2021 Honda Civic Type R Test Drive

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Oct 27, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Honda deals!

2021 Honda Civic Type R front view

Photo: Ron Sessions

The Honda Civic, now in its 10th generation since its introduction in 1973, is not only the best-selling compact car in the U.S., routinely racking up more than 300,000 sales annually in a normal (read non-pandemic) year, but also the best-selling Honda car. The Civic’s appeal is wide with 4-door sedan, 2-door coupe and 4-door hatchback body styles available, plus the sporty Si.

Contributing a small fraction of the total is the subject of this review, the Civic Type R. The Type R’s 6,000-7,000 or so yearly sales contributes just a tiny fraction to the total but looms large with the Civic’s fervent hot-hatch faithful. The Honda Civic Type R is the first Honda sold in the in U.S. to wear the red “H” Honda badge, a detail that was previously reserved for Type R models which were offered only in Europe and Japan.

What is surprising, though, is with the Civic Type R, Honda’s smallest car (now that the tiny Fit has been sent packing) is the brand’s most powerful. Forgetting for a moment the six-figure, two-seat, exotic NSX, which is an Acura product anyway, the 306-hp Civic Type R is the quickest and fastest Honda offered for sale on American shores.

For 2021, the Type R is offered in two trims, the Touring model shown here at $38,450 and a Limited Edition for $44,950. Both prices include the $995 destination charge. There are no options. The Limited Edition comes exclusively with yellow and black two-tone paint, BBS forged alloy wheels, extra-sticky Michelin Cup 2 tires, plus updated adaptive dampers and steering. The Limited Edition gets a 46-lb weight reduction, courtesy of less sound-damping materials and the removal of the cargo cover, rear heat ducts and rear wiper.

Hot hatch competitors include the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Subaru WRX, Hyundai Veloster N and the soon-to-be-released Mazda 3 Turbo. Or, if you don’t need the cargo versatility a hatchback offers, you can add the equally fun-to-drive Volkswagen Jetta GLI, Honda Civic Si (coupe or sedan) and Subaru WRX STI sedan to the shopping list. Buyers hailing from Northern climes where 4-wheel drive is a must only need to consider the two Subarus.

After a week spent behind the wheel of this limited-production Civic, I came away with a few lasting impressions. The Type R is a blast to drive, actually has the civility to function just fine as a daily driver and draws a lot of attention from enthusiasts and law enforcement alike. Here are the details.

Styling and Design - Find the best Honda deals!

2021 Honda Civic Type R styling and design

Photo: Ron Sessions

Based on the 4-door Civic hatchback and starting out with several of the Civic Si’s body add-ons, the Type R’s exterior theme is one of a race car for the street. Introduced on these shores for the 2017 year, the Civic Type R’s competition-inspired looks have changed very little. Certainly, at the Civic’s mainstream price point, the Type R is the most wing- and scoop-dappled car in the market.

There are enough fender flares, ground-effects body panels, air inlets, spoilers, winglets and vortex generators to shame a Hot Wheels miniature. But, as Honda is quick to point out, all of these add-ons are racing inspired and serve a purpose, whether it’s to accommodate wider rubber, add brake or engine cooling, or increase downforce and minimize air turbulence at racing speeds.

Features and Controls - Find the best Honda deals!

2021 Honda Civic Type R features and controls

Photo: Ron Sessions

The Type R is a 4-passenger, 4-door hatchback, the middle position of the rear seat given over to a handy center console. Four adults can hop aboard. 

The front bucket seats, available in any color as long as it’s red, are highly bolstered to keep occupants anchored in place for high-g turns the Type R is capable of executing. Both the top and bottom cushions have significant lateral wings to slide over when getting in or out, but once ensconced there are no hard wires pressing on delicate parts of one’s anatomy. Front seat comfort is quite good, even on long trips, although huskier body types may find the seats a bit too narrow. Since 2020, a faux suede-wrapped steering wheel replaces the previous leather-wrapped one and matches the equally grippy faux suede covered front seats.

The rear perches, done in basic black, are the same roomy chairs you’ll find in any Civic hatchback. Head- and legroom back there for two passengers is better than in some competing compact 4-door sedans. And, of course, the Type R is still a hatchback with rear seats that fold flat, transforming an already large 25.7 cubic foot trunk into a cargo hold that’s a small SUV-like 46.2 cubic feet space for carrying bulky items. 

Standard equipment includes a set-and-forget dual-zone automatic climate control system, cruise control, pushbutton start, a premium, 12-speaker AM/FM stereo with SiriusXM satellite radio and HD Radio and a dirt-simple analog volume knob. The smallish 7-inch infotainment system screen comes with imbedded, voice-activated navigation with traffic info and is flanked on the left side with handy, hard shortcut buttons. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are onboard for cellphone mirroring as well as Bluetooth, two USB ports and SMS text messaging.

Key to the Type R’s eager personality is its 306-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo. The race-proven premium-fuel engine makes a heady 153 hp per liter and its output tops the next most powerful Civic, the 205-hp 1.5-liter turbo-powered Si, by 101 horsepower, a near 50% boost. Its VTEC variable valve timing primarily works on the exhaust valves to help maintain intake charge flow for quick spooling of the lightweight turbo to build maximum boost at lower speeds and part-throttle openings, reducing lag. A lightened flywheel enables the engine to quickly build revs.

The single transmission offering is a close-ratio 6-speed manual, sending power to the front wheels. It is hooked to a short-throw aluminum shifter (although not as lubricious and abbreviated as in the now discontinued Honda S2000 roadster) featuring rev-matched downshifts.

Aside from the big rear wing, one of the more notable features of the Type R is its triple-outlet exhaust system. Most of the exhaust exits from the larger outboard pipes, with the center outlet joining in only at wider throttle openings. Since 2020, Honda has added some “synthesized” engine sound from the car’s audio speakers to enhance the exhaust sound signature. The degree of sound enhancement can be varied via the drive mode switch on the center console.

Selectable drive modes include Sport (which is the default setting), Comfort and +R. In addition to modulating the degree of sound enhancement, these settings vary steering boost, throttle progression, the intensity of rev matching, and the damping force of the standard adaptive shock absorbers. Comfort is relevant for the daily commute or long, interstate slogs, although even in sport the ride is firm but not punishing. The +R mode firms up the steering and shocks for track use and allows unshackling the stability and traction control systems (not recommended for street driving).

Safety and Technology - Find the best Honda deals!

2021 Honda Civic Type R safety assist

Photo: Ron Sessions

When the Type R was first introduced in 2017, it didn’t have adaptive cruise control. Now it does, along with the same Honda Sensing driver-assistive tech that’s standard in all other 2021 Civics, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beam control. Driver-assistive system settings can be managed in the center infotainment screen. Unlike some compact-car competitors, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, which would be good additions in a car with so many obstructions blocking rearward vision, are not available on the Type R or any current Civic for that matter. Also included is a standard backup camera with selectable camera views.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not evaluated the 2021 Civic Type R, although the base Civic hatchback received a Top Safety Pick rating for 2020 and Good scores for moderate- and small-overlap front impacts, side impacts, roof strength, seats and head restraints.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2021 Civic hatchback five stars overall and for frontal and side impacts and rollover resistance. NHTSA does not assign the 2021 Type R overall or front crash ratings but rates it five stars for side impacts and rollover resistance. 

Driving Impressions - Find the best Honda deals!

2021 Honda Civic Type R engine

Photo: Ron Sessions

Despite its Fast and Furious racing-inspired styling, the Type R is a great everyday car provided you’re not dealing with cold climates and snow-clogged roads. It’s got this agreeable dual personality: a race-ready car with scintillating performance and high limits when you want it and a damn good everyday driver when you need it.

Unlike some other turbo-powered hot hatches that deliver punchy performance in waves, the Type R’s is more linear. Its 306 horsepower is plenty generous, but not head-snapping, feeling more like a larger-displacement engine than a small one screaming for attention. And the Type R’s ample 295 lb-ft of torque is delivered over a wide plateau from 2500 to 4500 rpm, for a robust midrange. Regardless of the gear selected, there’s always plenty of grunt to accelerate on demand without having to downshift a bunch of gears.

If you are quick with the easy-to-shift 6-speed manual, the Type R will squirt from 0-60 mph in just under 5 seconds, nearly a second quicker than a Golf GTI or Jetta GLI, and just a wee bit fleet of foot than a Veloster N or Subaru WRX. And it’s not just short gearing that nets the impressive numbers. If you were to find a race track long enough, terminal velocity for the Type R is 170 mph, at which point you’d be grateful for all the cooling and aerodynamic development that drives the fanciful bodywork. Despite the brisk acceleration and high-speed capability, EPA fuel economy estimates are a reasonable 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway/25 mpg combined. I managed 26 mpg in a week of driving that included 175 miles of interstate and around-town driving.

As far as the Type R’s handling goes, one word springs to mind: planted. The extra-wide (for a Civic) and sticky Continental SportContact 245/ZR20 summer-only performance tires play a role here, but they’re only a supporting cast to the excellent chassis the Type R is based on. Stiffer springs improve vertical body control, aided by an active shock absorber system that senses the car’s speed, cornering rate and road surface and dials in the appropriate damping rate for each wheel in real time. The result is a suspension stiff enough to control body movement on large amplitude events but compliant enough to ease impact harshness on rough pavement. Flat cornering is enabled with the Type R’s larger front and rear anti-roll bars. The Type R can corner at more than 1g, up there with some pretty expensive supercars.

The Type R’s steering feel, with effort adjustable by the console-mounted drive mode switch, is spot on with predictable linearity, excellent straight line stability and instant turn-in response.

The Civic Type R is front-wheel drive only, so it can’t rely on all-wheel drive as provided in the Subaru WRX and WRX STI for traction. Aiding the Type R’s case is a helical limited-slip differential which helps get the power to the ground by preventing an unloaded inside wheel from spinning when accelerating hard out of a tight turn.

Torque steer, another bugaboo with high-powered front-drive cars that tugs the steering wheel to one side under heavy acceleration, is minimized by the Type R’s dual-axis front strut design. It features an offset knuckle that centers the kingpin axis in the middle of the tire contact patch.

Upgraded for the 2020 model year, the Type R gets larger two-piece front rotors and 4-piston Brembo calipers fed cooling air via air ducts in the front fascia. While brake fade was never an issue in street driving, it’s good to know the big binders have racing-worthy stopping power. Brake feel was excellent as well, with good top-of-pedal response and short and linear pedal travel instilling confidence.

Conclusion - Find the best Honda deals!

2021 Honda Civic Type R rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

Priced about 45% higher than a 205-hp Civic Si, the winged and scooped 306-hp Type R is a lot. But for the enthusiast looking for a factory-engineered hot hatch with road-racing cred that’s civilized enough to be a daily driver, it’s a screaming bargain. With seating for four adults and cargo space rivaling some small SUVs, it’s a small car that easy to live with. Or looking at it another way, the Type R is an affordable exotic for the Plebian who is smart with money. It’s just so entertaining to drive that it’s hard to resist. If for some reason, the current Type R doesn’t strike your fancy, expect a new one at some point based on the all-new 11th-generation Civic platform due out for the 2022 model year.

About the Author

Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive web sites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals and newspapers.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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