets a new performance-logging infotainment app, which, according to Motor Trend, provides drivers with data to improve lap times and driving “smoothness”.

But there was more Civic Type R news to come. In addition to a Europe-only, more sedate variant called the Sport Line, Autoblog reports that Honda “takes the Type R name and brand very seriously.” So seriously, in fact, that no other Honda product besides the Civic will wear the Type R nameplate or red ‘H’ badge.

Honda Type R vs. BMW M: a branding perspective

In their interview with Autoblog, Honda technical consultant Ko Yamamoto and Civic Type R project leader Hideki Kakinuma explained that the Type R name is only for Honda-badged vehicles with a racing connection. Meaning, there won’t be an HR-V Type R. But, since Honda does race Civics, the Civic gets a road-going Type R.

This also precludes any Acura Type R products, which includes the current NSX supercar. Although there was an NSX Type R before, that was a Honda-badged Japan-only product. In the US, Acura is positioned as a luxury brand. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be high-performance Acuras. In an interview with Motor1, Kakinuma explained that such vehicles would be called ‘Type S’.

MT reports that Kakinuma didn’t discount the possibility of an electric Type R. It’s just that, at the moment, only the Civic captures the “base concept and philosophy of being a Type R.”

2020 BMW X5 M
2020 BMW X5 M | BMW

What’s interesting to note is the similarity between the Type R badge and BMW’s M badge. Both are derived from a strong motorsports heritage, meant to indicate race-car thinking applied to road cars. The first Type R, the original NSX, was developed based on NSX owners’ racetrack inputs. Honda then used that approach on the more affordable and attainable Civic. BMW did much the same, using knowledge gleaned from creating the M1 supercar to create the first M3 from the entry-level 3-Series.

2020 BMW X6 M side
2020 BMW X6 M side | BMW

However, once BMW saw the enthusiasm and sales that resulted from M cars, it spread the badge to almost every single vehicle it sells. Honda, though, is keeping the Type R badge on just one car. And that will likely be the smarter move.

Are there too many M vehicles?

2018 BMW M5 Competition
2018 BMW M5 Competition | BMW

Of course, that’s not to say BMW has completely lost sight of what M means. Every M-badged vehicle, from the M5 to the X6 M, does genuinely offer more performance than their non-M counterparts. The problem is that ‘M’ stands for ‘motorsports’—and ‘performance’ is not the same as ‘motorsports.’ High-power SUVs like the X5 M and Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk may not be unusual anymore, but that doesn’t necessarily make them good track machines.

From a sales perspective, Autoblog muses, BMW is making a good call. People see the M badge, they understand that it’s a faster, more expensive car. The problem is, as The Drive explained, as BMW spread the name of M around, it logically lost exclusivity. Instead of being something truly special, it was just another nameplate. Like Syndrome said in The Incredibles: “When everyone’s super, no one will be.”

The Honda Civic Type R, though, will still feel special. It’ll be the one and only Type R in the showrooms. And that’ll keep it desirable for longer than BMW’s ever-present M will.

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