The Integra Type R never wore a Honda badge in the US. But along with Fast and Furious, it helped create a wave of JDM love that’s never really gone away. We could only watch and envy the markets which received the early Civic Type R models. However, eventually, as with the Nissan GT-R, Honda’s hottest hatch landed in the States. And after driving the updated-for-2020 Honda Civic Type R, I can confidently tell you it lives up to the legacy.
What’s new and what’s carried over on the 2020 Honda Civic Type R
Honda didn’t change the Civic Type R significantly for 2020, Road & Track reports. It’s still a front-wheel-drive hot hatch, powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Said engine still makes 306 hp and 295 lb-ft, and it’s linked to a 6-speed manual and a limited-slip differential.
Instead of massive updates, the 2020 Civic Type R is more about refining and improving several key areas, Motor Trend explains. As Car and Driver experienced, 2018 and 2019 models could overheat during long-term track runs. So, for 2020, the hot hatch has a redesigned grille and upgraded radiator for better cooling. The front Brembo brake rotors have also been redesigned for better heat dissipation. Plus, they’re each about 2.5 pounds lighter, Car and Driver reports.
As before, the Honda Civic Type R has adaptive suspension dampers, with 3 settings: Comfort, Sport, and +R. They’re toggled by a center-console-mounted switch; each driving mode also changes the throttle response as well as the steering and Active Sound Control settings. The latter, which is a new feature for 2020, plays exhaust noise through the speakers, Roadshow explains. Also, the dampers themselves have been updated, Automobile reports, as have the bushings, ball joints, and suspension geometry.
As the range-topping model in the lineup, the $36,995 Honda Civic Type R comes fully-loaded inside and out, Motor1 reports. Besides some carbon-fiber and other minor accessories, the only real option is the color. This hot hatch comes standard with navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Alcantara and suede-like interior trim, and well-bolstered red front sport seats. Plus, for 2020 it comes with both a performance-logging app and Honda’s full ADAS suite. The latter includes adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and lane-departure warning.
The Civic Type R is a JDM fantasy come to life
There are some downsides to driving a 2020 Honda Civic Type R in and around Chicago. The chassis and suspension, even in Comfort Mode, although well-dampened, are still on the stiff side. Be careful when driving over railroad crossings with a full coffee cup.
Also, my older relatives found the CTR’s front seats understandably a bit harder to get in and out of than conventional seats. Plus, the bolstering makes reaching into your pockets for things more difficult.
All that being said, the Honda Civic Type R is worth those headaches. It’s worth them and more. This thing is a blast to drive.
It may be stiff, but it’s still more compliant than any car with wheels that big and tire sidewalls that thin should be. To paraphrase MT, I’m not sure which eldritch being Honda’s engineers contracted with to make a 306-hp FWD hot hatch have no torque steer, but it worked. Even in Comfort Mode, the steering is sharp, if a shade too light for its speed. But in Sport Mode, it’s weighted perfectly. It’s also very direct, which, combined with the suspension, makes for an extremely agile car. Give it more throttle in a corner, and the rear end tightens its line almost like a RWD car.
Then there’s the shifter. MT reports that, while the shifter knob is redesigned, and the lever has both a counterweight and shorter throws, it’s not significantly different than the pre-update one. All I know is that it’s a joy to use. Every upshift and downshift feels solid and so mechanically satisfying. The clutch has a well-defined bite point, and the automatic rev-matching makes you feel like a hero every time you downshift.
Commuting with it
The Honda Civic Type R’s other strength is that, when you don’t want to carve up back roads, it’s still a Civic at heart. Albeit a stiffened and be-winged one.
In Comfort Mode, the suspension is compliant, and the exhaust noise quiets down. The lane-keeping assist and lane-departure warning work well, only intruding when absolutely necessary. The wheels and tires do make more noise, but it’s not really an issue. Even the wing doesn’t intrude too much on rear visibility. Though that’s coming from the owner of a roll-bar-equipped NB Miata.
Admittedly, one or two of the Civic Type R’s plastics betray its lower-price origins. However, although my relatives didn’t like the seats, they did praise the interior design. The Alcantara and suede are soft and luxurious to the touch. And the seats themselves are more comfortable on longer drives than you might imagine. Unfortunately, their design means they can’t offer heating or ventilation. And there’s no middle rear seat, just a space for cupholders and storage.
The Honda Civic Type R’s practicality shines through in other areas, though. It has more rear cargo room than the Golf R, Car and Driver reports. And the center armrest is not only padded with suede, but it can also slide forwards and backward. Underneath that armrest are movable trays and cupholders, complete with a USB outlet. The center console has more outlets, along with 2 levels of storage.
How do other hot hatches compare?
MT ranked the pre-updated Honda Civic Type R ahead of the Subaru WRX STI, Ford Focus RS, and the pre-update Golf R. Car and Driver also found the CTR to be better than the Golf R, although the latter is more luxurious. And while the 2022 GTI is noticeably out-gunned, it will also likely be even easier to live with on a daily basis.
Besides the Golf R, the Civic Type R’s biggest rival is arguably the Hyundai Veloster N. It’s down about 30 hp, Car and Driver reports, though it’s also $9500 cheaper. And while it doesn’t offer navigation, it has a larger infotainment screen than the Type R. Also, unlike the Civic Type R, Hyundai offers the Veloster N with blind-spot monitoring as standard, Car and Driver reports. Plus, for 2021, the Korean hot hatch gets an automatic option, which will likely make it more approachable. That being said, the Honda Civic Type R is sharper.
Matching it in sharpness is the Mini Cooper JCW GP. It’s about $10,000 more expensive than the CTR, but it’s down 5 hp. Also, R&T reports the Type R is noticeably easier to live with, especially due to it actually having a back seat. Plus, the Mini GP is only available with an 8-speed automatic, and it’s simply not as engaging as the CTR, Autoweek reports.
It’s possible the 2020 Honda Civic Type R isn’t your cup of tea. You may not like the styling, the ride, the wing, or the interior design. But after a week with it, I didn’t want to give back the keys. JDM enthusiasts have spent decades waiting for this car to make it here. From my perspective, it was worth it.
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