2023 Honda Civic Type R Review and Test Drive: Big Fun in a Small Car

Honda updates its flagship hot hatch with its most powerful engine yet but with less aggressive styling than in past versions.

2023 Honda Civic Type RRon Sessions

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Sitting at the top of the 2023 Civic lineup, the Type R is the most powerful regular-production vehicle Honda has ever offered for sale in North America. This year, the 2023 Honda Civic Type R gets a redesign and features performance enhancements, including more power, upgraded engine cooling, and improved handling. Underscoring the car's capabilities, Honda says the new 2023 Civic Type R holds official lap-time records at two legendary racetracks: Japan's Suzuka and Germany's Nürburgring Nordschleife.

Honda bases the Type R on the Civic hatchback, so despite its status as a purpose-built, limited-production model with high-performance capabilities, it incorporates the practical features of the Civic hatch, including a roomy back seat and versatile cargo area. In addition, though it has never sold in large numbers, the 2023 Civic Type R is an important car to Honda because it cements the brand as a builder of affordable, fun-to-drive cars that appeal to younger buyers. Primary sport compact alternatives to the Type R include the Hyundai Elantra N, Subaru WRX, Toyota GR Corolla, and Volkswagen Golf R.

2023 Honda Civic Type RRon Sessions

The Civic Type R comes in a single, well-equipped level of specification. The base price is around $44,000, including the destination charge to ship the car from the Yorii, Japan, factory that builds it to your local dealership. For this review, I test-drove the Type R in Tucson, Arizona. It came with optional Championship White paint, bringing the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $44,845, including the $1,095 destination charge. Honda provided the vehicle for this Civic Type R review.

2023 Honda Civic Type R Review: The Design

As with the Civic hatchback it's based on, the new Type R features a cleaner exterior appearance than the previous-generation design. Unlike the previous model, the 2023 Civic Type R has less of a "look-at-me" style, with fewer elements tacked onto the bodywork, not counting the bold, downforce-inducing, stanchion-mounted aluminum rear spoiler standing tall at the base of the liftgate.

2023 Honda Civic Type R interiorRon Sessions

The new Type R's exterior surfacing isn't without added character, though. Wider integrated fender flares house larger cross-section tires, a low-profile aluminum vented hood complements the Type R's lower and wider stance, and a larger lower grille opening feeds a larger radiator for improved engine cooling. At the rear, the Type R's signature center-mounted, three-outlet active exhaust system trumpets as enthusiastically as before.

The 2023 Type R benefits from the more upscale cabin design introduced with the latest-generation Civic. Interior materials and build quality are a step up from the usual small-car fare. One distinctive element common to all Civics is the honeycomb-pattern expanded-metal trim running horizontally across the dashboard that artfully integrates the climate-control vents. The low-mounted dash, low-profile hood, and thinner front windshield pillars aid forward visibility. Sit in the 2023 Civic Type R and it feels to me like you're sitting lower than in the previous version.

Another high point is switchgear shared with other Civics. Honda locates all controls in natural easy-to-reach positions, and they incorporate tactile responses to driver inputs. For example, a dual-zone automatic climate control system utilizes three simple analog dials for control. There's no need to go hunting through touchscreen menus.

2023 Honda Civic Type R back seatRon Sessions

A 10.2-inch driver-configurable instrumentation display is standard and features an exclusive +R display theme. In +R mode, accessible via a console switch, the data panel switches to a large, horizontal bar-style tachometer, a digital speedometer, and a gear-position indicator. There is also a row of racing-inspired shift indicator lights above the display.

Type R interior details include a grippy, leather-wrapped tilt/telescopic steering wheel, metal-trimmed sport pedals, and a short, console-mounted aluminum shifter for the standard six-speed manual transmission. The center console also features a sliding center armrest, dual cupholders, an open front bin with a wireless device charger, and a small storage bin under the center armrest. In addition, the doors have pockets and bottle holders. A dash-mounted glovebox is smaller than it looks.

Regardless of exterior color, all Type Rs get a black and red interior accented with bright-red front seats, red carpeting, and red seat belts for four passengers. Red stitching adorns the armrests and rear seat. The red carpeting, while stylish, will likely be a challenge to keep clean.

The Type R's front bucket seats are covered in a grippy suede-like material and aggressively bolstered for good lateral support for thighs and lower torsos. However, while they keep the driver and front passenger planted in the twisty bits, they aren't the best for ease of entry and exit.

2023 Honda Civic Type R cargoRon Sessions

The back seat lacks the generous contouring found in front. Still, it offers surprisingly ample headroom and legroom for two occupants, with dual rear cupholders situated in the lower center cushion where a third rear passenger would sit in a regular Civic hatchback.

In addition, the rear seatback is split 60/40 and folds down, significantly increasing the Type R's impressive 24.5 cu-ft cargo capacity behind the back seat. Honda doesn't publish cargo space dimensions with the rear seat folded, but it easily doubles the available space and accommodates longer items.

2023 Honda Civic Type R Review: The Technology

While much of the Civic Type R's technology involves the car's high-performance driving capabilities, it also comes well equipped with standard infotainment and driving assistance features on par with the top Sport Touring trim of the Civic hatchback model.

2023 Honda Civic Type R infotainment screenRon Sessions

Standard fare includes a 9.0-inch color infotainment touchscreen standing prominently atop the dashboard's center. It provides navigation, satellite radio, and HondaLink connected services, and a 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint premium sound system is standard. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and a wireless smartphone charging pad eliminate the clutter of USB cables.

The infotainment system's location, bright colors and graphics, simple layout, and large text make it easy to read and use on the fly. To the left of the screen, Honda wisely kept an analog rotary volume adjustment knob and physical tuning buttons. Above that, dedicated home and back buttons get you back to square one after perusing various screen menus. The driver can also access volume and tuning via steering-wheel buttons.

When using the car's built-in voice recognition feature, the system answered my point-of-interest requests to find a coffee shop and hardware store promptly and accurately. The Type R's HD digital traffic system delivered real-time traffic updates, which was a time-saver when it rerouted me around an accident that had the interstate backed up for miles. In addition, I quickly paired my Android phone and activated Android Auto.

As expected in a performance car, the Type R's interior suffers from elevated powertrain and road noise. However, the Bose Centerpoint premium audio system can make occupants feel like they're sitting center stage at a concert hall, and it is more than up to the task of entertaining with big, clear sound.

2023 Honda Civic Type R Performance DataloggerRon Sessions

One tech feature that drives directly to the Type R's performance car mission is its Honda LogR Performance Datalogger. This year, it combines the onboard sensors and computer with a built-in app that enables drivers to record key performance data during racetrack or closed-course sessions. In turn, drivers can hone their driving style or compare stats with other enthusiasts.

As with Civic models, the Type R includes Honda Sensing advanced driver-assistance systems. This collection of tech equips the car with forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high-beam headlights, traffic-sign recognition, and a multi-angle backup camera.

The blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitors are a big help in the Type R due to the limited visibility created by the sloping rear roof pillars and liftgate window, tall rear spoiler, and rear wiper. A surround-view camera would also be a welcome addition, but the Type R makes do with a conventional backup camera.

2023 Honda Civic Type R safety systemsRon Sessions

The Type R's adaptive cruise control works surprisingly well for a manual-transmission car but will beep and sign off if the engine revs drop too low in any given gear. Also, the lane-keeping assist functions as expected, provided the system can find well-maintained lane markings. Unfortunately, sometimes the tech gets fooled by pavement scars from previous road construction repairs, mistaking them for lane markings.

As of this writing, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has performed crash tests on the Civic Type R. However, the standard Civic hatchback earns an overall five-star rating from the NHTSA, and it was named a 2023 IIHS Top Safety Pick. In a new side-impact test, the IIHS says the Civic hatch protects at an Acceptable rather than Good level.

2023 Honda Civic Type R Review: The Drive

As in its previous iteration, the new Civic Type R is exclusively available with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission. For 2023, Honda bumps output to 315 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, a modest boost of 9 horsepower and 15 lb-ft compared to the 2021 Type R, thanks to improvements to turbocharger design and freer-flowing intake and exhaust systems. In addition, a new lightened flywheel helps the Type R rev more quickly. However, it remains front-wheel drive, even as competitors such as the Volkswagen Golf R and Toyota GR Corolla put power to the pavement via all four wheels.

2023 Honda Civic Type R engineRon Sessions

While the new Type R's power increase isn't earthshaking, remember that the previous Type R was already a noteworthy performer. And the redesigned model is even more impressive.

With 62 percent of the Type R's weight over the front drive wheels, logic would suggest torque steer under full-throttle acceleration would be a problem. However, the car's limited-slip differential and dual-axis front-suspension struts help put the power down cleanly. In addition, a rev-matching feature on downshifts aids with keeping the car settled when entering corners.

By my stopwatch — an admittedly unscientific test — the Civic Type R can accelerate from rest to 60 mph in five seconds flat. Of course, that number will vary based on driver skill. The Type R isn't some plug-and-play automatic.

Instead, you get an exclusive, close-ratio six-speed manual transmission that's one of the best in the business, courtesy of a shifter with short throws, precise gates, and low-friction operation. Just know that the aluminum shifter ball that replaces the leather one in the Civic hatchback can get toasty in hot weather and direct sunlight. You might want to keep a pair of driving gloves handy. The clutch pedal offers a conveniently wide engagement range for smooth takeup.

2023 Honda Civic Type RRon Sessions

Honda's hottest hatch is a versatile and flexible performer, just as happy and tractable moving with the traffic stream during the daily commute as it is blasting out the high notes on back roads and twisty sections. Although the engine will rev cleanly to 7,000 rpm, there's no need to do so since maximum power arrives at 6,500 rpm. The sweet spot torque-wise is the wide midrange between 2,600 and 4,000 rpm.

Four driver-selectable modes (Comfort, Sport, +R, and Individual) allow you to tailor the Type R's engine sound, steering boost, and suspension damping. While I'm sure the Sport and +R modes would deliver an extra measure of control on glass-smooth racetracks, I found that in Comfort mode the standard adaptive suspension dampers provided an excellent ride/handling balance on public roads, soaking up minor road imperfections and small bumps while conveying precise vertical body control over larger events.

The Type R stops as adroitly as it goes, courtesy of four-piston Brembo brake calipers up front, and a new, retuned brake booster provides a crisp top-of-pedal response. Gripping the tarmac is a set of sticky 265/30R-19 Michelin Pilot 4S summer performance tires. The tires report to the chassis via variable-ratio electric power steering with quick response, 2.1 turns lock to lock, good highway stability, and an effort level that feels just right.

2023 Honda Civic Type RRon Sessions

The cabin is a bit noisy, however. There is considerable road noise, especially on certain surfaces, and hollow pong sounds over the tar strip dividers on concrete highways.

The 2023 Honda Civic Type R's EPA fuel-economy estimate is 24 mpg. During a week of driving on a mix of residential streets, two-lane highways, and limited-access interstates, I saw an indicated average of 27.2 mpg on the car's trip computer. Of course, if I had access to a track, that number would have dropped into the low 20s with some aggressive, limit-testing driving. But the beauty of the Type R is when you're driving it daily, the car is commendably tractable and capable of returning fuel-economy numbers in the high 20s while still delivering smile-inducing fun at street-legal velocities.

The only downside to big performance in a small car is the Type R's tiny 12.4-gallon fuel tank, which crimps driving range to roughly 300 miles or less.

Is the 2023 Honda Civic Type R a Good Car?

The 2023 Honda Civic Type R isn't just a good car; it's a great one. Along with the calm, cool, and collected Volkswagen Golf R and the raucously feisty new Toyota GR Corolla, the Civic Type R represents the pinnacle of affordable, fun-to-drive, fossil-fueled, hot hatches. It's arguable that nowhere else can driving enthusiasts find this level of performance, up-to-date infotainment and safety tech, roominess, and cargo versatility at the price.

2023 Honda Civic Type RRon Sessions

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Ron Sessions
Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive and consumer websites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals, and newspapers.