2020 Honda Civic Type R Review - Changed But Unaffected

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2020 Honda Civic Type R Fast Facts

2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (306 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm; 295 lb-ft @ 2,500 -4,500 rpm)
Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
22 city / 28 highway / 25 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
10.5 city, 8.4 highway, 9.6 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$36,995 (U.S) / $43,680 (Canada)
As Tested
$37,950 (U.S.) / $45,991 (Canada)
Prices include $955 destination charge in the United States and $1,770 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2020 honda civic type r review changed but unaffected

The last time your humble scribe traveled on an airplane to test drive a new car in some location that is “not here” was just over a year ago. That vehicle was the Honda CR-V Hybrid.

While in Tucson, Honda reps told us to keep an eye on our inboxes for an upcoming drive of the updated Civic Type R. This raised my eyebrows, as I knew the changes to the Type R for 2020 were fairly mild, though they did promise some improvements to the already excellent driving dynamics.

Still, I’d not turn down too many chances to drive what might be the best high-performance compact car one can buy today.

Of course, COVID binned that trip, along with most others. So instead, a Type R ended up in my garage for a week.

There’s not much I can say about the Type R that I haven’t said already, and while some of the changes are meant to improve the car’s performance, the differences are so subtle that it might require a trip to the track to sort things out. I certainly didn’t notice much difference, positive or negative, on public roads.

It remains a hoot to drive, with swift acceleration that is mostly unaffected by torque steer – a neat trick in a high-powered front-drive machine. It still carves corners in a manner reminiscent of racing machines, with accurate and direct steering that is rarely seen on street cars. It still has a clutch/shifter relationship that makes the gearbox a joy to row.

It also still rides stiffly, has a cheesy boy-racer cabin to go along with cheesy exterior boy-racer looks, and the rear wing is still a source of embarrassment when you’re trundling about town.

Those flaws annoy, and along with the sticker price, it makes the compact sport-sedan intender who intends to daily drive their purchase start thinking about cars that offer 75 percent of the performance for a less-dear price. Honda’s Civic Si – currently on hiatus for 2021, awaiting the next-gen Civic – or the Volkswagen Jetta GLI, for example.

But those with stout backs and the inability to shrug off jokes about overcompensation can still daily this thing.

Either way, if you get the chance to put a Type R through the wringer, you’ll be rewarded.

The changes for 2020 include a mild refresh which adds body-color accents to the bumper cutouts. More important is the larger grille – the opening, which is 13 percent larger, helps to improve engine cooling.

Perhaps more notable are the suspension updates. The adaptive dampers read the road 10 times faster, according to Honda, and stiffened rear bushings for the lower-B arm are meant to improve cornering. Front-suspension compliance bushings are stiffened 10 percent longitudinally and the ball joints have lower friction. That is meant to make the already-sharp steering, well, sharper.

Two-piece brake rotors replace one-piece units upfront in a bid to reduce unsprung weight, while the pads use a new material that is more resistant to brake fade. Honda claims the effort drops about five pounds of weight, and additional tweaks are meant to lead to less play in the pedal before the driver feels the binders biting.

Interior changes are so minimal that only the nerdiest of Honda nerds will notice without a guided tour or a press release in hand. They include new Alcantara wrapping for the steering wheel, a new shift knob, and a new suede shift boot. There’s also a system to enhance engine noise and a performance datalogger that track rats can use to pour over their results after a hot-laps session.

As I said, it was hard to notice the suspension and brake changes during spirited driving on a public road. I suspect I’d need to track the car and/or compare it to a 2019 model back-to-back to really notice.

That’s not a bad thing. The tweaks are meant to make a great car better, and they sure don’t make it worse.

Standard features not already mentioned include Type R badging, serial-number plate, 20-inch wheels, helical limited-slip differential, center-mounted exhaust with three outlets, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, premium audio with subwoofer, LED headlights, and dual-zone climate control.

The Type R isn’t perfect. It’s a bit high-strung, and the looks will turn heads for the wrong reasons at times. But there are few cars, especially at its price point, that are such a hoot to drive.

Kudos to Honda for making mild improvements without screwing up a good thing. We’ll see what the next-generation Type R brings – some rumors have been wild – but should you snag a 2020 like my tester or an essentially carryover 2021, you’ll be more than happy with this generation’s swan song.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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3 of 39 comments
  • KOKing KOKing on Mar 25, 2021

    I've had mine for a little over a year, and it's polarizing to be sure, but more positives overall: - The price: Years of dealer gouging aside (I don't know where that is now; I managed a great deal due to a distress situation), it's nowhere near the most expensive thing in the Honda showroom; let's put it that way. But for $36k+, you gotta drive it to see where most of that money went. - The looks: I wouldn't have put on the bigass wing and fake CF on afterthefact 20yrs ago, but hey, and they don't offer the wingless version in the US. 18" wheels fit, so that's an easy fix. And the awful fake grills in the corners are on every trim, so they're worse on a LX with 16" hubcaps. Face it, nothing new is gonna bring back the sensations of a 90s pre-nannies, big-glass, DOHC VTEC Honda (my NSX isn't going anywhere) but also having been a past BMW owner, I think I'm happier here than where they've gone lately in the above two departments in particular.

  • Superdessucke Superdessucke on Mar 25, 2021

    @Free Mike - See above. My Veloster cost about 28k. The Type-R is 40k in the real world given the scarcity and demand. Or it was about a year ago. Maybe this has changed. I also asked about leasing the Type-R. I got a quote and it added up to more than the MSRP of the Type-R over the 3 year term. So 0 residual?? I asked about that and they mumbled back like some Third World dictator addressing a peon constituent during a factory tour or something. Hyundai dealers will work with you by contrast. I had a pretty good experience purchasing that car.

    • Superdessucke Superdessucke on Mar 25, 2021

      I could have paid most of the P&I on a fairly nice small multi-unit rental property for the proposed lease cost of the Type-R. It's a Honda Civic, not a BMW M5! But apparently some people are willing to pay it. One only needs to go to Bring a Trailer to see what car enthusiasts will do for low production models deemed desirable. That's why you see 2012 CTS-V 6-speed wagons selling for over 70k.

  • Bullnuke Well, production cuts may be due to transport-to-market issues. The MV Fremantle Highway is in a Rotterdam shipyard undergoing repairs from the last shipment of VW products (along with BMW and others) and to adequately fireproof it. The word in the shipping community is that insurance necessary for ships moving EVs is under serious review.
  • Frank Wait until the gov't subsidies end, you aint seen nothing yet. Ive been "on the floor" when they pulled them for fuel efficient vehicles back during/after the recession and the sales of those cars stopped dead in their tracks
  • Vulpine The issue is really stupidly simple; both names can be taken the wrong way by those who enjoy abusing language. Implying a certain piece of anatomy is a sign of juvenile idiocy which is what triggered the original name-change. The problem was not caused by the company but rather by those who continuously ridiculed the original name for the purpose of VERY low-brow humor.
  • Sgeffe There's someone around where I live who has a recent WRX-STi, but the few times I've been behind this guy, he's always driving right at the underposted arbitrary numbers that some politician pulled out of their backside and slapped on a sign! With no gendarmes or schoolkids present! Haven't been behind this driver on the freeway, but my guess is that he does the left lane police thing with the best of 'em!What's the point of buying such a vehicle if you're never going to exceed a speed limit? (And I've pondered that whilst in line in the left lane at 63mph behind a couple of Accord V6s, as well as an AMG E-Klasse!)
  • Mebgardner I'm not the market for a malleable Tuner / Track model, so I dont know: If you are considering a purchase of one of these, do you consider the Insurance Cost Of Ownership aspect? Or just screw it, I'm gonna buy it no matter.The WRX is at the top of the Insurance Cost pole for tuner models, is why I ask.