You can learn a lot about a car when you spend five uninterrupted hours in the driver’s seat. You can fall in love. You can go insane. You can become miserably uncomfortable.
Or you can find nirvana.
Lucky for the folks at Honda, the 2017 Civic Type R is a pretty amazing vehicle, or their plan to unleash a gaggle of journalists in their own vehicles without distraction or supervision for an extended period of time could have gone horribly wrong.
It was somewhere between the racetrack at The Ridge Motorsports Park and the unmarked back roads surrounding Seattle that I made the decision the Type R was a little slice of heaven rather than a circle in Dante’s Inferno.
As you would expect, the track-bred Type R is a blast to drive on a track. It effortlessly handles curves and corners, and the acceleration is heart-flipping fast. After all, it did set a front-wheel-drive lap-time record at the Nürburgring of 7 minutes 43.8 seconds.
What I didn’t expect was that it would be just as competent for a road trip.
But don’t let its meek road manners fool you. This is a limited-run performance beast for the true enthusiast. Case in point: Type R is a manual-transmission only vehicle.
Equipped with a 2.0-liter high-output turbocharged engine, the Type R delivers 306 horsepower with 296 pound-feet of torque and has the most powerful engine ever to grace a production Civic in the U.S.
But it also has three drive modes: +R, Sport and Comfort. These modes take you from firm suspension and tight steering to a “compliant” ride and more natural handling.
I toggled between the modes judiciously during the long drive, and while I left it in Comfort for most of the trip, there were a couple of winding roads that begged for +R and Sport modes.
I also – somewhat accidentally -- pitted +R and Sport modes against each other on the track and found that +R is by far the more responsive mode and allows smoother shifts and faster acceleration.
Curiously, the front sport seats are, perhaps, the most significant reason that the Type R is a joy on the track as well as comfortable for the long haul. These are not Recaros. Honda makes these lightweight seats exclusively for the Type R, adding large bolsters and a high-density cushion pads that hold you in during aggressive driving maneuvers as well as provide plenty of support for your posterior during long drives.
Such is the double life of the Type R: grand tourer by day and track racer by night.
The Type R has been running loose in Japan and Europe for 20 years. As Rob Keough, senior product planner for the Civic lineup, pointed out during the press preview, it was the resurgence of the Euro hatch that made Honda decide to bring the Type R stateside for the first time.
Well, that and the fact that the all-new 2016 Civic was built on a global platform.
With its redesign, the Civic introduced an edgy new look, which the Type R amplifies. The bumped out taillights and hard lines are punctuated with red highlights and carbon fiber accents. And how can you ignore that larger-than-life rear spoiler?
The interior is a mix of race-car chic and pure comfort.
The sport seats are a heritage red, which complement and contrast with the plain black rear seats. The D-shaped steering wheel has read-leather accents and the red-Honda emblem. Performance meters, sport pedals and an aluminum shift knob round out the sporty accents.
But rather than being a bare-bones sports hatch, Type R is also equipped with a 7-inch audio display, navigation, 12-speaker stereo system, push-button start, passive entry and dual climate control.
Keough said they tried to include all the high-tech and high-spec features that Civic has to offer just as long as they don’t get in the way of the vehicle’s performance.
Which is why Type R doesn’t have power seats.
Priced at $34,775 (including destination), Type R has a mono-spec interior and five exterior color choices: Championship White, Rallye Red, Polished Metal, Crystal Black and Aegean Blue.
The competitive set for the Type R includes the Subaru WRX STI, Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R -- all of which cost at least $2K more.
The Focus RS is the only competitor that has more power than the Type R (350 horsepower, 350 pound-feet of torque), but what it has in power it lacks in refinement. In fact, all of the competitive set lack the refinement of the Type R – both in terms of standard features and ride comfort.
The Type R, without a doubt, is an awesome vehicle. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the things I dislike about the regular Civic rear their ugly head in this souped-up variant. Namely, the awkwardly placed USB port and the lack of a volume and tuning dial.
The bottom line: Honda has created a phenomenal track-to-road-trip vehicle. For the money – and the sheer fun factor – Type R has moved to the top of my hot hatch list.
Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Honda covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.