So the very-close-to-production prototype of the Honda Civic Type R was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show last week. And, from what Honda has told us, it’s actually coming to the US this time. There’s absolutely no doubt that the the car is going to be supernaturally competent at defying the laws of physics, but is it worthy of the Type R name?
Let’s get the specifics out of the way first. This thing is going to have something like 340 horsepower bursting from its 2.0-liter engine, a figure obliterating and dancing on the grave of the 276-horsepower gentleman’s agreement that ruled all Japanese cars, even the almighty NSX, when the orignal EK9 Civic Type R was introduced in 1997.
But what does this new Type R really represent for Honda? The original Type Rs are the ultimate manifestation of Honda’s take on sports car and sports driving. It was pure and mechanically elegant and simple. Its FWD-ness seemed at odds with that mission but it was the layout that Honda for decades had stubbornly stuck to, some say even perfected. It was all very uniquely Honda, something nobody else could’ve done. And the results were amazing.
The newest Civic Type R, like Honda’s other current cars, is probably extremely good but ultimately not that unique. They’ve become followers of other carmakers and market trends, whereas they used to set their own rules. Plus, just look at it. The original Civic Type R could be easily mistaken for a regular, grocery-getting Civic to the untrained eye. Upon receiving these photos, our editor-in-chief Ben Hsu’s first reaction was, “It looks like Optimus Prime fucked the Batmobile.”
Perhaps a less cynical way of looking at it is that Honda has built it to sell to an existing and established base. It’ll be much more competitive against something like the Focus RS and French pocket rockets than a faithful reinterpretation of the original Civic Type R.
As our editor-at-large Ricky Silverio, who favors the tuning aspect of Japanese cars, puts it:
It’s a progressive evolution of the Type R lineage, but there are many other cars of this type in the marketplace so it has to be compared with them first. The original Type Rs were miles ahead of and revolutionary for their time. In the segment the Civic Type R is now trying to occupy, AWD is the name of the game.
Now that there are platforms with turbocharging and AWD that have taken off, the new Civic Type R must compete and outshine the likes of those cars or it will just be another also-ran choice for the enthusiast.
One could also say that what’s neat about this new Civic Type R is that it harkens back to performance specials in Japan with a lot of cool gimmicky motorsport otaku-friendly doodads. Think Suzuki Alto Works or the DeTomaso-tuned Daihatsu Charade.
That is what sold the original Type Rs — not the design but their guts. The interchangeability was a factor too, but the cars’ simple, well-thought-out but very noticeable upgrades made a world of difference.
Like the new NSX, the Civic Type R is not really a Japanese product. It’s designed and built in the UK, and is what a Brit’s idea of a Japanese hot hatch should be. Similarly, the NSX is what an American’s idea of what a Japanese supercar should be. Honda has identified its biggest markets for these respective cars, and let the local influence soak in. For marketing people, it’s probably brilliant.
However, what’s missing about it to me is the mechanical sophistication and purity of Honda’s ideals. It might be sophisticated technically, but it’s also the equivalent of strapping on a bunch of rockets to a go kart. If that’s your thing, the Civic Type R should arrive in the US in fall of 2017, according to Honda USA officials we’ve spoken to.