2023 Honda Civic Type R First Drive: Confidently Brilliant

As we are constantly reminded by the McRib, the allure of something is in no small part tied into its exclusivity. The more we're told we can't have it, the more we want it. Such is the case with Honda's Type R cars, of which very few officially made their way to the streets of the good ole US of A. In 2017, the first official Civic Type R for the US market debuted and proved it was very much worth the wait. Since then, the hatchback has been lauded for its impressive performance without the loss of tried-and-true Honda Civic utility, and all for a relatively attainable asking price, so long as you could get your hands on one.

When the eleventh generation Civic loomed on the horizon, we knew the next Type R wouldn't be far behind and indeed, its debut sent ripples throughout the sports car community. The usual promises of more power and better capability were there, but so was a design that was far more reserved than the last. Did this allude to a more mature, serious car than the exuberant gives-no-effs version it replaces? Is it still appealing without its air of exclusivity?

Finally having some wheel time has assuaged some of these concerns. Spoiler alert: 2023 the Honda Civic Type R rips.

R U ready?

The 2023 Civic Type R is the latest Honda hatchback to wear the iconic Type R badge. Its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 315 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Not only does this make the 2023 car more powerful than the outgoing one, it has the honor of being the most powerful Honda-branded vehicle ever offered in the US.

Making use of that power is a 6-speed manual transmission that's been upgraded with a lighter flywheel for quicker, smoother shifts. Can't row your own gears? That's going to be an issue as the Type R is a manual-gearbox-only kind of car, though there is a very forgiving rev-matching system included to make the Honda more sporty if not accessible.

Suspension of disbelief

It all rides on an improved suspension setup that is twice as stiff as the standard Civic hatchback and optimized for more sporty handling. A dual axis suspension up front includes more negative camber for better stability, while a multi-link rear works its magic to increase the precision of its dynamic performance.

Amongst all the suspension engineering wizardry is an adaptive damper system that adjusts automatically to different driving conditions, the degree of which is dictated by the Civic Type R's driving modes. Comfort sees the dampers provide more give while sport ups the stiffness and responsiveness in a balanced, street setting. +R makes them more aggressively firm for better track performance.

This is rounded out with a set of new 19-inch wheels that are half an inch wider than the standard set and shod in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, specially developed for the Type R.

Cleaned-up act

You might've noticed that this Civic Type R's design is a bit of a departure from the previous iteration. The outgoing Honda's styling was quite distinct, though it did turn some fans off for looking a little too immature for the tastes of an older audience. Like the previous one, the latest Type R's look expands off of the baseline Civic's style with R-specific design.

In this car, everything forward of the A-pillar is unique, from the vented hood, to the honeycomb grille, flared fenders and aerodynamic front bumper. It's matched by wider rear fenders and rear doors. Underneath the skin is a frame that's 15 percent more rigid. All of these tweaks add up to a lower, wider and longer package that looks taught and aggressive but still restrained.

Sufficiently spartan

The inside of the Type R follows the same line as the outside. Though sporty, it's quite streamlined and functional and less in-your-face as it, could be, frankly, bright red sport seats notwithstanding. These sculpted seats are fairly stiff but they do their job of holding passengers in place during the more twisty portions of a drive. Beyond that is a clean interior layout with a honeycomb grille mirroring the one in front running across the dash hiding the air condition vents. A 9-inch touchscreen — with a dedicated volume knob — and the HVAC controls make up nearly the entirety of the dashboard inputs. The remaining are a few steering wheel mounted buttons and the drive mode select, which sits on the center console beside the brushed steel shift knob.

Behind the steering wheel is a 10.2-inch digital display cluster that changes depending on drive mode. In +R mode, the display switches to an F1-style graphic displaying RPMs and the current gear prominently above other performance information like a G-meter, car temperatures and lap times. There is also a strip of shift light indicators above the screen that steadily illuminate the closer the car gets to the red line, something handy to have in your periphery while on the track.  

Speaking of, the Civic Type R includes an enhanced version of Honda's performance datalogger. It previously required pairing with a smartphone app but the software is now fully integrated into the system and can keep track of the driver's sporty exploits. Included with the fun stuff is a suite of safety tech like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot information and collision warnings.

Civic take the wheel

In a performance setting, the Civic Type R stands out for being as smooth as it is solid. Its systems are incredibly supportive of your sporty endeavors, and the Honda feels like it's guiding the driver with an invisible hand or foot with every input. This isn't to mean it takes away from what the driver is doing, but it feels like there's an intangible spotter on hand while you do all the heavy lifting.

This was reassuring as our testing ground, the usually warm and arid Sonoma Valley, was awash in cold, clammy conditions on our visit. Despite the literal rain cloud hanging over any performance testing, the Civic Type R was stable and sure-footed from the get-go. As soon as we were nestled into the rigid sport seats, the Honda was equally unflappable throughout the drive.

R for reassurance

Different drive modes have a palpable influence on throttle mapping and steering weight, and even switching from comfort to sport is enough to make the Type R tighten up. Holding off on the all-out +R mode temporarily due to the wet conditions, sport mode did not disappoint as we headed into our first group of mountain switchbacks.

Even in damp conditions, the Civic Type R made every move with a confidence that is subsequently passed along to the driver. The minute tweaks to the chassis — an inch wider here, a stiffer joint there, more camber rigidity, etc — all add up to a vehicle that feels stable and planted throughout a spirited backroad dash. Given the changing conditions, the summer tires the Civic wore on its 19-inch wheels rarely gave up the ghost, only doing so when the road beneath became quite glassy, and even then, the shift was minimal enough where the traction control wasn't called in to intervene.

Smooth calibrator

Throughout the drive, the Civic Type R's 6-speed manual transmission stood out as a highlight. Rarely does a gearbox steal the spotlight unless it's particularly bad or quirky, but this one was sublime. The clutch pedal moves as fast as your foot can, but still has that resistance to communicate everything that's happening beneath your foot, deftly avoiding being too heavy or so gossamer-like that there is no feedback whatsoever. Rowing the shifter between gears is like stirring a bowl of thick, buttery cream. It moves throughout the gate deliberately but gently in a way that's almost uncomfortably satisfying. 

This gearbox includes the on-by-default rev matching feature the previous Type R sported, though faster thanks to upgrades that include a lighter flywheel. Overall, it's very unobtrusive, and its quickness combined with the gearbox's smooth nature further masks its involvement, leaving you to wonder at times if you've been nailing a series of sweet shifts or if this smart system was carrying you all along.

Throttle is equally buttery as it isn't dialed in so much as it's poured, gently flowing from the front wheels and coating the road below, without any hesitation. Brakes performed similarly well, not necessitating a heavy foot while also avoiding any twitchy sensitivity. Looking back on it now, the Civic Type R felt expertly calibrated, as if the steering, suspension and drivetrain was tuned to my bespoke tastes, but of course it wasn't, it's just that tightly put together.

Full wets

Sonoma Raceway is a race track that offers up a wide variety of driving scenarios, with a mix of elevation changes, hairpins, s-curves and a handful of opportunities to break into a straight sprint. It's very technical but fun and rewarding, and on the day of our visit, very wet. We had arrived to see what the Type R was capable of beyond the bounds of open roads, and one way or another the Civic was going to be put to the test.

The moments of glassiness encountered on the drive over were just a taste of what to expect at the raceway, as the day's rolling weather kept shifting the track's surface conditions. As one end dried up, the other was re-soaked and vice versa, keeping us on edge throughout the drive. As such, the Honda experts on hand recommended we stay in comfort to have the benefit of a looser suspension response and more gradual throttle mapping to avoid any snap inputs that might cause us to slip.


Even in comfort, the Civic Type R held little back. Uphill, the front-wheel drive sports car pulled it's way to the track's higher section of corners with ease, only going squirrelly in a dip between curves right before the sweeping downhill carousel. Picking up speed down the long left-hander begged the Type R to further unsettle, though the base of the turn properly caught the car, and indeed the Civic was able to pull itself out of the bend and right into a speedy kink.

Though a touch nerve-wracking at first, the Type R's balanced nature and inherent FWD stability slowly brought back the confidence it was imbued with before. Straights were no problem and in instances of the front wheels slipping when given some gas, it was quick to catch itself. Any sense of understeer was fleeting, and when comfort mode's more stringent traction control tolerances were met, the Civic righted itself with little fuss.

The best type

By every metric, the 2023 Civic Type R is an upgrade from its phenomenal-in-its-own-right predecessor. According to a Honda rep, while they were certain the 10th-generation car would appeal to a younger demographic, they saw their actual buyers as older drivers with the income to swipe up a new track toy. It turns out that not only was this the case, but the younger buyers were over-stretching themselves to get their hands on the Type R. This new one, with its rock-solid handling and more broadly appealing design, could very well see an even greater swathe of customers breaking their piggy banks to get a hold of one.

How many piggies? With an asking price starting at $42,895 the 2023 Civic Type R will remain a reach for most, though that price includes just about everything that makes the car worthwhile as standard. Destination fees and predictable dealer markups will surely make the final price a smidge higher. This puts it in the realm of the GR Corolla's Circuit edition, a competitor with a different approach to the same category, which comes in at $42,900.

Ultimately, those who want one know what they're getting into, and they'll be reassured to know that the latest Civic Type R is absolutely worth fighting for.