One of the highlights of my trip to Tokyo late last month was having the opportunity to drive the all-new Japanese-spec Civic Type R. While that's a dream come true by itself, the frosting on this cake was the fact that we were driving it on the East Course of Twin Ring Motegi.
On sale in Japan since the spring, at 1270kg (2794lb) this latest Type R weighs quite a bit more than both the EP3-based Civic Type R (+60kg) and DC5 Integra Type R (+100kg), yet it is again motivated by a factory-tuned K20A. The newest iteration of Honda's sweet 2.0L 4-banger is now rated at 225ps, a scant 10ps improvement over the last Civic Type-R (and only 5ps more than the DC5 Integra Type R's K20A), but it pulls the new Civic Type R around with far more anger than the figures might suggest. In fact, during our encounter with the Civic Type R, we also had the opportunity to drive a 2.2L S2000, a Civic Hybrid race car, and an Accord i-CTDi race car, and the Civic Type R felt quicker than all of these.
The Civic Type R's chassis felt just about perfect, with phenomenal braking power and feel, amazing grip from the Bridgestone Potenza P225/40R18 RE070s, and a degree of neutrality that most folks wouldn't be able to associate with a front-wheel drive vehicle. Honda switched the electrical power steering in favor of a more traditional hydraulic assist unit, but to be honest, the steering felt so intuitive to me I failed to pick up on any significant difference in terms of feel vs. the steering in our US-market Si models. There isn't the slightest hint of torque steer, but powering out of certain turns I did notice a bit of the same axle windup effect that we've observed in the TOV's stiffly-spring Project Civic Si. After driving the car and checking the spec sheets, based upon the handling alone, I can't figure out how Honda could make those extra 220lbs seemingly vanish. From my recollection of the last time I drove a DC5 Integra Type R, this Civic Type R gives away nothing to the DC5.
Prior to driving the FD2 Civic Type R, I had read reports that the suspension is somewhat brutal in terms of ride quality. After hopping a few kerbs in the new CTR, I can see where some people might complain, but this is a Type-R, and the Type-R badge declares that it was meant for the circuit. By comparison, the custom Progress suspension on the TOV's Project Civic Si is less forgiving, and I consider it to be sitting right on the edge of acceptability for daily driving, so the Type-R's is closer to what I would consider to be the best compromise for daily driving and circuit use and canyon carving.
I've always been a huge fan of Honda's R-spec K20A engines, and this one feels like it's the best yet. I can't say that Honda's underrating the motor, but given its curb weight, this CTR really hauls some booty. As with its progenitors, it revs smoothly and freely, sounds fantastic, and has been paired with a gearbox that features perfectly matched ratios and world-class shifter feel. BONUS: Though the CTR's K20A is fitted with a drive by wire system, during my time with the car, I never sensed the lag or rev hanging that plagues most of Honda's DBW implementations on US-market cars. All in all, the sheer mechanical excellence of this powertrain puts it in elite company. Sure, there are faster cars out there, but there are few that can match the sheer pleasure of running the Civic Type R through the gears. There are perhaps even fewer that put together a total package that feels as "right" as this car does.
What's the downside? Every time I go to Japan and I get the opportunity to drive these near-perfect specimens, I am elated and ever-grateful to my hosts to have had the opportunity, but I can't help the fact that my emotions include disappointment that these vehicles still aren't offered in the US-market. I started the Temple of VTEC many years ago based upon my great admiration for Honda's engineering talents, and models like the Civic Type-R represent the pinnacle of these talents. The Type-R is a no-compromise car that isn't meant to appeal to the masses, but is greatly appreciated by hard-core enthusiasts. Our appeal to Honda to import Type-Rs to the US has never subsided, and as somebody who's been involved with the Honda enthusiast community for so long, it's difficult to ignore the sense of disappointment (and in some cases, resentment) expressed by the enthusiasts in Honda's largest market. The idea of the Type-R is fantastic, but continuing to withhold these special models from the USA (#1 consumers of Honda's hottest sports models) could have dire long-term consequences. Having said that, I think I speak for the majority of potential buyers by saying we're only interested in buying a Civic Type-R if everything makes it over here intact. I do not want to see the suspension softened, or the 4-piston Brembo brakes deleted, or a lesser motor fitted - it's pretty much all or nothing. The JDM body panels would be a nice touch too, but maybe not so much of a deal-killer. It's understandable if a few hp are lost due to fuel or emissions differences, but this car would not be special enough if it were fitted with a standard Civic Si motor.
Honda has not ruled out bringing the car to the US, and in speaking with several executives and members of Honda's product planning group, they seem to be open to persuasion. When asked what it would take to persuade them, they said that they cannot accept bribes. Yeah, I tried. But letters from prospective customers would help make the case.
At the moment we don't have a postal address available for you to aim letters, but if you would like to submit an e-mail to email@example.com with your vote, we will forward them on to the appropriate folks. Within the e-mail, please include your real name and hometown as well as a brief note stating that you would be sincerely interested in purchasing a Civic Type R. You might also want to include what you would consider to be a fair and legitimate price range for the Civic Type R. Believe me, if you are a true hard-core Honda fan, you WANT this car.
I sat in the back seat of one of the CTRs while Roger Hart (of Autoweek) kindly chauffeured me around the track while I tried my darnedest to keep my camcorder as still as possible during a hot lap. As you will see in the following clip, I was only moderately successful in my battle against the G-forces. Obviously I would have liked to have been able to set up some cameras outside of the car, but our day was cram packed with activities and there simply was no time.
Have a look at the cornering attitude displayed by the CTR in the early portion of this trailer for Best Motoring's "Civic Type R Returns" video. I received this DVD recently - if you're a Type R fan, you'll definitely want to pick this one up.