First Drive: 2023 Honda Civic Type R

11/15/2022

First Drive: 2023 Honda Civic Type R

11/15/2022

When we tested the outgoing Civic Type R last year, we weren’t shy about our fondness for Honda’s top-tier performance car. Thanks to an array of driver-focused upgrades, a spritely turbocharged engine, and an attainable asking price, the Type R reminded us that a deeply satisfying driving experience isn’t directly tied to massive horsepower numbers or which wheels are driven.


But the fun came with a rather significant caveat. Outfitted with all manner of scoops, vents, and wings, the polarizing boy racer exterior design was a tough pill to swallow for a lot of people who could actually afford to buy one.


2023 Civic Type R overall

Based on the eleventh-generation Civic, the new Type R’s look isn’t as outlandish as its predecessor, but elements like the flared fenders, rear wing, and red badging make it clear that this car was built to perform.


Now underpinned by the eleventh-generation Civic architecture – which is essentially an evolution of the outgoing platform – the Type R takes on a much cleaner and more mature appearance. Considering how good its predecessor was to drive, Honda probably could have simply left it at that and had a winner on its hands, but the automaker took the opportunity to make a number of tweaks throughout the car to modernize its technology and improve its performance. More of a good thing is typically welcome, but making a lot of changes also introduces the opportunity to ruin a good thing.


Did Honda trade benchmark hot hatch performance for an aesthetic that’s easier on the eyes? We headed to northern California to find out by way of the winding roads in Napa Valley and on the road course at Sonoma Raceway.

More Than A New Look

While there’s a lot of new stuff going on underneath the skin, the big news is the exterior redesign. Much like the standard eleventh-generation Civic, its far less busy than its predecessor, embracing a pragmatic approach that keeps body creases and character lines to a minimum while focusing on design elements that serve a function. The front track, for instance, is an inch wider than the outgoing Type R while the rear track expands by three-quarters of an inch, changes which convinced Honda to develop new flared fenders for both the front and rear of the car (rather than using a tacked-on appliqué at the back, which was the case with the previous car).


And while the aero package appears to be dialed down when compared to the outgoing car, Honda says that the new Type R actually creates less drag and more downforce thanks to extensive wind tunnel testing and additional development input from their Super GT race team and other motorsport partners. It’s even more impressive when you consider the fact that the rear wing is significantly smaller this time around, and one of the design priorities for the engineering team was to minimize its impact on rear visibility. Meanwhile all of the body panels forward of the A-pillar are unique to the Type R and bring a stronger focus on efficient airflow to improve cooling for both the engine and the brakes.


2023 Honda Civic Type R K20C1 Engine

The Type R’s 2.0-liter turbocharged K20C1 inline four-cylinder engine now dishes out 315 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. That makes this the most powerful factory-built Civic Type R ever produced, as well as the most powerful Honda vehicle ever sold in the U.S.


The 2.0-liter turbocharged K20C1 inline four-cylinder engine makes a return here, but thanks a redesigned turbocharger and intake system, the powerplant now produces peak output numbers of 315 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which is available from just 2600 RPM. These represent gains of 9 horsepower and 15 lb-ft of torque, so these aren’t exactly game-changing improvements, but the upgrades do make this the most powerful Civic Type R ever produced as well as the most powerful Honda ever offered in the United States. Heat management is said to be improved thanks to a bigger radiator and larger diameter engine fan, while a new active exhaust system is also on hand to provide a more robust soundtrack.


As before, the four-pot is exclusively matched up with a six-speed manual gearbox with automatic rev-matching, and here it scores a new, lighter flywheel for more urgent throttle response as well as a revised shifter for shorter throws. A mechanical limited slip differential is also standard equipment, as are the four-piston Brembo brake calipers and 13.8-inch discs up front.


Digging further into the chassis, the new Type R benefits from a 1.4-inch longer wheelbase and a fifteen percent improvement in rear torsional rigidity due to the changes that are inherent to the eleventh-generation Civic platform. The dual axis strut front suspension and the three-mode adaptive dampers have been retuned to provide sharper handling as well as an expanded range of ride stiffness, while the widened track allows for meatier rubber all around. 265/30/R19 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires come standard, but if that’s not enough grip for you, Honda now also offers dealer-installed Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s that were developed specifically for this car.


2023 Honda Civic Type R tire options

The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires on the new Type R are 20mm wider than tires on the outgoing model. Ultra-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires are also available as a dealer-installed option.


The Type R’s signature red-and-black interior motif returns, but like the exterior, it’s a subtler affair that emphasizes function over flash. The sport seats up front have been completely redesigned to provide more substantial shoulder and thigh bolstering in order to keep occupants firmly in place during performance driving, while changes to the seat’s internal structure also enhance comfort during everyday driving.


There’s new tech on board, too. A Type R-exclusive digital gauge cluster offers unique layouts for the Comfort, Sport, and +R driving modes, while an F1-style row of lights positioned above it allow you to keep tabs on engine speed and shift points. A new infotainment system with a 9-inch touchscreen display and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is also part of the deal. The system features real-time telemetry data through Honda’s updated LogR software and pumps out the tunes through a 12-speaker Bose audio system.

Behind The Wheel

While it’s clear there’s a lot more going on here than just some new sheet metal, we’re happy to report that Honda hasn’t lost the plot.


Our day started off in the rolling hills of California wine country, which would normally be a great place to let the Type R stretch its legs, but several days of rain meant slick canyon roads and large rocks hiding behind every blind corner. With the weather expected to improve later in the day when we arrived at the track, we decided not to tempt fate and focus our attention on what the new Type R is like to drive under everyday circumstances.


2023 Honda Civic Type R interior

As with the exterior, the Type R touches applied to the cabin are more restrained this time around.


The sport seats in the outgoing car didn’t leave us with much to complain about, but the new thrones one-up them in virtually every way. Although they require some extra maneuvering when getting into and out of the car due to the aggressive thigh bolsters and lack a heating function, these seats are pretty much ideal for a car like this, offering an effective balance between performance and comfort that kept us from moving around when we hustled the car on some fun roads without beating us up everywhere else.


The gearbox was one of our favorite elements of the outgoing car, and that remains true here as well. The just-right clutch weight and natural engagement point make the car easy to acclimate to, while the short-throw shifter moves with from gate to gate with satisfying precision. The generous low-end torque offered by the boosted two-liter also allows you to get things moving without any fuss.


Left in its default Comfort mode, the Type R is surprisingly compliant over rough surfaces and expansion joints despite the tires’ miniscule sidewalls, but additional suspension stiffness is always at arm’s reach thanks to the drive mode toggle switch and +R button on the center console. There are now four modes in total – Comfort, Sport, +R, and a new Individual mode that allows you to mix and match suspension stiffness, throttle response, rev-matching behavior, and other parameters to your preference. There’s also a setting which dictates how much engine noise is added to the mix through the stereo system, which seems a bit unnecessary because the new active exhaust is a major improvement over the outgoing car’s setup on its own. But it’s there if you want it.


2023 Honda Civic Type R Individual Modes

The new Individual mode is a welcome addition and allows drivers to configure a wide range of vehicle settings to taste.


By the time we arrived at the track the weather was starting to improve, but cold temperatures and continued drizzle meant that our first lapping session was lively due more to the amount of available grip rather than the outright pace. The instructors we were to chase around the course urged us to leave the car in Comfort mode, but it didn’t take long for us to tire of the stability control’s early intervention, so we soon mustered the courage to switch over to +R mode.


Along with stiffening the suspension, weighting up the steering, and providing more urgent engine response, the track-focused mode also significantly loosens reins of the stability and traction control systems. That made for some exciting moments in sections like the off-camber apex at Turn 4 and on a particularly slick patch of pavement between turns 5 and 6, but thanks to the Type R’s excellent balance and front-wheel drive configuration, it didn’t take much to get the car back in line, even at times when understeer started to resemble something more like a four-wheel drift.


But by the time of our last session the conditions had improved significantly, and the pace ramped up in turn. Like its predecessor, the new Type R leaves you wanting for very little when driven in anger. While the additional power isn’t really noticeable, there’s more than enough grunt on tap to keep things interesting, and thanks to strong, responsive braking and genuinely communicative steering, the Type R feels like a true driver’s car. We didn’t want to give it back.


2023 Honda Civic Type R Active Exhaust

The new active exhaust system improves the Type R’s song significantly. The outlets have been reconfigured as well: While the left and right tips were larger than the center one in the outgoing car, now the opposite is true.


If there’s a hidden kick in the pants here, it’s the price. Like the outgoing car, the Type R comes in one fully-loaded spec where the exterior color being the only option aside from dealer-installed accessories like the aforementioned Cup 2s.


At an MSRP of $42,895, the price is significantly more grown up as well, and that’s a bit of a bummer for the younger buyers who this car will appeal to the most. But despite the higher cost of entry, the Type R still feels like a bargain. Finding something that’s this engaging and usable today usually means venturing closer to six-figure territory, so the fact that the new Type R is still cheaper than the average new car on sale today remains an impressive feat in its own right.


2023 Honda Civic Type R on-track


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