The New Civic Type R Will Be Great, but Will It Be A Honda?
It’s what Honda fans have been demanding for years - the power to keep up with their turbocharged rivals, these days composed primarily of the Focus ST and GTI, but perhaps even the all-wheel drive Golf R and Focus RS.
Honda is finally realizing what Volkswagen realized about a decade ago (not counting the occasional R32, of course) when VW dropped its big VR6 engine from the GTI lineup: that turbocharging is the future. And it’s not just Volkswagen. Other naturally aspirated staples of the class have since died out, like the V6 Eclipse. Against the competition, the 9th gen Civic Si seemed like an antique - a “big” naturally aspirated 2.4 liter engine providing a meager 205 horsepower and 174 pound feet of torque, compared to the Focus ST’s 252 horsepower and 270 pound feet of torque. For the new Civic Type R, Honda really stepped up their game with 306 horsepower and 295 pound feet - enough to easily dispose of the current FWD competitors and perhaps a couple of all wheel drives one traditionally seen as outside of its class.
So there is much to be excited about with the new Honda Civic Type R, but, I dare say, there’s some to be worried about as well - at least if you’re a long time Honda fan.
Namely, did Honda trade its soul for speed?
Sure the Civic Si was objectively outgunned, but at least it offered a unique option for those purists who wanted something simpler and lighter. It was the last holdout of the old school. Honda’s engine selection in the Civic Si, the closest we ever got to a Type R, has proven not only to be extremely reliable, but also to have a very predictable powerband. I hesitate to call it linear, because any dyno chart will show you the abrupt peak when VTEC kicked in, but it’ll produce pretty much the same power at the same RPM and throttle position with no turbo to spool up.
While turbocharging has gotten vastly better than when I was a kid and lag is now pretty subtle, you often see cars like the Focus ST wheezing on the top end in order to achieve that traffic-friendly low end torque. The new Type R could definitely follow that approach, but then we would lose that famous top end that Honda is so loved for. Honda has already stated that peak torque will be available at just 2500 RPM, implying a much broader power band than its predecessors. Hopefully Honda will choose to give up some of that streetability to achieve peak power near the 7000 RPM redline and keep that classic Honda feel.
Some of the other potential concerns include things like weight.
Turbochargers are not ethereal, massless things, but they, along with their accompanying parts like intercoolers, all add weight. Furthermore, increasing the power substantially in any manner will usually require strengthening elsewhere in the car, also adding weight. Just compare the difference between a 2008 BMW 128i and 135i, for instance, which are extremely similar except for the turbocharged inline six versus the older naturally aspirated inline 6, and you will see that this makes a substantial difference. Indeed, the problem is actually a little worse than a few extra pounds hindering acceleration, since all of that weight is at the front, inherently the heaviest part of a FWD car, meaning balance and therefore handling might be harmed.
And what for that famous Honda reliability?
Part of the benefit of a Honda engine is how simple and time tested they are. Adding a turbocharger doesn’t mean it will be unreliable of course, there are tons of turbocharged cars on the road today, including a WRX I’ve had since 2003, and virtually all long haul vehicles like 18 wheelers are turbocharged, but it does add more complexity and an inherently greater number of potential things to go wrong. Take into account that, at least compared to rivals, because Honda is relatively new to turbocharging, there may be some growing pains in the first couple of years of these engines, not unlike BMW’s N54 and its infamous HPFP issues which were mostly ironed out a few years later with the successor N55.
My last concern is about having too much power.
Have you ever noticed that virtually all powerful cars are rear wheel drive or all-wheel drive? Well, as you already know, there’s a very good reason for that: traction. The more powerful the Civic gets, the more it will have to compensate for things like torque steer and sometimes even the solutions for that are problematic. Take the great Mazdaspeed 3, for instance, a car well known for torque steer. Mazda’s solution was simply to pull power in 1st and 2nd gear - effective, yes, but hardly ideal.
But, for all of those concerns, there are great reasons for hope as well. For one, we know, without a doubt, the next generation will be much, much faster than the last - that’s always a good sign. Second, even though the engineering approach is very different in this generation, it’s still made by Honda, a company with a tremendous respect for simplicity, reliability, and hopefully, screaming motorcycle-esque redlines.
Honda is also employing a specialized front suspension that is supposed to reduce torque steer, and I have to imagine that, like the current Civic Si, a mechanical limited slip differential will be standard and much appreciated. Even the increased weight can be dealt with by offsetting it elsewhere, so as long as Honda stays focused, there’s no reason that the new Honda Civic has to be significantly heavier than the last one.
If you’re a Honda fan, should you still be excited for the next generation? Absolutely - I can’t wait to drive one myself. I just hope that Honda stays true to their heritage, despite the new engine design, because the segment desperately needs a competitive Honda-esque option. Something simple, light, reliable and with peak power just shy of the redline.