2015 Honda Civic Type R First Drive

Posted on Jun 20 2015 - 5:45am by Mary Mohler

What’s now a tired meme was once the greatest part of Honda ownership: the abrupt switch in power and tone as the engine’s variable valve timing switched to the high-rev profile. The original VTEC gave way to i-VTEC, a continuously-variable system that works better on paper, but lacked the two-mode thrill. Fast forward to the 2015 Civic Type R, which combines modern VTEC with turbocharging for the first time on this nameplate. It’s a pair as perfect as peanut butter and jelly. Or Han and Chewie. With ratings of 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet, it’s the most powerful Civic ever sold. Boost just kicked in, yo.

2015 Honda Civic

The Civic Type R has always been an object of unfulfilled desire for enthusiasts in the US and Canada. While Europe and Japan have had multiple generations of the hottest Civic, we made do with the less powerful versions carrying the Si badge. Unfortunately, the 2015 model is another one we can’t have.

That said, this Euro-spec car’s heart will form the basis of a new Civic Type R that’s coming to America, possibly as early as 2016 as a 2017 model. The US will even get a cool five-door hatchback shell similar to the one you see here. If the next North American model – previewed by the coupe concept from this year’s New York Auto Show – is any indication, our tenth-generation Civic is headed in a welcome styling direction. And before the Type R arrives, sweet turbo/VTEC goodness is promised in the form of a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that will power less sporty Civic models, including an Si that will slot below the Type R.

Proving how focused the new Type R is towards gearheads, the sole transmission option is a six-speed manual, which makes it easy to exploit the engine’s 7,000 rpm redline and 6,500 rpm power peak. This engine-speed ceiling is a thousand revs lower than the last naturally aspirated Type R. Indeed, the era of turbocharging seems like the end of Honda’s history of screaming high-rev motors. But forced induction trades revs for torque. The new car has more than twice the oomph of the previous, 198-hp Type R. Our question then, is if that power and torque come with any character.

The 2015 Honda Civic Type R is a very capable car, both on the street and at the track. We expected a stiff ride, but it’s not bone-jarring. Double-jointed front struts and a clever knuckle design isolate steering from the up-and-down movement of the suspension. A set of 19-inch wheels come shod with high-performance 235/35 Continental tires. It all adds up to a clear intent for Type R’s handling to match its impressive power.

Honda equips its latest Euro-spec Civic with Agile Handling Assist, which brakes the inside front wheel when cornering, and that system carries over to the Type R. There’s also a mechanical limited slip differential as opposed to the brake-based electronic systems in most of the Type R’s competitors. Turn-in feels about as quick as you’d want on a street car. As with any front-wheel-drive car a heavy right foot produces predictable understeer, but easing up on the throttle quickly tightens the driving line.Brembo supplies the 13.8-inch ventilated front disc brakes along with beefy four-piston calipers, and they provide an anchor’s worth of stopping power with zero fade during track testing. If there’s a downside to the 2015 Type R’s brake performance, it’s that the rear end gets so light under hard braking that the car can feel darty and unsettled.

In its standard setting the Civic Type R feels aggressive, but still calm enough for easy daily driving. It’s in +R mode that the little hatch’s real character comes out to play. Pressing the button to the left of the steering wheel highlights the dash in red, quickens throttle response, tightens the electronically adjustable shocks, and tones down the steering’s electronic assist. +R mode just kicked in, yo?

So set, the Civic Type R is ready for the racetrack – in this case, the Slovakiaring just outside Bratislava. On the circuit, the Type R is excellent. See what I mean in the video below. It’s no wonder Honda was able to win the 2013 World Touring Car Championship with a vehicle based on this chassis.Speaking of WTCC, that racing pedigree lends itself to the Type R’s aggressive styling. Outlandish aero bits all are over the bodywork, from a set of four fender vents to the big rear spoiler (we’re happy to report it stays out of the driver’s rearward line of sight). If the overall package looks over-the-top in pictures, it’s borderline off-putting in person. We miss the glory days of import performance, but we’re glad most the garish styling was left in the ’90s. At least each piece on the 2015 Civic Type R appears to serves a clear purpose, and it comes together in a harmonious package.

Like many recent Hondas, the dashboard is an odd two-tier design, with several digital readouts to keep track of. Fortunately the most important gauges are easy to view, and a snug set of seats that hug the driver and front passenger make up for the interior’s unnecessary quirkiness.Getting back to the spirit of the new Type R, if you value fat power curves and an abundance of torque these these new turbocharged engines hit the spot. Those wishing for a renaissance of pure, unadulterated high-rpm power will be disappointed. The 2015 Civic Type R has a well-rounded character that suits mainstream tastes. Like it or not, most of the driving public prefers low-end grunt.

The good news is that the spirit of Honda is strong in this one. Along with big power, the 2015 Type R has agile reflexes that remind us of our favorite old Civics. Fans of the brand who have felt underserved these last several years have reason to celebrate, and not just for this car’s 7:50.63 lap at the Nürburgring. The 2015 Civic Type R is formidable, and we can’t wait to get a taste of it on our own shores.