It’s a spectacular summer day in Montreal, and not just because it’s 80 degrees. It’s Formula One week, and the remote buzz is audible even downtown as F1 drivers crackle off practice laps at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. They turn one of the most peaceful places in one of North America’s greatest cities, into one of the noisiest.
Under the same bright blue Quebec sky, a few dozen miles away, another buzz becomes a din of beating wings, flailing arms and recently acquired curse words— Tabernac!—when vicious bastard blackflies mug me for quarter-sized drops of blood.
They get theirs. Soon enough, they’re overwhelmed by the angrier buzz of red, white, and blue swarming ICAR, a track fashioned out of the barely-used leftovers of Montreal’s old Mirabel airport.
We’re here to sample the track-ready 2017 Honda Civic Type R, a divine little ball-peen hammer that turns up Honda’s wick hotter than it’s ever been.
The Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX, and Volkswagen Golf R get put on notice by the Type R’s breathy powertrain and its flare-tastic shape. Does it all gel like the Subie and VW—or does it barely hold its grip on reality, like the Focus?
Take a knee while we take the wheel.
Civic Si as prelude
It wasn’t so long ago—three weeks—that we took you for some Mojave loops in the 2017 Honda Civic Si, until now the latest installment in the marathon launch of the latest Civic. The launch began with the 2016 Civic sedan. Then hatchbacks and coupes joined the fun, before Honda headed into performance territory.
You read that story, so you know the Civic Si marks a VTEC-free waypoint on the road to happiness. Here’s the final stop: the fastest and most powerful Honda-brand car ever sold in the U.S.
Under its straked hood the Civic Type R sports a U.S.-built, direct-injected 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4. It blasts out 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels.
Every cubic inch of the engine gets massaged to withstand that searing output. VTEC makes its return, along with a water-cooled exhaust manifold, lightweight valves, an oil cooler, and a twist to the boost pressure from the Si’s 20.3 psi to 22.8 psi. It’s up on the Civic Si by 101 hp, and the Type R’s max torque spans a plateau from 2,500 rpm to 4,500 rpm, thanks to that extra boost.
A standard helical limited-slip front differential helps keep its hysterical power in line. A three-mode drive selector toggles some driving efforts from normal to Sport and +R track modes.
Honda doesn’t peg 0-60 mph times, but low-five-second times feel correct as track workers give us the two-finger OK to screech onto Mirabel’s elevation-free pavement in the Type R’s 20-inch shoes.
Within a turn or two, the Type R distances itself from the schizo Focus RS on one end of the spectrum, and the WRX/Golf R on the other.
Tremendous power comes with trade-offs. There’s none of the manic high-end wail that’s marked VTEC from the days of the Prelude. Honda fits a three-port exhaust with a center resonator to make the Type R sound beefier down low, and smoother up high. The juvenile wastegate flapping, snarling, popping and crackling of the frantic RS have no equal here. Honda’s left a lot on the acoustic table, to some tuners’ delight no doubt.