I just got back from a trip to Germany, where I had the pleasure of hooning the crap out of a European-spec Honda Civic Type R, the ultimate forbidden fruit among America’s Honda fans. It was amazing, and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.
We don’t get this car, a 310 horsepower turbocharged front-wheel drive track demon, in America. We don’t even get the regular Honda Civic it’s based on. When I went to Europe, I dreamed of driving something I could never conceivably get my hands on back home. How could I do any better than this?
(Full disclosure: On the second to last day of my month-long Germany trip, a jovial, towering German man arrived at my parents’ house in small-town Bavaria and dropped off this Civic Type R. After scribbling my name on insurance form I hadn’t bothered to read, I dropped the large man off at the town’s tiny, decrepit train station, so he could make his way back to Mainz 200 miles away, wait for 24 hours, and then travel back to grab the car he had just left me.)
I felt pretty shitty for making the poor fellow travel all that way just so I could hoon a car for a day. But then I got behind the wheel, and all that guilt was quickly displaced by a feeling of utter euphoria.
But before that VTEC ecstasy could begin, I wanted to spend a little quality time with my mom; after all, I was only still in Germany for another 48 hours. So I asked her if she’d like to go with me on a trip in my loony Japanese (but built in England, interestingly enough) hatchback, she agreed, and we headed off to Rothenburg, Germany’s most famous medieval walled city.
As soon as we walked out front to hop into the Type R, I could tell my mom was surprised.“What? This is a Honda Civic?” she asked, circling around the boy-racer-mobile and gawking at the giant wing, garish fender flares and ridiculous red interior.
I told her this wasn’t just any Honda Civic. Forget the notion of sensible, fuel efficient, comfortable transportation— an idea implanted in minds by decades of Honda ads— the Type R is completely different. Thanks to the turbocharged VTEC 2.0-liter engine, it’s the most powerful front-drive hot hatchback in the world, and it’s fitted with technology found almost exclusively on high-dollar sports cars. Technology like enormous Brembos, a fancy “Dual Axis Strut” front suspension system, active dampers and a functional aerodynamic kit.
Sure, the car is a bit much, but I think that’s the beauty of the Type R. It’s absurdly over the top with an aluminum shifter ball, red brake calipers, fender vents, ridiculous body kit, steering wheel with a red stripe on the top, and big “+R” button the left side of the steering wheel (the most amazing button ever, but I’ll get to that in a sec.)
After some understandable hesitation, my mother climbed into the heavily-bolstered, flashy red seats and—as she is wont to do—began reminding me of every German traffic law in existence. “Rechts vor links, kein rechts auf rot, nie auf der rechten Seite uberholen!” she said, also making sure I was acutely aware of the speed limit at all times.
So there I was, in a 310 HP turbocharged VTEC monster with a huge wing so tall you can’t even see it in the rearview, and I was going the speed limit, in the right lane, shifting early so as not to rev the engine too loud, and taking turns at a leisurely pace.
It was excruciating; more than anything, I just wanted to bury that gas pedal into the floor, dump the clutch, and take a few millimeters of tread off those front tires in a smoke-filled bout of glory. But I didn’t. I hope my mom knows how much I love her.
But then we got to an unrestricted section of the Autobahn, and I developed a severe twitch. There was no speed limit, and I was in one of the hottest hatches on the planet with a top speed around 170 mph. My inner Jalop wanted to take that Civic to speeds that would fill the eyes of a U.S. highway patrolman with cartoon dollar signs, but my right cheek—easily within reach of my mom’s left hand—made me think otherwise.
This internal struggle lasted for what seemed like hours, but ultimately, I didn’t have to make the decision, because—contrary to what I had expected—doing top speed runs on the Autobahn isn’t that simple. Traffic is often unbearable, and for some reason, semi trucks just love to overtake one another on inclines—maneuvers that take a very long time and totally impede traffic.
Plus, as I found out, you can never trust people in the center or right lanes to look in their mirrors before moving left. And if you’re doing 170 mph in your hot hatch, and someone in a Volkswagen Polo slips in front of you at 60, those wonderful beefy Brembos aren’t going to save you.
In the end, even though I was on the most Jalop highway on earth in a very Jalop car, I couldn’t conduct a top speed run safely (even though my mom did concede and allow us to get up to 130 mph), and only later that night was I able to easily reach a speed of 150 mph before chickening out.
Still, I learned a lot on that Autobahn drive, like that those flashy red seats are amazingly comfortable even for long distances (even if the driver’s side seat bolster started to wear from ingress and egress), and that the little “+R” button on the left side of the steering wheel completely changes the car’s attitude.
Never have I experienced adaptive suspension that makes so much of a difference. With “+R” mode off, the car rides firmly, but reasonably comfortably down the highway.
But hitting the “+R” button is like injecting a syringe of adrenaline: the gauges turn red, throttle response goes into crazy-mode, and the ride makes you think that what looks like a perfectly flat Autobahn paid for by Germany’s insane income taxes, is actually a dirt road in rural Siberia. That +R button is no joke.
But keeping “+R” off means the Civic rides well enough, and if it weren’t for that unbearable blaring exhaust and a sixth gear that’s a bit too short, the car would actually make for a fine long-distance highway cruiser.
Eventually, we drove through the gate and into the walled city of Rothenburg, a place where the Civic Type R had absolutely no business, and looked downright out of place.
And it’s not just because the roads were built for foot traffic and chariots in the 13th century. No, there were plenty of other cars in the city, too. But most of them were boring chameleons in the styling department, simply blending into the scene.
See all those wagons and hatches surrounding the Type R in the picture above? Yeah, me neither.
The Civic Type R, though, was an alien, and everyone who walked past as I feathered the clutch going 0.0000001 mph looked at us wondering what the hell this zany-looking hatch making all sorts of howling noises was doing there.
Still, despite glares from locals, the pictures we snagged in Rothenburg were well worth it. There are few better ways to make a car stand out than to take it to a colorful, architecturally-vibrant city built many centuries before cars ever existed.
Eventually, after breaking our backs over Rothenburg’s cobblestones because I had forgotten to un-click the “+R” button, we headed back home towards Nuremberg driving down beautiful Bavarian farm roads, all the while obeying the speed limit to the tee.
It was on these winding streets between Rothenburg and Nuremberg—streets flanked by vibrant vineyards and picturesque medieval castles—where I fell in love.
The car is so light and nimble when changing directions (one of the benefits of front wheel drive— less drivetrain to drag around), and the steering is good for any car, much less one that also has to use those wheels to move. I was taking turns twice as fast as I normally thought I could get away with without receiving a backhand from my mom.
And I totally got away with it. The suspension remained almost perfectly flat, and that 2.0-liter turbocharged engine yanked the car’s 3,000 pound curb weight hard out of the corners.
This little test of the car’s handling was fun, but I couldn’t take this tame driving any longer, so I dropped my mom off at home (love you, mom), and became a monster as night draped itself over the Franconian sky.
Part of the reason I even asked to drive the Type R in the first place was that I knew German Jalopnik reader Andreas (who also showed me the world’s greatest Mitsubishi collection) was a big fan.
So after dropping Mutti off, I drove from my parents’ house to Andreas’s, and the two of us, along with two of Andreas’s friends in the back seat, began to hoon. The first things we did was try a burnout, which—in this car—is the easiest thing in the world to do.
Because frankly, this car has too much power.
Yes, I said it. Too much power. Slam the gas pedal to the floor in first or second gear, and you’ll just light up the 235-section Continental ContiSportContact 6 tires. And in the rain? Please, you might as well start in third gear.
The last car I drove with as much tire-shredding capability was a Hellcat Charger. But the difference is that lighting up the tires with a Hellcat is actually fun. It’s loud and smoky, but fairly manageable.
In the Type R, though, lighting up the fronts just causes the nose to bounce hard in the most violent, frightening way that made everyone in the car simultaneously say “Okay, let’s not do that anymore.”
It’s worth mentioning that better tires would certainly have helped, but as mine was outfitted, the Type R struggled to put the power down even with traction control on. One thing I wasn’t expecting was the torque steer, as I had read that Honda had done a good job keeping that wheel from yanking itself from the driver’s grip.
But not a good enough job.
Even if the Honda does have a “Dual Axis Strut front suspension system” and a mechanical limited slip differential, hard launches will require you to hold firmly to that steering wheel to keep the car out of the bushes. That’s probably not surprising for a 310 horsepower, 295 lb-ft front-drive car, but after hearing the fancy term “dual axis strut,” I guess my expectations were a bit too high.
Still, even with the torque steer and lack of traction, the benefits of front-drive were evident with one glance in the rear seats or trunk: there was tons of space. And like I said before, in the corners, the weight savings from the front-drive layout paid dividends.
Andreas and I drove the car for hours around the windiest streets we could find near his small hometown. I shifted that fantastic six-speed shifter as skillfully as I could (occasionally missing a shift, as the gears are very tightly spaced), taking turns as quickly as possible without understeering into a Maypole, and trying hard to convince Andreas and his friends that I knew what I was doing.
Then, after eating German hamburgers in Nuremberg (they were actually fairly legit), I parted ways with my new friends, and began my hour-long journey to my parents’ house at around 1 a.m. That hour was the single greatest hour I’ve ever spent in a car:
The back roads were completely empty, I had just spent my life savings on a full tank of gas, and the speed limit was 60 mph—perfect to test out the Type R’s built-in 0-100 KMH timer.
So that’s what I did. I stopped the car in the middle of the road, turned on the timer’s count-down, and waited for those left and right yellow lights on the dash (see the picture above) to touch in the middle. And when they did, my left foot jerked off the clutch, my right made sweet, sweet love to the floorboard, and the front tires desperately tried to send those 310 stallions to the pavement.
I launched the car over. And over. And over, getting the 0-100 KMH time down to the low fives, which is way better than the claimed 0-100 time on this car (the car’s built-in zero to 100 timer is total B.S.), but that didn’t stop me from having the time of my life under the stars and in the deep woods of rural Bavaria.
It was just me and this loud, unrefined, overpowered JDM alien terrorizing Germany in the middle of the night. The sound of that boosted VTEC 2.0-liter blaring out into the empty landscape will stay with me forever.
After I got home, I started to question why I loved this car so much. It’s not that quick, it’s not fuel efficient, and it costs far too much at over $35,000 for a front-drive Civic with some fancy bodywork, a souped-up engine, a flashy interior and a re-tuned suspension.
But I didn’t care. The fact that Honda was somehow able to take a car as boring as a Honda Civic and inject that much soul just amazes me. The Type R is an all-out, No Shame About It, immature tuner car that just wants to grab your attention by looking and sounding like it wants to kill you. And in so doing, it makes for an incredible driving experience.
This one isn’t coming to America, but another one will soon, reportedly with the same motor. That is something we should be very excited about.