2020 Civic Type R Review: Honda’s Hot Hatch Refinements Finally Won Me Over From The Si

The Type R is absolutely worth the extra money, and here's why

Review: The 2020 Honda Civic Si Is All You Really Need — But The Type R Is The Car I'd Actually Buy
The Civic Si offers toned-down styling, but the Type R offers more of, well, everything.

I won’t mince words about this: The 2020 Honda Civic Si is a great car. With a punchy, yet efficient turbocharged engine and eager handling, it’s pretty much all the sportiness you’d need on a day-to-day basis for just $25,200 to start. Not only that, but you can get it as a more stylish coupe — Honda just lent us one for a three-month long-term loan — or as a more practical sedan, and both start at the same price. It’s definitely worth the cash over a standard Civic, but what about it’s big brother, the big dog Civic Type R?

Honda just refreshed the Civic Type R for the 2020 model year, and I finally had the opportunity with both it and the Si in our office to work out once and for all which one I’d take if it were my own money. Opinions in our office are uncannily split on whether you should spend the extra $10,000 or so for the Type R, or stick with the more daily-friendly Si. The 2020 Civic Type R focuses on refinement, but all those changes add up to make a substantial difference.

Review: The 2020 Honda Civic Si Is All You Really Need — But The Type R Is The Car I'd Actually Buy
Boost Blue is an appropriate name, and it’s also a great color for a hot hatch.

2020 Honda Civic Type R: What’s New

On the surface, the 2020 Honda Civic Type R looks pretty much identical to the car that emerged in 2017. The changes are subtle, apart from one: the new Boost Blue paint color. It’s a properly loud color for a hot hatch, but the one we received at our office came in Rallye Red, which coincidentally matched our long-term Si Coupe. Other small aesthetic changes include standard all-LED lighting, body-color inserts in the front bumper above the fog lights, integrated turn signal mirrors and a revised front spoiler to help improve downforce.

Inside, the interior is more or less the same, apart from what you touch. The steering wheel is now Alcantara instead of leather, and Honda fitted a suede shift boot for the six-speed manual transmission (remember, there’s no automatic option here). The new shift knob actually put me in mind of the older Civic Type Rs that weren’t available in the U.S., and it feels much more easily into the hand than before. Again, these aren’t huge changes, but the refinements do make the 2020 Civic Type R feel a bit more special as an enthusiast than the previous model did.

Review: The 2020 Honda Civic Si Is All You Really Need — But The Type R Is The Car I'd Actually Buy
Oh yes, you still get a six-speed manual transmission, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Same power, but more refined suspension

On the performance front, the headline figures may look disappointing. The 2.0-liter turbocharged VTEC engine still makes 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, and comes mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Mind you, that’s still plenty of power to shift you along at a good clip, and the 7,000 RPM redline helps keep you in each gear long enough to really feel the power build.

The 2020 Honda Civic Type R instead gets a 13 percent larger grille opening to keep the engine 18 degrees cooler under hard driving, according to Honda. There are new Brembo brakes with a two-piece floating design up front, and this car has a 17 percent shorter brake stroke than the previous model. Underneath, Honda fitted new lower ball joints up front to reduce friction and offer better compliance with the suspension bushings. In the rear, the lower B-arm bushings are 8 percent stiffer than before.

In all, the 2020 Honda Civic Type R feels tighter, tauter, and more at one with the road than the rest of the Civic lineup, which don’t lean quite so hard on track use.

Review: The 2020 Honda Civic Si Is All You Really Need — But The Type R Is The Car I'd Actually Buy
The cockpit looks the same, but the small changes really make the Type R a joy to drive.

The handling is sublime

The styling for the 2020 Honda Civic Type R hasn’t changed dramatically outside the new color. You still get the hood scoop, as well as the flared rear wheel arches, side skirts and the massive boy racer wing. The Type R stands out from the Civic pack as much as it ever has, but the handling changes are where this car really shines.

With the suspension changes and Continental SportContact 6 tires, you won’t be wanting for grip. Ever. This car follows the road like its on rails, offering the best front-wheel drive handling experience you can possibly get right now. Yes, it is still front-wheel drive, so push it hard enough and you will get some understeer in the corners. That said, I spent the vast majority of my time with the 2020 Honda Civic Type R marveling at just how much better those small changes felt from last year. The ride is definitely firm, and if you live somewhere with uneven roads like we do, the stiff chassis will throw you around more than you’re likely used to.

Honda still offers three different driving modes for the Type R: Sport (the default setting), Comfort and +R (for Race, naturally). In spending nearly a week with the Type R, I left it in Sport mode about 90 percent of the time, unless I really got into some canyon carving. If anything, putting it in Comfort makes the car wallow more than I’d like without dampening the bumps. +R offers a more sharp-edged driving experience, but the difference is smaller between it and Sport modes if you’re debating which one to use on the road. That last mode is more track-focused, so the default setting offers the best of all worlds, which I thought was a plus since that’s what a hot hatch is supposed to be.

One minor issue I had during my time with the car was with its brakes. Not with how well they can stop — trust me, even with the new design they’re extremely effective, so you won’t have any worries in normal driving. While the front brakes grab very well under hard braking, though, the rear brakes felt a bit squirrelly, making the rear end feel less planted. One of my fellow journalists also pointed out the Type R’s tendency to go through rear brake pads, and while we haven’t had one long enough to test that, Honda did say the rear pad setup hasn’t changed for this model year.

The Type R is surprisingly comfortable

One of the reasons you’d probably buy a Honda Civic Si over a Type R, beyond the price gulf, is comfort in daily driving. The Si isn’t nearly as hardcore in its firm suspension or stiff chassis setup, and it won’t cock a rear wheel while turning into a banked driveway, as the Type R will.

You expect to make certain sacrifices when getting into a performance-minded car. The first time I drove a Type R, I thought the track-focused mindset, while great for really spirited driving, would pummel my back on the road. However, that’s where the seats come in. Despite the firm ride, the seats are fantastically comfortable. They’re tightly bolstered which is usually a problem for bigger guys out there, but I drove this car hundreds of miles and never felt uncomfortable at any point. What’s more, they also support you better than most out there, so between the seats, the slick shifter and the Alcantara steering wheel, you can really focus on what matters.

Review: The 2020 Honda Civic Si Is All You Really Need — But The Type R Is The Car I'd Actually Buy
The tires are nice and grippy, but their low profile did have me worried about damaging a wheel.

Complaints (yes, I do have a few)

I spent my entire time agonizing over whether I’d honestly prefer the Civic Si to the Type R during this past week. As the Type R began to win me over, I turned my attention to what I didn’t like about this car. Styling is completely subjective, I understand, but I’m not a fan of the massive wing. Granted, it is out of sight while you’re driving. But it’s a bit ostentatious, and it would be great if Honda offered a delete option or a smaller wing that landed somewhere between what we have and the more subtle Civic Si. Unpopular opinion, maybe, but there you have it.

Unlike the last time I drove a Type R, though, I finally came around to the wing — it’s no longer a deal-breaker. What is almost a deal-breaker is just how quiet this hot hatch is. Look, if you spend $37,950 on a Honda Civic Type R, and you buy into all that power, all that wing and the purposeful refinements, then you want to truly feel it as well. The exhaust note is part of that experience, and while I obviously don’t expect the ungodly thunder that you get from, say, a Ford Mustang Bullitt, I did expect something. Sadly, the 2020 Honda Civic Type R is almost criminally quiet from the outside, which is a shame. I guess that means you at least won’t upset your neighbors’ ears, but whatever. I’m driving a hot hatchback, so they probably expect me to be a hooligan regardless.

For what it’s worth, Honda does try to sort out the sound issue for the driver inside the cockpit. And if you just felt a pang of dread, yes I am talking about an augmented sound system. The 2020 Honda Civic Type R now comes with Active Sound Control (ASC), which tones up or down the exhaust note based on which drive mode you’re in. There’s no ordinary way to disable the system entirely, but Comfort will put it in its quietest setting. It does make the Type R sound meaty while you’re driving it despite the 2.0-liter engine, but knowing it’s augmented just dampened the experience for me a bit.

Finally, there’s the Vehicle Stability Assist system, or VSA. The tenth-generation Civic does have a button to turn VSA off, but it won’t fully disengage the system if you don’t want any interference, unless you go through a certain procedure.

I miss having a manual car…fortunately we had the chance to throw down on the track with four of them, including the Type R. Check that out in the video below!

Verdict: I’ve changed my mind

When I drove both cars last year, I ended up settling on the Honda Civic Si as a daily driver, if I bought one with my own money. Apart from the fact that I severely miss driving a manual car, I couldn’t get over the price-to-performance on offer, and I knew that was all I really needed on a daily basis. With the 2020 Honda Civic Type R, I’ve completely changed my mind.

In short, I love this car. I got several thumbs up from fellow enthusiasts who knew what they were looking at, and the performance refinements won me over. It’s a fair chunk of change over a Civic Si, but you truly get more car for money. Even better, it’s still less expensive than a Volkswagen Golf R, and it’s not outlandishly more expensive than a GTI or Hyundai Veloster N. If dealers don’t get greedy and mark this car up again, it’s still a performance bargain. It also still manages 25 mpg, so fuel bills won’t completely crush your bank account, either.