When the Honda Civic Type R’s 2018 Performance Car of the Year title was announced, our inboxes clogged with enough emotion-charged emails that month to almost crash our web servers.
This track review was carried out in conjunction with MOTOR's Bang For Your Bucks 2018
Some people offered a congratulatory comment, or an ambivalent one, but many were so disbelieving a front-wheel drive car could beat everything from a Porsche to an HSV, they reasoned it was only because it arrived with gold bullions hiding in its boot.
Well, those doubters should be stuffing themselves with humble pie right now. The Civic Type R has just become the only car in this magazine’s history to win our two biggest events back-to-back, confirming Honda’s hero has the quantifiable performance to thump all-comers at an event almost completely based on cold, hard and transparent data.
It dominated the braking discipline, showed ferocious pace around a racetrack, and excelled on the drag strip where a front-wheel drive car usually has no right to. And before you beat the conspiracy drum again about its clean sweep atop the judges’ rankings, its price and performance data was so convincing on the spreadsheet, each judge would have had to place the Civic eighth or lower to dethrone it from top spot. And that’s a situation we’d find truly unbelievable.
The Civic Type R is so bewitching to drive on road or track that it’d convince anyone that the Type R brand is back – better than ever. From the way it grasps you in its G-force-proof front seats, or how the gearshift is almost level with yours hands on the steering wheel, there are classic Type R cues strewn throughout it.
The digital cluster thrusts an arc-shaped rev gauge into view like an S2000, while the gear knob’s cool titanium touch honours the original Integra Type R or NSX-R.
Classic MOTOR: DC2 Type R v DC5 Type R v DC5 Type S
What the new Civic Type R brings to the table, besides a long-awaited return to form, is a new approach to brilliance. That turbocharger lurking under its bonnet means there’s no more frenetic redline-chasing drama or explosion of noise as VTEC bumps its camshafts onto its big lobes.
The slightly oversquare engine still likes to spin and uses variable valve lift, but it now surges to redline from earlier in the rev range. It’s smoother than the other turbo four cylinders here and delivers a better top-end, too, feeling threatened only by the Focus RS’s 2.3-litre for torque.
Lack of all-wheel drive traction means the Civic lags behind others from a standing start. There’s a fair chunk of wheel spin through first gear and the car’s shortly stacked six-speed ratios, separated by BFYB 2018’s slickest and most satisfying shift (although not as buttery as Honda’s greatest), means you’ll need to nudge into third at 99km/h, penalising its 0-100km/h time.
However, it’s still leagues ahead of anything else front-drive and once on a roll it’ll decimate its all-wheel drive rivals, proving Honda knew what it was doing by selecting a lighter, simpler front-drive layout.
Where the Civic Type R shines brighter is in the braking zone. Its relatively humble steel brakes are tremendous, arresting it from 100km/h in 32.95m and with so much bite, stop after stop, you’d swear Honda had snuck big-dollar carbon ceramics into its wheel guards.
The Honda continues to wage war in the data’s average cornering speeds. The 370Z Nismo might have pipped it in first place by an ant’s footprint, but when you realise the Nissan presses 80mm more tyre width into the road under a more inherently balanced rear-drive layout, the 0.01km/h gap dividing them fades into a moral victory for the Civic Type R.
It’s all thanks to some serious engineering underneath. Like that helical LSD bolted between dual-axis front struts, bridged by a stiffer bodyshell to revised rear-suspension arms. Grippy 245mm-wide Continentals are the last touch, unlocking brilliant drive, neutrality, and precision for a front-driver with this much power.
People were spending so long out on track, smashing the brakes harder and leaning into its wall of grip with more commitment as the laps went on, we almost needed a crowbar to pry them from the driver’s seat.
It packs varying levels of ESP intervention in its drive modes, including full off, and the switchable rev-match is doofus-proof. If the Type R was a politician it would transform into Barack Obama – unflappable, infectious, approachable by novices and professionals alike.
In Luffy’s hands the Civic slices Winton Raceway in 1min 35.9sec, the fastest lap time on the day and comfortably burying previous efforts in any production front-drive car. To share that time with the Ford Focus RS LE might sour its achievement a little, but consolation lies in the fact the Ford’s tyres could satisfy a GT3 car’s grip requirements.
It’s not all roses, though, as a few chinks lurk in its armour. Honda hasn’t aced the electric steering, which can be a touch vague just off-centre, Luffy sniffed out some wheelspin in tight corners, and that engine could use some singing lessons under the Hyundai i30 N’s tutelage.
Most of its engine noise is muffled by the gases rushing through the turbocharger. Also, its looks, and interior, are sure to fuel a lot of arguments at your local pub.
But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. While an Infiniti Q50 Red Sport’s blistering speed is bolstered by crappy brakes, or a Toyota 86’s crisp steering is contrasted by little grip, the Honda Civic Type R’s elements complement each other, and that’s why it logs the second highest lap V-max – even though it’s far from being the second most powerful car.
The BFYB formula favours the Honda’s performance figures so much that you would have to heap another $13K on the Civic Type R’s $51,990 price tag to knock it down to second place.
It’s this all-round brilliance that injects the Honda not only into an elite BFYB winner’s circle, but lifts it into another echelon of fame altogether. Only Nissan and BMW have bagged both PCOTY and BFYB before, yet needed multiple years and variants (an S14 200SX/S15 200SX and E36 328i/E36 M3) to achieve the feat, leaving the Honda Civic Type R as the force behind the most dominant award season in MOTOR history. All hail our scorching-hot BFYB king.
Putting the money where its performance is on Bang For Your Bucks 2018
Honda Civic Type R BFYB 2018 Results - WINNER
0-100km/h: 5.81sec (7th)
0-400m: 13.79sec @ 173.12km/h (7th)
Lap Time: 1:35.90sec (=1st)
Bang Index: 195.7
Bucks Index: 96.6
BFYB Index: 151.1
Warren Luff - 1st
“The Civic Type R is really fun to drive on the limit. It’s very neutral in its chassis balance and it’s only once you come out of the tight corners in second gear that you actually realise it’s front-wheel drive because you do get a little bit of wheel spin. Overall it’s a confidence-inspiring car for the driver as it does everything so well. There’s excellent front-end grip with great driver comfort and feedback. All in all it’s definitely worthy of the Type R name tag.”
David Morley - 1st
“Still my favourite front-driver ever.”
Dylan Campbell - 1st
“Drive it as hard as you can. It shouldn’t be as good as it is”
Scott Newman - 1st
“A hero. Just does everything you want it to.”
Louis Cordony - 1st
“Instant hot-hatch royalty that doesn’t cost a kingdom”
1st - Volkswagen Golf R Grid Edition
2nd - Hyundai i30 N
3rd - Volkswagen Golf GTI Original
$50,000 to $100,000
1st - Honda Civic Type R
2nd - Ford Focus RS Limited Edition
3rd - Audi RS3 Sportback
ROLLS OF HONOUR
1994 - Mitsubishi Lancer GSR
1995 - Nissan 200SX
1996 - BMW 328i
1998 - Subaru Impreza WRX
1999 - Subaru Impreza WRX
2000 - HSV Clubsport R8
2001 - Renault Sport Clio
2002 - Subaru Impreza WRX STI
2003 - Holden Astra SRi Turbo
2004 - Mitsubishi Lancer EVO VIII
2005 - Subaru Impreza WRX STI
2006 - Holden Commodore SS
2007 - Holden Commodore SS
2008 - Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo Ute
2009 - Subaru Impreza WRX
2010 - VW Golf GTI
2011 - VW Polo GTI
2012 - VW Polo GTI
2013 - Mini JCW GP
2014 - Ford Fiesta ST
2015 - Ford Fiesta ST
2016 - VW Polo GTI
2017 - Ford Focus RS
2018 HONDA CIVIC TYPE R
BODY: 5-door, 4-seat hatch
ENGINE: 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
BORE/STROKE: 86.0mm x 85.9mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 9.8:1
POWER: 228kW @ 6500rpm
TORQUE: 400Nm @ 2500-4500rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
SUSPENSION: struts, coil springs, adaptive dampers (f); multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (r)
BRAKES: 350mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers (f); 305mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (r)
WHEELS: 20.0 x 8.5-inch (f/r)
TYRES: Continental SportContact6; 245/35 R20 (f/r)
Bang For Your Bucks 2018
The Contenders, Judges & Criteria
15 of the hottest new fast cars under $100K roll up to take on our famous formula. Which will be number 1?