Finding the limits at The Ridge Motorsports Park

It doesn’t get hotter than the 2017 Honda Civic Type R – at least this month. That comes as no surprise since the Type R is just now making its debut in the U.S. after decades of devouring foreign roads in markets worldwide. This performance variant is based on the 10th-generation Civic, a compact car with a pedigree that needs no explanation. Honda wanted me to give the new Type R a swing, so they flew me to Seattle, Washington for some seat time in those heavily bolstered front buckets on winding mountain roads and through all 16 corners of The Ridge Motorsports Park just north of Olympia.

The Civic Type R arrives amidst a raging fight in the hot hatch segment. The Ford Focus RS and its ridiculous powertrain and Drift Mode square up against the dethroned champion, the Volkswagen Golf R and the rally-bred Subaru WRX STI. What these competitors all have in common are four cylinders being force-fed via turbochargers, six-speed manual transmissions, and AWD. Tit for tat, these compact brawlers are mostly equal – save for the Focus RS’ extra horsepower and the Civic Type R’s lack of AWD. Wait, what? Yep, Honda ditched the idea of a heavy, complex, and parasitic AWD system in favor of a lighter curb weight, a limited slip differential, and its dual-axis front MacPherson struts. The result is a 3,100-pound car that hangs with its toughest competitor despite its 44-horsepower, 55-pound-foot disadvantage.

Continue reading for my on-track driving impressions.

Balance Over Brawn

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The 2017 Honda Civic Type R’s light weight is a result of several engineering decisions. First, Honda cut unnecessary luxuries from the cabin. Gone are the power front seats, Honda Sensing safety system, and spare tire. Engineers then gave its already ridge unibody chassis more strength with extra adhesive bonding over the standard Civic – even the Civic Si. Honda then threw in a set of lightweight, heavily bolstered front bucket seats with a faux carbon fiber backing that hug tighter than your grandma.

It might not be the high-revving, naturally aspirated mill Honda fans were wishing for, but this hair dryer has no problem screaming at its rotational limit.

Under the hood is a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with VTEC, direct fuel injection, a 7,000-rpm redline, and 9.3-pounds of boost. What comes out is 306 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque from 2,500 to 4,500 rpm. It might not be the high-revving, naturally aspirated mill Honda fans were wishing for, but this hair dryer has no problem screaming at its rotational limit.

The engine is backed by a six-speed manual transmission with rev matching, meaning you don’t have to be a professional with heel-and-toe skills to extract every ounce from the all-aluminum engine. A limited-slip differential connects the power to the road through the 245/30ZR-20 Continental SportContact 6 front tires. The rears get the same treatment. Stopping duty is handled by 13.8-inch drilled rotors capped with Brembo calipers up front and 12.0-inch solid rotors out back.

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Flogging The 2017 Honda Civic Type R Exterior High Resolution
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A limited-slip differential connects the power to the road through the 245/30ZR-20 Continental SportContact 6 front tires

Honda’s gamble has paid off. The Civic Type R is wonderfully balanced and poised on the track, thanks in part to its added lightness. That’s clearly apparent when shuffling between apexes in the 50-foot drop along Turn 14 known as “The Complex” at the Ridge. This sweeping S-turn puts immense stress on the chassis and suspension, even at moderate speeds required for not sliding off the track. The Civic is tossable, quickly turning its nose into the left-hand hairpin after coming out of a hard braking zone. The electronic steering is some of the most communicative I’ve sampled and translates the front tires’ motions into my hands. A flick to the right at the bottom of the hill puts nearly all the Type R’s weight on the outside tires, which never seemed too tired to grip. Overzealous turn-ins will induce understeer at the limit, but the right line and speed will prevent it.

Body roll is nearly non-existent thanks to the adaptive dampers. Set to +R mode, they are incredibly stiff, providing support that is simply too much for anything less smooth than a well-maintained racetrack. Add to that a light clutch, short-throw shifter, and that rev-happy 2.0-liter, and the Type R blasts from the hole and onto the straightaway at the start/stop line. This is the only place at The Ridge where more power could be used. On my best run, I only managed 120 mph in fifth gear before having to stab the brakes. Given more track, I have no doubt the Type R would easily surpass that speed, but it just takes time. Even climbing the steep hill along Turn 2, a third-gear pull was with all 295 pound-feet of torque twisting strong proved the engine isn’t underpowered. The Civic Type R just isn’t engineered for top-end speed.

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The big Brembos showed no signs of fade, even after being on track nearly all morning through several rounds of eager journalists.

Downshifting from fifth to fourth, the rev match system sent the tachometer swinging towards its 7,000-rpm redline as I stomped the brakes. The big Brembos showed no signs of fade, even after being on track nearly all morning through several rounds of eager journalists.

Behind the wheel, the Civic Type R provides a great place to conduct business. Those racing buckets are Honda’s own, meaning neither Recaro nor Sparco were involved. Aside from the lack of lumbar adjustment, the cloth and suede seats do a tremendous job keeping the driver secure. Their manual adjustments offer plenty of detents and the tilt and telescoping steering column has a wide range of movement. Combined, the Type R makes it so anyone can find the right driving position.

Final Thoughts

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All told, the 2017 Honda Civic Type R is every bit a hot hatch as its rivals – even the 350-horsepower Ford Focus RS. Its combination of light weight, a rigid chassis, and butter-smooth powertrain give it a leg up on the overly-brutish Ford. What’s more, the Type R isn’t terrible on the road and should prove to be a capable daily driver aside from its somewhat loud road noise on rough pavement. I can’t say I’m enthralled with the Civic Type R’s juvenile outward appearance, but after a day behind the wheel, I’d be more than willing to look past the big wing, boy-racerish bits, and ultra-low profile tires for one of the sweetest driving hatchback on the road – and that’s no hyperbole.

Be sure to read my full review on the 2017 Honda Civic Type R.

References

2017 Honda Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R Exterior High Resolution
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Read our full review on the 2017 Honda Civic Type R.

2017 Honda Civic Type R - Driven

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Read our full driven review on the 2017 Honda Civic Type R.

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