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2017 Honda Civic Type R – A Retrospective

Kamil Kaluski March 7, 2017 The News! 8 Comments

Editor’s note: Today Honda revealed the highly-anticipated Civic Type-R in production form at the Geneva Motor Show. It’s the first of its kind to ever be confirmed for US sale. It’s kind of a big deal and there’s only one hoon qualified enough to talk about it in the context of the cars that came before it…

What made the original Civic Type R and Integra Type R, and similar Hondas of the era, (depending where in the world you live), so special and popular in the mid-1990s had a lot to do with the market at that time. There were no Subaru WRXs and STIs, no Ford STs and RSs, no BRZ or 86s, and no Evos. The hot-hatch market was limited. The biggest competitors to those cars were the VW GTI and Diamond Star trio of Eclipse/Talon/Laser.

While more powerful and faster out of the box, they were also heavier. Further, both were significantly less reliable, especially when young enthusiasts started tinkering with them, racing them, and just simply doing dumb shit with them.

Due to their stiffer, lighter chassis and double wishbone suspension, the Hondas handled better than the other cars. While under powered out of the box, Hondas took much better to aftermarket modifications. There were turbocharged engines putting over 400 horsepower through the stock transmissions without much of a problem.

Another reason for their popularity, and sadly their eventual demise, was the fact that parts were so incredibly easily interchangeable. Big Integra brakes easily fit onto smaller, lighter Civics. Frankenstein engines with cranks, blocks, and heads off different motors fit together easily for increased displacement, higher compression ratios, and better air flow.

Most importantly there was competition and the desire to be fastest and best between the drivers, especially in drag racing. This created a cult following which in turn created an aftermarket equal to that of Jeeps. You haven’t lived until you have seen a front-wheel drive Civics with big slicks and wheelie bars kill the quarter mile in single digits.

Interestingly, the perfect market timing of these little Hondas was not limited just to them. Few years prior the NSX set an equally high bar in the exotic car scene. Here was a terrific looking vehicle with the performance of a Ferrari at half its price and all the driving difficulty of an Accord. Looking back, like the Civics, the NSX still does not get the credit it deserves for transforming its market segment.

The year is 2017 now. The Civic Si has been with us for all those years but while undergoing a constant evolution it missed an important revolution. The NSX too, tried applying the same principles old only to become an average player in what has become a highly competitive market, despite its amazing hybrid powertrain and great looks.

Now the new Civic Type R is here. It’s donned in the same Championship White paint color but almost aftermarket-looking trim, wing, and exhaust. Its turbocharged motor makes more than 300 horsepower and almost as much torque, which should make any Honda fan grin. It sends that power through a manual transmission and proper mechanical limited-slip differential to the front wheels. Double grin.

All of that sounds fantastic. It will make many of those old school Honda lovers very happy. But there is a problem. Actually, there are two problems.

The first problem is that the philosophy is different in the new car. The 1997 U.S. spec Integra Type R was focused strictly on performance. It only had 25 more horsepower than the Integra GS-R that it was based on. It had no sunroof or a rear wiper in the name of weight savings. Even the air conditioning was optional. The Japanese versions did not even have radios or airbags. Everything, from its bigger brakes to its iconic wing, was designed with purpose and track performance in mind.

Realtime Racing won the 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2002 World Challenge Manufacturers’ Championships with Integra Type R race cars that were not significantly modified from stock. They were doing so well that after winning 11 races in row, the ITRs were slapped with a ““.

The new car does not seem that way. It has three center-mounted exhaust pipes for no apparent reason at all. There’s nav, tons of carbon fiber trim, bulging fenders that surround huge 20” wheels, and an STI-like wing. Granted, most buyers will want those things but most of those things do not enhance the performance. Purity: that is exactly what seems to be lacking in the new Civic Type R.

The second problem is that the market right now is very different than in was in the 1990s. We have STIs, RSs, and Golf Rs. They all make around the same horsepower and they send that power to all four wheels. Some even have quick shifting dual-clutch transmissions. Meanwhile Honda no longer has the advantages of its unique suspension (since moving away from it), weight savings, or reliability (others have stepped up). Nor, with its “mid-$30k” price tag, does it have a price advantage.

It saddens my inner twenty year old to say that while the new Civic Type R, much like the new NSX, will indubitably be an amazing vehicle, it is unlikely that it will ever reach the level of competition and popularity it once had. Aside from that, it’s sure to be a great vehicle and I am really glad its finally here.

  • Lokki

  • Andrew_theS2kBore

    As Redusernab’s other resident diehard Honda fanboy, what I lament is Honda’s fundamental change in engineering philosophy. After the Civic CVCC, which I try my best to forget, Honda used clever thinking to find simple, durable solutions to contemporary problems. This gave us the HF CRX, B-series, K-series, NSX, S2000, etc., all of which were unique from and superior to their competition in one way or another. They may not always have been the subjectively best car in their segment, but for real-world buyers, who generally consider value for money in all its aspects (including reliability), they made the purchase of a sporty car a sensible proposition.

    Now Honda builds us a CLA45 clone with less power for only slightly less money, with too much boost and no innovative solutions or unique attributes beyond the exterior and interior styling. It’s a cynical marketing exercise cashing in on the Type-R badge for the secondhand-Integra generation, who are just reaching the point where they can readily afford a new car.

    It disgusts me and I want it gone.

  • Ryan Kelley

    I want to like it, it will probably be a great car. I test drove a 17 Civic hatchback Sport. I really enjoyed the way that it drove. It had plenty of power for a fun daily. Plenty of cargo space. Having owned just a couple Integra’s it’s one of those things that I think everyone loved about them. I left working on cars exactly 6 years ago today. My specialty was Volkswagens. I did that for 6 years before going into the CNC field. I now drive all around New England with a few toolboxes in my trunk. I drive a shit ton, on average of 40-50k a year (Matt should hook me up with the Lexus). Well I went through a few cheap Honda’s and Acura’s for the first couple of years and then into a 08 Si Sedan. I hated that car with a passion. I finally got wise and picked up a TDI wagon. For the amount of driving I do I was actually comfortable for once. It rides nice and it’s not like driving in a tin can like some of my Japanese cars. I priced out and put a deposit on a 17 GTI Sport with a manual gearbox. It is $23,600 before Tax Title and all the BS fees. The Civic was about 3k less but also lacked a few key things that the GTI has. For all the driving I do Bi Xenon’s, heated seats, heated mirrors and Android Auto/car play, keyless lock and start made it a no brainier. Honda really should step up their game to complete with the other Hot hatches. This is all coming from a guy that has a Red “R” permanently on his right arm.

  • wunno sev

    this is not exactly what you’re complaining of, i think, but part of the problem is how much cars have improved in the last few decades. Back In The Day, when you bought a focused sports car, you weren’t really giving up that much compared to similarly-priced contemporaries. now everything comes with Bluetooth and power windows and backup cameras, so when you strip out the fluff you’re really stripping out quite a lot.

    so practically, while the difference in performance you get from stripping out one or two hundred pounds of stuff isn’t really a game-changer, you’re very deeply affecting the daily-driver appeal of the vehicle, and nobody wants to actually buy it. nobody gives a shit about purity of experience when it’s their money on the line. if i’m buying, i want to feel comfortable driving it regularly.

    the end result is that when Toyota makes a pretty barebones sports car that really is about the purity of the driving experience, everyone either goes “well it could really use another 50 horsepower” or “i’ll buy one in 15 years when it’s cheap”. implicit in the latter – and, interpreted broadly, the former – is that it’s just not worth real-car money for a toy car. so why wouldn’t Honda make their toy car comfortable?

    • Very good points.

    • Andrew_theS2kBore

      I’m not sure that characterization is entirely accurate. The 86 family come with Bluetooth/Satnav/power everything/leather trim/etc, and are extremely comfortable. The reason they don’t sell in huge numbers is because a) that engine really is a dog, and b) most people in the small-sports-car market really want a convertible, hence the success of the Miata and Boxster over the 86 and Cayman. For a further counterexample, the Sky, which was comfortable, loaded with extras, and very reasonably priced, was a huge market flop due in large part to the engine.

      Since the Elise/Exige left the market (due to federal exemptions running out, not lack of sales- they sold them as fast as they could build them), there really hasn’t been a true “stripped-out” car for sale in North America.

      Also, I think the real-car/toy-car assessment is off base- I think the real root cause is that people who look for purity/performance first are generally more inclined to look to the used market first, as you can get a lot more of both for your money if owning a new car isn’t important to you.

  • Fred Talmadge

    Guess I’m older and more conservative than I’d like to be. Still I’d kind of like Acura to make a more subdued version.

  • outback_ute

    This is a pretty US-centric view. When the Type R came out, there were Subaru WRX/STi’s, Mitsubishi Evo’s etc in most other markets along with other homologation cars like the Ford Escort RS Cosworth and Nissan GTiR.

    I think that is the key word – homologation. Honda wouldn’t build a triple exhaust on a car where the engineers were in charge, nor 20″ wheels on this size car – the original Integra Type R had 16’s because 17’s were too heavy.

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