2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition Road Test | The farewell drive

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If I had to buy a new car today, this 2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition would be the one in my driveway. Short of near-six-digit sports cars and even more expensive supercars, there’s no performance car out there that is more fun to drive than this screaming yellow Honda hatchback. Limit the choice to cars under $50,000, and it wins without breaking a sweat.

Honda made this Limited Edition model — only 600 examples will be sold in the United States — as a sendoff to the 10th-generation Civic Type R. It builds on the refreshed and improved 2020-model-year car, making this version the most focused and dialed-in Type R of the bunch. Think of it as a Porsche GT model. Or a BMW CS. Or an AMG Black Series. The idea is to take an already-superb performance car, then make it even more extreme.

It’s easy to screw up this idea, though. Take the 2019 BMW M4 CS as an example. BMW eliminated vital parts like the armrests and traditional door pulls in search of weight savings. This just made the car annoying to live with on a daily basis, and the performance advantage over the M4 Competition was negligible. The Type R Limited Edition keeps most creature comforts, while chopping weight (50 pounds total) in places that enhance the driving experience. For example, 28 pounds of sound deadening material is removed, amplifying the engine and exhaust noise inside the cabin over that of a regular Type R. Yes, there’s added road and tire noise as a result, but it’s much less of a negative in this car, where you want to feel at one with the road.

New BBS forged wheels shave another 18 pounds of unsprung weight. Honda doesn’t quote a quicker 0–60 mph time — the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder continues to make the same 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque as in the regular Type R — but this Type R feels like it has an extra spring in its step. The sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires contribute, too. You can’t get these tires with the regular Type R, but I can unequivocally say that you want them. The car hooks up better in first and second gear — it’s less spin-tastic. Plus, the grip is utterly astounding in corners.

The convenience items that Honda removed aren’t missed. The rear cargo cover is gone, and so are the rear heater ducts. The rear wiper is deleted, too. I drove the car in a heavy rainfall, and the lack of a rear wiper wasn’t an issue — water drains off the rear window effectively. In Europe, the Limited Edition also loses the infotainment system and air conditioning for even greater weight savings, but I’m glad Honda didn’t go that route in the American version.

All of the parts that go into making the Limited Edition are what make this car such a joy to drive. It’s a lesson in ergonomic perfection from the second you get in. Drop into the hugely bolstered red seat that just about equals the new M3/M4 sport seats, and it instantly feels like home. The seats hug nearly every inch of your body, yet they’re softly padded and perfectly comfortable. Depress the light but communicative clutch, tap the start button, and a small buzzing begins. There isn’t much special to this engine note at idle — sadly, that extends to trips up the tachometer, too, unlike VTEC Hondas of yore.

The real tactile fun begins when you snick the shifter into gear for the first time. No manual transmission outside of Porsche’s comes close to the satisfying feel of this Type R’s shifter. You can sense and hear the lovely mechanicals as you move it through the six forward gears. Honda has had this down for decades now, and it’s still pure shifting bliss.

The stubby little knob is nicely positioned to make every gear shift natural and easy on the arm. Massive adjustability of the steering wheel makes putting it in the right place a cinch. Visibility forward is excellent, and the big wing out back doesn’t hurt rear visibility much either. It’s these simple elements that Honda gets so right that make the Type R so enjoyable to drive.

A re-tuned steering rack for the Limited Edition adds a little more heft and lovely consistency to the steering feel no matter the drive mode. Honda doesn’t overboost the steering at low speeds as many modern steering systems do, which sends a message from the first turn of the wheel that this vehicle is serious. The first 100 feet of driving this car makes as big of an impression as any out there. And damn, it’s a glorious one for anybody who takes pleasure in the pure fundamentals of driving.

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Get out on the road, and the grins just get wider. The weighting and tuning of this electric power steering are reminiscent of the days when steering feel was still an abundant resource. It’s natural in every sense of the word, and is about as good as it gets in 2021. Whether you’re peddling around town or smashing the throttle through a corner, it’s just right.

And when you’re tearing up your favorite back roads, this Type R will keep pace with even the most accomplished sports cars. A Corvette or Porsche 911 will pull away on the straight bits, but the Type R Limited Edition doesn’t lose a beat through corners. These Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires offer so much grip that you’ll only be able to fully explore their adhesion limits on the track. On the road, the limited-slip differential and this sticky rubber will pull you through corners with such a sense of ease. I learned to love it instantly. Trust the car. The understeer is not coming.

Honda re-tuned the adaptive dampers in the Limited Edition — it’s even different from the re-tuned dampers that arrived with the 2020 refresh. Thankfully, Comfort mode is still comfortable. However, Sport and +R both push the stiffness to levels unnecessary for anything short of a racetrack. It’s a good thing the car is downright brilliant to drive in Comfort mode.

There’s no high-rpm VTEC song to be sung, but the rapidity of this car’s acceleration pushes the limits for a front-drive car. Send much more power through the front wheels, and you’ll get more wheelspin than acceleration, even with Sport Cup 2 tires. The total lack of torque steer remains this car’s crowning achievement, and it’s hard to imagine that Honda can do much better in this area with the 11th-generation Type R’s suspension.

If there’s a major downside to the Type R, it’s the engine sound. You get some turbo whoosh and a decent racket inside the cabin, but it’s not pretty. Plus, the updated model adds pumped-in sound through the speakers in Sport and +R modes that is simply grating to listen to. It sounds perfectly fine without extra sound enhancement in Comfort mode. This is not much of an issue simply because you don’t want to drive in those stiffer modes on our country’s sad roads, but the extra noise could get annoying when you’re out on a track in +R. I hardly noticed any difference in throttle mapping or steering effort when swapping through the modes, making Comfort the sweet spot for all driving.

All of the above is enough to park one of these in my driveway, but what drives the nail home are all the livability and special features on the Type R Limited Edition. It can cruise on the highway with adaptive cruise control and competent lane-centering. It has an absolutely enormous cargo area under the hatchback. The car is still a Civic, so you get all the niceties like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, massive center console storage and room for a couple of friends in the back.

The Phoenix Yellow paint tickles my Honda bug, too — I’ve always yearned for an original Acura Integra Type R in Phoenix Yellow. It’s funny how a paint color can trigger such nostalgia, but Honda got this one incredibly right by choosing this paint for the Limited Edition. All of the black-painted elements — the roof, hood scoop, mirrors, and badges — set the color off nicely. And unlike the rest of the car’s look-at-me styling, the interior number plaque is rather classy.

Finding one of the 600 Limited Editions for its $44,950 sticker price could prove tough considering the Type R’s history of dealer markups, but if you do find one at list price, it’s a steal. The Type R could hardly do wrong throughout this entire generation, and the Limited Edition is a fitting sendoff. It’s like the regular Type R, but better. You know, like the 911 GT3 is similar to the 911 Carrera, but better.

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