2020 Honda Civic Type-R – Best hothatch or just a hype?

2020 Honda Civic Type-R

2020 Honda Civic Type R

I have always been a fan of hot-hatches. Why? Because they are fun to drive, functional, easy to drive daily and they are affordable. Unfortunately, hot-hatches were not very popular in North America, till the last decade. From the 1990s to the 2010s, manufacturers either didn’t offer their hot-hatch models in North America, or they sent downgraded and localized versions such as Honda Civic SI.

In North America, Civic SI was the fastest Civic until the Type-R arrived, which I owned for 3 years

This is not the case anymore. Almost all manufacturers, including Honda, offer whatever is available globally. For instance, Honda brought the Civic Type-R to Canada in 2017. It was perfect timing, as there is great competition within the FWD hot-hatch segment, such as VW GTI, and Focus ST. But wait, something is wrong with the comparison. Yes, Honda decided to step up their game and wanted to challenge the big boys.

Honda Civic Type-R is not competing with the good old GTI anymore, as it is competing with more powerful AWD alternatives

Yes, you heard it right, it is competing with fast AWD’s in this segment such as the Golf R, Subaru Impreza STI and so on. In fact, they have been on the market much longer than the Type-R. How can a front-wheel-drive fast hatchback can compete with all-wheel drive hot-hatches, or it can even be faster on track? In our review, we will explain if it is hype, or Honda really made a difference in a hot-hatch class.

Engine and Drivetrain

Sporty hot-hatches are getting significantly faster in the last decade, and Honda Civic Type-R is no exception. When it first came out almost three decades ago, it produced 182 hp. Now it is much faster than that, but the problem is, it is still transferring all the power just to the front wheels which may cause excessive torque steering. Honda put a lot of effort to avoid this issue, and it has a completely different suspension setup than a regular Civic.

2020 Honda Civic Type R comes with only one engine and transmission option which pumps out 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque

2020 Honda Civic Type-R comes with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Like the last 4 generations, it is still using the legendary K series engine, but Honda completely updated it due to stricter emissions standards. Although this is the first turbocharged Type-R in North America, in Europe, the previous generation Type-R also came with a turbocharger. Because you have a turbocharger and lots of torque down low, you don’t need VTEC kick like other naturally aspirated Honda engines, the powerband is extremely smooth but you cannot rev this engine as high as older K20 engines.

Honda Civic Type-R is only available with a manual transmission option, and every Type-R comes with its special production plate

Honda Civic Type-R is only available with a manual transmission, which is a 6 speed and Honda is known for its great transmissions. The clutch is very light, the shifter feels very clear and sporty. From the outside, the Type-R looks aggressive, but it is not that hard to drive it daily. For spirited driving, you must have a limited-slip differential especially if it has more than 300 horsepower and only transfers the power to the front wheels. Short gear ratios and a flat torque curve in the mid-range makes the Type-R not only very easy to drive in every gear but very engaging even when you are just commuting.

Exterior and Interior

Although this generation will be refreshed soon, I must admit that it still looks very attractive and still doesn’t look that old. However, if we are specifically talking about the Type-R, the exterior design is more like a hate or love relationship. When it was first released, it had lots of fake vents all around the car, including the hood. Civic Type-Rs are historically known as sporty looking vehicles but Honda took it to the next level with the latest generation. For some people, it looks cartoonish, but for others, it looks cool. What I am sure of is that it is a head-turner especially with this colour combination.

It comes with a huge rear wing and still has lots of fake vents all around the vehicle

When you get inside the 2020 Honda Civic Type-R, you immediately notice the traditional red interior colour. In my opinion, this interior is a great match with a dark gray or white exterior. You get very aggressive side bolstered front seats, but they are surprisingly very comfortable. I wish they kept the leather steering wheel, as Alcantara is not the best choice unless you drive it with driving gloves all the time. Other than that, you mostly get the same cabin with a regular Civic, which is fine. It is a well-designed cabin and it is very functional, even “too” functional for a sporty hot-hatch.

Sporty seats, steering wheel, and few plastic trims are different with the Type R

Well, one of the benefits of having a hot-hatch is that you have rear doors. Yes, this is a track worthy hot-hatch that comes with the same legroom and headroom as a regular Honda Civic. So it can be a great family hauler in case if you have kids, or have a larger family, you are good to go. Although there is no middle rear seat as Honda decided to put cupholders and some storage areas. It is a great example of how a weekday grocery getter can be a weekend warrior.

Though you still have the same legroom and headroom as a regular Civic, you are losing the middle seat

Things are not really different in the back, you have exactly the same usable trunk space as the regular Civic. Honda Civic is already one of the best when it comes to rear-seat headroom, legroom and cargo accommodation. Honda Civic Type R is also the same. It comes with 25.7 cubic feet of space when the rear seats are up, but it can go up to 46.2 cubic feet of cargo space if you fold the rear seats down. In fact, this generation Civic is great for overall interior space, and one of the better alternatives out there.

Just another reason why I love hot-hatches, as you get great cargo practicality.

Driving Impressions and Features

As soon as I get inside the 2020 Honda Civic Type-R, you felt that it drives much more sportier than the Civic, but not in a punishing way. The suspension is tuned extremely good, even in the stiffest R mode, it does not feel harsh at all. The steering feels good, and even in comfort mode, it’s weight makes you feel you drive a special car. You don’t have to sacrifice daily drivability to feel how special it is, unlike supersport cars. On dry roads, there is a little torque steering, but almost no understeer which is mind-blowing considering this car is transferring 300+ horsepower just to the front wheels.

Red Honda badge is a Type-R tradition, and the digital cluster is standard in all Civic trims

In perfect road conditions this car can keep up with faster cars with good driving skills, it is one of the most capable front-wheel drive vehicles on the market. However, things go south when you have less traction. If the road is dusty, or wet, you constantly spin the front wheels and will get understeering. Limited-slip differential and VSA system do their best to make it smoother, but physics defeat the engineering after a certain point. Like most Type-R owners, I would probably “downgrade” to smaller sized rims. 20″ rims and thin sidewalls are not the best combinations for harsh Canadian roads.

Handling and braking limits are very high, thanks to the Brembo brakes and soft compound Continental tires

We mentioned how well it rides and not very different than a regular Civic. Feature-wise, it is also not too bad. You would still get the same infotainment system, which is not the latest Honda software. At least, it does have an actual volume knob, so we are very glad that Honda got rid of the old head unit. 2020 Type-R comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a digital gauge cluster. The resolution is not bad on the digital cluster and infotainment screen, however the rearview camera should have a higher resolution in 2020.

2020 Honda Civic Type-R does not come with the latest Honda Infotainment system

Other than the infotainment, you get wireless charging, push-button start, automatic climate control, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights and so on. For the full features list, please see below. However, you can’t get a heated steering wheel and heated seats with the Type-R. This is a kind of a bummer as those are more essential features than wireless charging.

2020 Honda Civic Type-R vs 2004 Honda Civic Type-R

As a previous owner of the 2004 Honda Civic Type-R, I had a chance to see what is changed in 16 years. Of course, Type-R is not the same Type-R anymore. In the past, it used to be a sportier version of a regular Civic. It used to have the same suspension parts with few small differences, but with a bigger engine. Looks-wise, it wasn’t even that different, there were slightly more aggressively designed bumpers and bigger rims.

2004 Honda Civic Type-R was one of the fastest hot-hatches at that time, with only 200 horsepower

2020 Honda Civic Type-R is not like that. The delta between the regular Civic and the Type-R in 2020 is much bigger than the 2004 version. 2020 Honda Civic Type-R is a more serious performance machine, more track-oriented, but at the same time, less punishing daily driver. 2004 Type-R does not have comfort features, in fact, it came without a head unit and air conditioning from the factory. There was only ABS available with the 2004 Type-R in terms of safety features, but that’s how 2004 Type-R weights less than 2600 lbs from the factory, without any weight reduction.

Of course, by 2004 standards, 200 horsepower and less than 2600 lbs was a very impressive combination for a sporty hatchback. It was able to keep up with much more powerful cars, but it requires much better driving skills to go fast as there is no safety feature. It was a surprisingly nimble vehicle, of course you get more understeering if you push it to the limit, but it may bite you with snap oversteer if you lift off the throttle. It was not only a fun car to drive, but also very communicative when you drive it at its limits.

The more you look 2004 interior and exterior, the more you appreciate the 2020 model. That does not make 2004 bad, it was a unique car in its own way. It was the only naturally aspirated performance hatchback option that was revving over 8200 rpm, while the competition had to switch to forced induction engines to be able to keep up. Today, the 2020 Honda Civic Type-R is not naturally aspirated anymore due to stricter emissions and weighs almost 600 lbs heavier, but it is a much better car in every way including overall performance, comfort and versatility.

I turbocharged 2004 Type-R in 2011 which was around 500 hp, several years before Honda decided to put a turbocharger on a Type-R

Pricing and Conclusion

So the big question is, would I recommend the 2020 Honda Civic Type-R? There is a reason it is selling so well that you need to wait several months to get your hands on one. After almost 20 years of absence in North America, the demand is super high because people need versatile cars that can also be fun. 2020 Honda Civic Type-R offers great driving dynamics with excellent practicality and Honda reliability.

2020 Honda Civic Type R would be my first choice in this segment unless you really need an All Wheel Drive

Like the 2004 model year, the 2020 Honda Civic Type-R still keeps one of the most crucial features, which is its unique character as well as engaging driving experience. Unless you absolutely need All Wheel Drive, the Type-R would be my first choice in the hot-hatch segment. It has an MSRP of $48,001 which is in the same ballpark as most of its rivals.

For more details, please visit www.honda.ca

Article and Photos by Dan Gunay