Torque steer. Excessive wheelspin. And massive understeer. Throw even moderate amounts of horsepower into a front-wheel drive car, and that’s what you’ll get. It’s physics. Automotive engineers have been trying for decades to eliminate, or at least minimize, these negative attributes, with limited success. Until now.
Honda’s designers and engineers have somehow managed to do the impossible. With the Civic Type R, they have not simply tamed the bad stuff to build a great handling FWD car. They’ve created one of the best handling, best driving hot hatches on the planet, period.
When Honda set the FWD record on the Nurburgring with the Type R, people noticed. To prove that achievement was no fluke, Honda then went on to achieve similar feats at Magny-Cours, Spa and Silverstone. Having owned quite a few FWD cars, I was seriously intrigued. Honda loaned me a Rallye Red Type R, and I set out to see how the winged Civic compares to a good rear-drive sports car—in this case, the Camaro SS.
There were two immediate problems with my test vehicle. First, the color. While the Type R has an exterior you could generously describe as “busy,” it looks significantly better in certain colors. To my eye, red isn't one of them. My quick fix: Approach the car exclusively from the front, which is less funky than the rear.
The second issue presented a potentially bigger problem. This particular vehicle was brand new and had less than 250 miles on the clock. Normally I would be thrilled to get such a fresh example. But since my testing involved track time, I needed to first hit some back roads and highways for a gentler break-in before heading up to Monticello Motor Club. (You’re welcome, Honda.)
Once inside, the Type R greets the driver with a very racy, purposeful interior. The seats are spot on, offering ample support while retaining enough comfort for long drives. The gauges are configurable and the shifter is Honda perfection; precise and direct. The only downside is the stupid, billet aluminum shift ball. Like the one I ditched on my S2000, it truly excels at searing flesh on hot days.
While one could argue about the overall styling, the aero bits and cooling ducts are there for a purpose. The nearly flat under-tray and rear diffuser reduce turbulence while the front splitter and rear wing negate lift and provide a small amount of measurable downforce. Passing 130 mph on Monticello’s three-quarter-mile-long Hanger Straight, the Type R felt more stable than some much more expensive sporty cars I’ve driven.
The Type R packs 306 hp and 295 lb.-ft. into a 3117-lb chassis. My comparison vehicle was a 2018 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS Hot Wheels Edition. On paper, the 455 hp, 3685 lb. Camaro had an edge with a 20-percent better power-to-weight ratio. The Chevy is nearly a second quicker to 60 mph (4.0 vs 4.9) and has a much more favorable front-rear weight distribution (54/46 vs the Honda's 62/38).
The Camaro has high cornering grip but you always feel the car’s weight and size—and don’t get me started on outward visibility, and how there is none. The Type R is a different story. Turn-in is incredibly precise and, unlike any other FWD car I’ve driven, you can apply power mid-corner without washing wide. A lot of that is down to the Type R’s super grippy 20-inch Continental SportContact 6.
The Camaro had slightly better lap times due to its advantage in acceleration on MMC’s 3.6-mile circuit, but the Type R was by far the more enjoyable car to push. The Honda is, in a word, nimble. Plus, the Brembo brakes are phenomenal, a perfect match to the rest of the chassis. Great modulation, eyeball-dislodging stopping distances, and zero fade, lap after lap. Where the Camaro makes you feel isolated, the Civic is involving, an extension of the driver. You always have the confidence it’s going to stick.
One of the biggest surprises is the Type R’s excellent ride quality, in spite of the 20-inch rubber bands at all four corners. Credit the Adaptive Damper System and suspension design. The Honda excels on the track, yet is totally livable as a daily driver. And the 2.0 Liter VTEC Turbo even delivers decent fuel economy in normal use. If you like to drive, it’s damn near perfect. Just remember to approach it from the front.