Cars

What the Big Deal Is About the Honda Civic Type R

It’s definitely not your typical, day-to-day car.
IMAGE PJ Cana
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Many of us have a Civic story. If you’re a car guy who went to high school and college in the 1990s or early 2000s, there’s more than a fair chance you drooled over your friend’s Honda Civic. It was always some other guy—the rich businessman or politician’s son—who drove around in a Civic. (If that guy was you, well, consider yourself lucky).

Also read: These Famous Filipinos Have Harvard University Credentials   

Sure, it could’ve been some other car, but for some reason when I was in school, the object of envy and perpetual fascination was always Honda’s enigmatic sedan.

Photo by PJ Cana.
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It wasn’t until I was out in the real world that I began to understand what the fuss was all about. With a legacy stretching back to the 1970s, the Civic had built this reputation as an inspired people-carrier—a car that was as functional and dependable as it was visually striking. 

And that was just the regular Civic. Honda produced several offshoots of the iconic model, but perhaps none more beloved and desired as the Type R.

Understanding the hype

I’ve seen Type Rs out in the wild and it always made me ask: what’s the big deal? When it comes to transport, I lean more toward utilitarian than frilly (as most people who aren’t absolute car nuts are), so I always viewed special editions or high-powered versions with more than a little trepidation. 

Photo by PJ Cana.
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But I guess it’s always better to experience these things for yourself. It’s a little like getting your first taste of champagne, or unexpectedly getting bumped up to business or first class. In this case, you get behind the wheel of a Civic Type R, and you just get it. 

It’s a looker, for one. You can’t pull up in a Type R and not expect to get GIF-worthy jaw drops. Even in what would normally be a nondescript white exterior, the Type R’s rugged, angular body somehow still looks smooth and streamlined. The black grille and subtle red lines break the monotone, and visual accents like roof fins, two-tone side mirrors, three tailpipes, and the rear wing spoiler all just make it all the more drool-worthy. Park it in front of a plain background, take a picture, and you’ve got yourself a phone wallpaper. 

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Inside the Type R

The seats are the first thing you notice when you hop in. The nod to racing is unmistakable, with their figure-hugging bucket shape and bright red color; they certainly aren’t minivan seats you’d hop into for a quick grocery run. 

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Surprisingly, that doesn’t mean they’re uncomfortable. You get used to the completely unique yet still strangely familiar interior. The dashboard is simple enough, even for the greenest first-time driver—the layout of the buttons and controls is user-friendly.

The centerpiece is a ball-shaped gear shift knob. It might seem like a small thing, but like a magic wand in the hands of a wizard, it channels your whims and wants, serving as a direct link between you and the car. No surprise though that it feels quite right to the touch.

Of course, you need a capable shift knob as the Type R comes in six-speed manual transmission. (That means you need to brush up on your manual driving skills if you’re planning to operate a Type R). Which is why I thank my lucky stars I’ve been driving a manual for much of my entire adult life. The practice certainly comes in handy with a car like this. 

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Photo by PJ Cana.

Awakening the beast

A simple push-button start awakens the beast, producing a satisfying growl. Driving in cramped city streets serves as a prelude to what the Type R can really do: it’s smooth and meek, like a jungle cat out for a leisurely romp post-nap. But opening her up in the wide and open expressways—the 2.0-liter engine churning out 310 horsepower 400 Nm of torque—is like the same cat running after prey. Switch from Comfort to Sport to feel that jolt of power, and then once more to go further up to +R. You don’t really mean to outrun the rest of the cars on SLEX, but if you’re driving a car like this and you’re content to just cruise along at 60 kph behind that jeepney on SLEX, are you even doing it right?

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That you look good while driving it is a given, but what's really important is that you feel good, too. Whether it was on flat, crowded city streets or steep hills, the Type R's generous power and speed meant you had little to do but shift and press on the accelerator and let the car do all the work for you. 

When people fantasize about just hopping into a fast car and just flooring the accelerator, the Type R might just be the vehicle in those dreams. 

There’s a wealth of tehnical info about the Civic Type R elsewhere on the web (you can read a thorough breakdown about it on TopGear Philippines), but this write-up is more about the emotions that the car triggers on those who can understand and appreciate what these cars can do. Think about your 17 or 18-year-old self in school, admiring your rich friend’s Honda. Now think about yourself now, finally being able to slide into an enhanced version of that car. There might be an initial hesitation caused by wonder and amazement, even of disbelief that you’re actually inside a Type R, but that quickly dissolves and is replaced by anticipation and raw excitement. 

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Photo by PJ Cana.

True, all vehicles serve one purpose—to get you from point A to B, as quickly and as comfortably as possible—but with all due to respect to most other models in the market, they’re about as exciting as a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch. 

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That’s what the big deal is about the Civic Type R: it’s one of those cars that sparks a genuine reaction from the gut and the heart. You certainly can’t say the same about every other car in the market today.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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