2023 Honda Civic Type R First Drive Review: No More Excuses

Sporting strategic improvements and a clean new look, the new Type R is a thoroughbred hot hatch that doesn’t require any caveats.

2023 Honda Civic Type R First Drive Review: No More Excuses

For decades, the Civic Type R was forbidden fruit for American buyers. Although it originally debuted in 1997 on the sixth-generation Civic platform, it wasn’t until 2017 that Honda’s most performance-focused production car finally made its way stateside. Enthusiasts rejoiced at the news, but when they actually got a look at what the automaker had created on the bones of the already-busy tenth-generation Civic design, there were… concerns.

Polarizing exterior design aside, time spent behind the wheel made it clear that the arrival of the Type R was worth celebrating. Honda had not only created an admirably dialed-in hot hatch with enough power, poise, and creature comforts to take on the best in the segment, it’d done so with a single, fully-loaded spec that came in at under 35 grand. It was a truly compelling proposition for pragmatists who sought weekday utility and weekend thrills, but the car’s unapologetic boy-racer appearance required some mental gymnastics for a significant share of the folks with enough buying power to actually own one.

2023 Honda Civic Type R 2023 Honda Civic Type R

Underpinned by the 11th-generation Civic architecture, the latest Type R abandons the visual controversy of its predecessor for a more mature look, but it also brings a more grown-up price of entry along with it. Honda made a number of tweaks underneath the skin as well, but remixing a combination that already works can be a tricky proposition. With that in mind, I headed to northern California to put the automaker’s latest and greatest through its paces on Napa Valley’s scenic highways as well as the demanding tarmac of Sonoma Raceway’s road course.

Quick Stats 2023 Honda Civic Type R
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter I4
Output: 315 Horsepower / 310 Pound-Feet
0-60 MPH: 4.8 seconds (est)
Efficiency: 22 City / 28 Highway / 24 Combined
Trim Base Price: $43,990

On The Street

Thanks to several days of steady rain, the canyon roads through wine country were pretty slick, and around seemingly every blind corner, large rocks scattered on the asphalt threatened to do harm to the Type R’s rakish new mug.

While there are significant changes throughout the new Civic Type R, the exterior design is arguably the biggest headline. It’s far more restrained than the outgoing car and shows a greater emphasis on function over form, but it’s also clear that this machine was built to run. It’s lower, longer, and wider than its predecessor, boasting a front track that’s an inch broader while the rear track grows by three-quarters of an inch, changes which necessitated the development of unique flared fenders.

2023 Honda Civic Type R

Every body panel forward of the A-pillar is unique to Type R. It shows a greater emphasis on airflow to enhance engine and brake cooling, while the new rear wing is subtler than the piece on the outgoing car and designed to provide better rearward visibility. Combined with the aerodynamic elements integrated into the front bumper, underbody, side skirts, and rear diffuser, Honda says that the new car delivers more downforce with less drag and achieves the strongest aero balance of any Type R model ever developed.

A glance at the weather report indicated that things would start to clear up just as we arrived at Sonoma Raceway later in the day, so rather than tempt fate, I decided to spend most of the road drive focusing on what it’s like to live with the Type R in the normal driving situations – in other words, the type of motoring that this car will likely spend the vast majority of its time in.

2023 Honda Civic Type R 2023 Honda Civic Type R 2023 Honda Civic Type R

The interior is decked out in the Type R’s signature red-and-black motif, but the approach follows the exterior’s newfound sense of aesthetic restraint. New sport seats up front offer more substantial shoulder and thigh bolstering to keep occupants firmly planted when the going gets sporty, but changes to the internal structure are also on hand to enhance body support for better everyday comfort.

While they require a bit of contortion to get your legs over the stiff thigh bolsters, the new seats are fantastic. Simultaneously supportive enough for aggressive lateral maneuvers and comfortable enough for long stints at the helm, the Type R’s thrones manage to strike just the right balance despite the minimal amount of adjustment they offer. It would be nice if they were heated, but it’s a small compromise to make in this context.

2023 Honda Civic Type R 2023 Honda Civic Type R

Like the outgoing car, the new Type R sends power to the front wheels exclusively through a six-speed manual transmission with automatic rev matching. It’s seen some tweaks as well, boasting a lighter flywheel for urgent throttle response as well as a revised shifter for shorter throws.

Honda has a reputation for developing some of the most well-sorted manual gearboxes in the industry, and I’m happy to report that the new car hasn’t bucked tradition. The clutch is light, but not lacking in feel, and the engagement point is exactly where you expect it to be; meanwhile the shifter has zero slop and moves with precision from gate to gate. It’s satisfying to row through the gears even under the most mundane circumstances, and with peak torque coming in at just 2,600 RPM, it never feels like you have to really goose the engine just to get things moving.

2023 Honda Civic Type R

And once things are in motion, there’s a surprising level of civility to the proceedings. Track-tuned suspension systems tend to beat you up on road surfaces that are anything less than perfect, but the new Type R is actually pretty compliant in its softest setting thanks in part to its three-mode adaptive dampers, which have been revised to provide a wider range of damping response.

It’s a particularly impressive feat when you consider how short the sidewalls of the bespoke Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires are: Now measuring 265/30/R19, the new summies are 20mm wider than the tires that were equipped to the outgoing car. And if that’s still not enough grip for you, Honda now also offers dealer-installed Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s for even more stick.

2023 Honda Civic Type R

It’s a bit noisier in the cabin versus a garden-variety Civic due to the larger contact patch as well as the Type R’s new active exhaust system, the latter of which sounds great at wide-open throttle but does introduce a small amount of resonance into the cabin when cruising at lower RPMs. That’s par for the course with a performance-focused vehicle like this, though, and it’s not intrusive enough to take a significant toll on daily drivability.

While the Comfort, Sport, and +R drive modes carry over from the previous car, the new Type R also gains an Individual mode as well, and it’s a welcome addition. Not only does this customizable mode allow you to mix and match common parameters like throttle response, damper stiffness, and steering weight to your preference, it also includes options for less common settings, like how aggressive the automatic rev-matching is (if you choose to enable it), how much engine sound is pumped into the cabin through the audio system, and what visual layout is used in the digital gauge cluster.

2023 Honda Civic Type R 2023 Honda Civic Type R 2023 Honda Civic Type R 2023 Honda Civic Type R

A new 9.0-inch infotainment display with Bose audio is standard equipment on every new Civic Type R. Along with sharper graphics, improved response, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, the new system offers enhanced real-time telemetry and other performance data through Honda’s LogR software, which now no longer requires a companion smartphone app in order to function.

Although the system is a step forward in terms of visuals, and wireless CarPlay fired up without a hitch, the system’s response to inputs still lagged noticeably on several occasions even during my brief time with it. It gains back some points for having a physical volume knob, though, and the overall user experience is still miles ahead of the capacitive touch nightmare in the latest Volkswagen GTI and Golf R.

2023 Honda Civic Type R

As with its predecessor, outward visibility in the new Type R is excellent in every direction except directly rearward, where the big wing still hampers things, though to a lesser degree.

So yeah, it’s easy to drive it like a normal car when you need to. But let’s be honest – you’re not buying a Civic Type R because you want to drive it like a normal car.

2023 Honda Civic Type R

At The Track

The skies were beginning to clear as we pulled up to the pit garages at Sonoma, but because of the low temperatures and damp tarmac, the instructors that we would be chasing around the road course urged everyone to leave the cars in their softest and most electronically-restrictive Comfort driving mode to allow the suspension to work better at reduced speeds and the nannies to catch any ham-fisted inputs early on. I, of course, immediately put the car in +R mode.

Track driving in the wet is its own special type of thrill, and in a front-wheel drive car, the risks are relatively low provided that you give yourself extra room for any unexpected push. There was still a fair amount of water on the track during my first lapping session, and with the stability control loosened up, the Type R certainly kept me on my toes at Turn 4’s off-camber apex and on a particularly slick section of pavement between turns 5 and 6.

2023 Honda Civic Type R

But with direct, communicative steering and blind faith in the theory that I just needed to point the front end where I wanted to go and stay out of the throttle until the grip returned, the car proved to be very manageable – even at times when understeer turned into something more like a four-wheeled drift. A well-balanced chassis has a way of forgiving indiscretions if you’re willing to work with it.

By my third lapping session the rain had stopped and the sun was starting to peak out. As the course dried up our pace increased in turn, and the Type R left me wanting for nothing.

2023 Honda Civic Type R 2023 Honda Civic Type R

Thanks to turbocharger design tweaks and improved flow rates, the boosted 2.0-liter K20C1 inline four-cylinder engine scores an incremental power bump to 315 horsepower and 310 pound-feet. Gains of 9 hp and 15 lb-ft aren’t noticeable at speed, but the old mill wasn’t really lacking for grunt to begin with. These upgrades do make this the most powerful Civic Type R ever produced as well as the most powerful Honda-badged vehicle ever sold in the U.S., though, so at least there are some bragging rights to be had.

Honda also saw fit to equip the reworked mill with a bigger radiator and a larger cooling fan that should help keep heat under control during extended lapping sessions, but our four-lap stints weren’t long enough to really put that theory to the test. Given the fact that Honda chose to make changes to the system, it’s safe to assume that they felt there was a deficiency worth addressing, so I would consider that a promising sign.

2023 Honda Civic Type R

Meanwhile, the benefits of the new active exhaust system are obvious regardless of how much time you spend on track. It’s loud enough to be easily heard over any and all road noise, even with a helmet on, and that wasn’t always the case with the outgoing car. Some additional noise is piped in through the audio system to help make that happen, but thankfully it doesn’t sound inauthentic or artificial from behind the wheel. In fact, the deeper, more authoritative tone actually reminded me of the naturally-aspirated high performance engines of Hondas past, albeit without the stratospheric redline.

With enough power on tap to keep things interesting even on a big, fast track like Sonoma, I was also glad to discover that the four-piston Brembo calipers and 13.8-inch discs up front provided confident braking response that was easy to modulate in conditions that seemed to change from one moment to the next. Eager to change direction in the technical sections despite the limited grip available, the Type R always seemed to be ready for more.

2023 Honda Civic Type R

At The Bank

At a base price of $43,990 including the $1,095 destination fee, ($44,385 as-tested), the Civic Type R starts at nearly ten grand more than a Hyundai Elantra N, but it's worth keeping in mind that the Type R is essentially one all-inclusive package. Equipping the less-powerful Hyundai similarly narrows the cost gap significantly, while the Volkswagen Golf R – which is also offered in one fully-loaded specification here in the U.S. – will cost you several thousand more than the Civic Type R and isn’t nearly as engaging.

While it’s not the outright performance bargain that its predecessor was when it first went on sale back in 2017 (assuming you could find one at MSRP), the new Civic Type R is an outright joy to drive.

Combine that with a look that doesn’t require any apologies, and suddenly you’re in future classic territory.

2023 Honda Civic Type R
EngineTurbocharged 2.0-liter I4
Output315 Horsepower / 310 Pound-Feet
TransmissionSix-Speed Manual
Drive TypeFront-Wheel Drive
Speed 0-60 MPH4.8 seconds (est)
Efficiency22 City / 28 Highway / 24 Combined
Weight3,188 Pounds
Seating Capacity5
Cargo Volume24.5 Cubic Feet
Base Price$42,895 + $1,095 Destination
Trim Base Price$43,990
As-Tested Price$44,385

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