The 2020 Honda Civic Type R doesn’t look dramatically evolved but its subtle updates are worthwhile. Mostly, the CTR remains one of the most thrilling driver’s cars you can buy new right now. If you’re good with the look and price, it’s pretty much perfect for local daily driving, weekend rips, and track day heroics.
Full Disclosure: Honda agreed to loan me a Civic Type R in Boost Blue Pearl when I said, wow, that color’s amazing. Shamefully I feel I failed to get decent pictures of it, but it does rock.
Testing Conditions: Lots of city runaround driving. Three passes through tight Malibu canyon roads. Two passes through the wider and faster Angeles Crest Highway. I ran this car hard every night I had it. I burned so much fuel in Angeles National Forest that I had to glide down the mountain in sixth with the throttle closed and still barely made it to the gas station at the bottom of the hill. In a Civic!
A $40,000 Honda Civic would have to be hot shit to be taken seriously. Luckily for those invested the 2020 Type R is an absolute scorcher and makes for one of the most fun driving experiences you can have at any price. Or any drivetrain layout, for that matter. Front-wheel drive isn’t necessarily conducive to hauling ass but sure doesn’t seem to hold this Honda back from being amazing.
While the standard Civic is a chill commuter car and the Civic Si is practical transport that likes to party, the Civic Type R is an absolute beast capable of coffee-spilling cornering, ferocious acceleration, and a transmission that shifts with the decisiveness and weight of Optimus Prime doing a slow clap.
In other words, it feels stiff, powerful, and planted.
Zooming out just a little more: Honda’s volume sales come from practical, economical normie cars but this automaker has been blessing us with serious performance vehicles for a long time too.
At the end of the 1990s, elite Japanese performance cars the Nissan 300ZX, Toyota Supra, Mitsubishi 3000GT, and Mazda RX-7 were singing their swan songs in America but still had legs at home in Japan. The first Civic Type R was born then and there, with the goal of offering fairly intense high-revving performance with the low ownership costs and somewhat practical nature of a small-displacement compact car.
But that original CTR was deemed too badass for America. We had to make do with the Civic Si, and ultra limited-production Integra Type R. While the tuner scene built momentum in the U.S. and sport compact cars even trickled into pop culture, thanks in part to The Fast And The Furious, the Civic Type R was a car many American gearheads dreamed about but never got to drive. Until 2017, when the FK8 Civic Type R finally showed up and was universally praised with all the phrases I opened this review with.
New-for-2020, the CTR has all the same goosebumpy goodness it’s had for the last three years plus a few tweaks per Honda:
- Retuned bushings in the front and rear suspension for improved cornering stability and sharper steering
- Revised Adaptive Damper System (ADS) features a substantially higher sampling rate and revised tuning for better control and improved ride comfort
- New two-piece front brake rotors improve brake cooling and reduce weight
- Increased engine cooling performance
- Standard Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver-assistive technologies
- All-new Honda LogR performance data logging app designed to record driving activity and help improve driver skills (scheduled to be released this spring)
There are also some small changes to the exterior design. The plastic “mesh” faux grilles have been replaced with flat pieces, and small body-colored trim pieces were added. More significantly, the cockpit gets an Alcantara steering wheel and a longer, skinnier shift knob hooked up to a new shorter-throw shifter. Annoyingly, the back seats are still black while the fronts are red.
Look, it’s been too long since I drove the 2017 and Civic Type R for me to reliably articulate exactly how much better the 2020 is. But I can offer this: The first time I drove a CTR I thought it was pretty fierce. Revisiting it for a week, I had a little less patience for its intrusive road noise but a little more appreciation for how much faster it felt than an Integra Type R from the ’90s. And the week I just spent with the 2020 car? Some of the most rewarding driving I can remember.
How corny can you get, talking about a car, and still be taken seriously? I’m rewatching the Japanese tuner cartoon Wangan Midnight right now, so a big part of me just feels like staring out onto the horizon, looking at this machine, saying something from r/Im14AndThisIsDeep.
“The third exhaust tip is the window to the soul.” I don’t know, man. The car absolutely rips, grips, and reels itself in just as aggressively when you boot the brake pedal.
Honda has a well-deserved reputation for building manual-shift transmissions that are joyful to operate and the Civic Type R’s is among the best. You’ve probably read that before, so I’ll try to articulate it carefully. Gear changes in this car feel rewarding because the shifter and linkage are designed in such a way that makes gear selection very decisive and precise, without being... difficult. Every notch seems to have a gravitational pull on the lever, which has some weight to it, giving the driver a sense of power.
Once you get into a groove with this car, it’s almost hard to feel like you’re not nailing it every time you change gears.
But the shifting’s made even more fun by the righteous wave of power you’ll ride once the turbo spools up and your rev needle works its way about halfway up the tachometer. Whoosh! It’s addictive.
I also really like the front seats. The side bolsters are very high to keep you from squirming out without squeezing you, though I should qualify that by saying I’m a scrawny boy. Also, they’re red and red goes fast. (Kidding.) (Kind of.)
What’s up with those seats not being heated, though? I think I would have taken the two-pound-whatever weight penalty to have a butt cooker.
Regardless, I guess I can live without heated seats but I’d hate to live with Honda’s infotainment system. The UX is hideous and response time is weak. Thankfully Honda rectified the lack of a volume knob, but giving the car’s main screen any commands is arduous.
The primitive-feeling infotainment is hardly a dealbreaker considering how great of a car the Civic Type R is, but when I swapped this out for a loaner Lariat Ford I realized just how slow and ugly Honda’s digital interface is compared to other options. Bummer.
The 2020 Civic hatchback is an IIHS “Top Safety Pick” but the agency says this doesn’t apply to the Type R. I imagine this is mostly because it hasn’t tested the Type R and it’s considered a separate model rather than a trim level, but I bet the CTR has similar crash survivability standards as a standard Civic hatch.
Similarly, the NHTSA rates the Honda hatchback five out of five stars but technically only applies its ruling to the non-Type R.
My strongest hands-on safety observation is the fact that the headlights are gloriously bright. Like, “oh, it’s daytime already,” bright.
The Civic Type R has the Honda Sensing crash-preventative suite as standard. That includes: Collision Mitigation Braking System; Road Departure Mitigation System; Adaptive Cruise Control; Lane Keeping Assist System. And you can figure out what those do by their descriptive names.
There aren’t really any options besides color (get Boost Blue Pearl) a red interior illumination kit for $1,112 (why not, sounds fun) and a carbon fiber package ($3,673) that has: Carbon Fiber Wing Spoiler; Carbon Fiber Hood Scoop; Carbon Fiber Door Mirror Covers; Carbon Fiber Interior Panel Cover. I’d skip the CF bits myself, but they’ll probably help the car stand out when you go to sell it eventually.
The Civic Type R’s most direct rivals would be the VW Golf R (less power, but all-wheel drive; not available for the 2020 model year), and the Hyundai Veloster (less expensive, less powerful).
The Subaru WRX STI is a sedan not a hatchback, but offers similarly thrilling turbo performance and four-door usability.
And once you start opening the field up to “all semi-practical fun cars for under $40,000” the options are almost endless. The Civic Type R will stand out if you enjoy shifter feel and responsive steering, and of course the car will be best appreciated by people who are fond of the sport compact scene in general and want to experience owning an icon that was forbidden fruit on U.S. roads for so long.
I have to admit, I am a longtime fan of Japanese performance cars and fast Hondas in general so I’m a little predisposed to like this car on a personal level. But you don’t have to be an import obsessive to appreciate how much fun this car is to thrash around in. You just have to love driving.
I don’t think my photos here did really the Civic Type R justice, especially in Boost Blue. (I did like the way raising the color temperature on the first picture gave it a hot Fast/Furious energy, though.) Luckily the Civic Type R can be seen from every possible angle on Honda’s gallery site and Honda’s other gallery. Enjoy!