2020 Honda Civic Type R Review - Changed But Unaffected
2020 Honda Civic Type R Fast Facts
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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