PONTIAC, Mich. — The Honda Civic Type R is a wonderful machine. While the exterior design is not for everyone, there’s no arguing about how well the car drives. We love its sharp steering, slick six-speed manual and nimble chassis, making it one of the best hot hatches of all time. On a sunny afternoon at M1 Concourse, an 11-turn, 1.5-mile road course in Pontiac, I was given a brief opportunity to sample something even hotter: Todd Lamb and Atlanta Speedwerks’ No. 84 Honda Civic Type R TCR.
The Type R TCR is a fully-prepped, factory-backed spec racer ready to compete in a number of global series. The TCR formula is FIA sanctioned, with races found all over the world, the most notable of which is the World Touring Car Cup, where you'll see Type R TCRs battle against models like the Audi RS3 LMS, Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR and Hyundai Veloster N TCR. Honda HPD even provides support at certain races. You still have to field your own crew, but Honda is there to help.
And it's available to anyone with enough cash. For $172,238, you get the car, complete with an XTRAC sequential gearbox, a MoTec ECU, Ohlins dampers, 18x10-inch O.Z. wheels, stainless exhaust, an FT3 100-liter fuel tank and an adjustable differential preload. Other features include a cage, an air-jack system, an OMP seat and harness, and a multi-function quick-release steering wheel. You can purchase set-up tools – a quick-filling fuel system, toe setting equipment, clutch centering tool, footrest assembly, shock pump, set up wheel, front pads changing spacer tool and side impact panels – for $13,298. Spare suspension components, brake discs, a front splitter and wheel spacers are another $21,402. An upgraded ABS system is $12,768, a data and scrutineering logger is $4,664 and homologation documents showing the car meets TCR regulations is $1,344.
Final assembly for the car is handled in Italy by J.A.S. Motorsports, but, like the regular Type R, the engines are built in Ohio while bodies-in-white come from England. The front and rear bumpers are both composite, as are the significantly wider front and rear fenders meant to cover the 10-inch wide wheels. The front fenders in particular look massive, but they only add 2.9 inches to the Type R’s width. The adjustable rear wing makes the standard car’s aero look paltry by comparison, but the whole thing comes together in a purposeful sort of way. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s pretty, but – especially when viewed from the front – it’s quite intimidating.
The gutted interior means every rock or pebble snaps, pings and reverberates throughout what amounts to a giant metal and composite can. The doors and dash are both black plastic, meaning the only things to really look at inside are the digital display and the smattering of buttons and toggles where the center console used to be. The display itself shows tons of data, from individual wheel speed to steering angle to temperatures for just about everything on the car. You’re locked in tight thanks to the six-point harness, but visibility is still pretty good. After all, this is still a Civic.
On the track, the Type R TCR drives like a single-minded Civic with all semblance of comfort stripped away, leaving you with a very loud and very fast hot hatch. It still feels like the same basic car, but everything has been dialed to 11. The standard Civic Type R’s 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four sends 306 horsepower to the front wheels, but the TCR turns things up a bit thanks to a modified intake, exhaust and a unique engine map. Output is around 340 horsepower, though that can be adjusted to keep parity within the racing class. It’s not the most explosive thing I’ve ever driven in a straight line, but, outside of some wheelslip in the track’s tightest corner, the Type R TCR puts the power down with ease.
There’s a clutch, but you only use it to get rolling in first gear. Beyond that you only need to pull one of the wheel-mounted paddles to shift the six-speed sequential gearbox. Shifts are sharp and aggressive, cracking off with a loud bark from the engine. The steering feel is excellent. It doesn’t take much movement from the small wheel to bend the Civic around a corner. There’s a slight tug if you get on the power too early, but wind things out and the car points straight and true. The brakes require a bit more pressure than I expected, but when the calipers do clamp, they clamp hard. There’s no drama or protesting squeals from the tires, just a bit of a dip in the nose and a little pressure in your chest as the harness holds you down.
We only had 10 laps in total and I could have gone for 50 more. It was a riot, but not in the same way as something like a Lamborghini, Ferrari or McLaren. Those cars are brutally quick and could easily outgun the Type R TCR in a straight line. But the raw sensations are what make the Civic Type R TCR so enjoyable. It cuts through the fat and delivers the single most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had in a front-wheel-drive car, and one of the most enjoyable I’ve had in any car.
Sure, you can buy a sleek, leather-lined mid-engine Italian supercar for roughly the same money, but this is a real racecar prepped to compete in a professional series, complete with spare parts and factory support. Trust us, that's sure not something you get if you spend a quarter million on a Lamborghini, nor will you get the same steady dose of adrenaline handing the keys off to a valet as you will dicing it up with WTCC competitors turning laps in anger. There are cheaper ways to go racing, but considering what the Civic Type R TCR provides, it seems like a bargain to us.