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2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition Test: The Best Gets Better

Honda gives the already excellent Type R small but noticeable improvements. Collectors, take note.

THERMAL, California—When the Automobile staff chose the then-new Honda Civic Type R as one of the winners of our 2018 All-Stars competition—our annual showdown to determine the year's best-of-the-best new vehicles—the result was no surprise. We'd already driven the Type R a fair amount as Honda rolled it into the world, and its performance left no doubt it was one of the best front-wheel-drive performance cars of all time. But we still weren't necessarily prepared for just how well both the marketplace and our staff would receive it: Of the 26 vehicles that participated in our 2018 All-Stars testing, the Civic Type R was the only one that landed toward the top on every one of our judges' scorecards.

A unanimous victory, in other words. And despite the presence of plenty of other dedicated sports cars and supercars during our track testing, at least one of those judges proclaimed the Civic Type R "hands-down the No. 1 All-Star at this contest." With that level of capability and enthusiasm as the baseline, it's natural to wonder if the new 2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition is worth its $6,500-premium squeeze versus the standard Touring model's starting price of $38,450.

2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition: What You Get

Honda last year made several changes to the 2020 Civic Type R, including a new, larger grille design and a modified radiator core. Those changes were motivated by a clear need to improve cooling, as some people who ran earlier Type Rs hard on racetracks experienced heat-soak on hot days that led to the car fizzling into power loss on successive laps. (Honda believes the grille and radiator updates have addressed the problem, though we'll have to wait until we can test the latest cars on a scorching day to see for ourselves.) Other changes included a revised front spoiler, a weighted shifter knob, an Alcantara steering wheel, and, despite the Type R's already excellent adaptive suspension setup, new suspension hardware and software.

Among those latter changes were stiffer bushings and lower-friction ball joints up front; stiffer rear lower B-arm bushings for better toe-in behavior under cornering load; and revised dynamics for the adaptive dampers that Honda says now take "samples of road conditions 10-times quicker than before [for] more accurate damper reactions" and sharper handling. Finally, better Brembo front brakes capped-off the new package, as Honda added two-piece floating discs, pads with better heat-resistance, and reduced brake-pedal travel. Overall, Honda said the brake-system changes reduced unsprung weight by about 2.5 pounds per front corner.

The 2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition takes last year's standard changes and builds upon them. Or rather, deletes upon them by cutting even more weight from the chassis and wheel/tire package. The Limited Edition carries a curb weight of 3,071 pounds, or 50 pounds lighter than standard Type R Touring models. That doesn't sound like a heck of a lot, but it's from where the CTR LE drops the poundage that makes a noticeable difference.

Forged-aluminum BBS wheels reduce total unspring weight by 18 pounds, Honda says, and the stickier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires save a pound each compared to the Continental rubber more commonly found on other Type Rs. The CTR team slashed another 28 pounds from the car itself by dumping a fair amount of sound-deadening material, and by deleting the cargo cover, rear ventilation ducts, and the rear-window wiper mechanism.

2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition: And So What?

Considering the fact Automobile put 17,000 miles on our long-term 2017 Civic Type R, and that Honda loaned us a 2020 TCR Touring model for a few days prior to driving the 2021 Civic Type R Limited Edition, we arrived at the Thermal Club racetrack near Palm Springs, California, well-positioned to test the latest version.

After a couple of sessions spent chasing ex-IndyCar and Formula 1 driver Roberto Guerrero around Thermal's South Palm circuit while driving the Touring model, we jumped into the Civic Type R Limited Edition to do the same. The difference between the cars was obvious immediately; the paltry 50-pound reduction suddenly didn't seem insignificant, and it was a stark reminder of why race teams chase weight savings in ounces, let alone pounds. Try this exercise to make the point: Pick up a 50-pound cast-iron ball and imagine it travelling at 115 mph. Think about the mass and rotational inertia at play, about the extra work required to accelerate it, to slow it down, and to make it turn, and you realize it is no small thing.

If that description is too abstract, that's OK; you can easily feel the difference when driving the car hard. The Civic Type R is a well-established corner-carver extraordinaire, and the Limited Edition's reduced unsprung weight led Honda engineers to again revise the suspension via its adaptive-damper programming. The lighter wheel/tire combination means the suspension now provides a more compliant street ride while also resulting in better on-track performance. The whole package means the car is now even easier to rotate into apexes, allowing you to get back on the power a bit better than before. The corner-entry part is often a "feel" thing; you can tell, visually and by the seat of your pants, you're carrying more speed into corners. But tangible evidence of it, and of being able to apply power a fraction sooner as result, isn't far behind.

Though the 2021 Civic Type R Limited Edition and Touring models share the same six-speed manual gearbox and gear ratios, powered by the same engine as the Touring—Honda's 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder making 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque—we found ourselves easily needing to grab fifth gear on the track's two straightaways. In the Touring, we just needed to throw that final upshift for a brief spell in fifth before arriving to the braking zones. We climbed from the Touring's cockpit with a smile; we unbuckled from the Limited Edition with an obvious grin.

It's not all about lap times here, either. Honda's engineers said they spent a lot of time refining the Limited Edition's electronic steering to feel more linear and to provide more feedback (while retaining the same actual steering ratio as the Touring), going so far as to set the NSX-R as their benchmark. We'd have to test the Civic and old NSX back-to-back before we even considered proclaiming them a match in that sense, but there's no doubt the new tuning feels slightly sharper and more positive than before. If nothing else, it ups the whole experience's fun and satisfaction factor without making the car any more challenging to drive quickly.

2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition: Odds and Ends

In other words, the 2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition really is something more than a unique paint job, though of course it comes with that as well. Each of the examples Honda will sell (600 in the U.S., with another 420 built for other markets) arrives in Phoenix Yellow—similar to the yellow hue Honda used on the first-gen, late-'90s Civic Type R sold in Europe and Japan, and the Acura Integra Type R sold in U.S.—with a gloss black roof, hood scoop, and exterior mirrors.

If you haven't already placed your order, you'll likely find a challenge in obtaining a Civic Type R Limited Edition from a dealer. With a total of 600 units headed to U.S. sales floors—for perspective, Honda has somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 U.S. dealers—and deliveries having already begun in early September, you'll need to be resourceful to hunt down an open allocation. If you do manage to find one, expect to pay an elevated price; even regular Civic Type Rs still command, in some regions, thousands of dollars more than the Honda MSRP. The good news is, owners of these cars who treat them well should be happy with what is sure to be slow, if any, upfront depreciation. Overwhelming demand for—and the potential collectability of—limited-edition cars carrying the "R" badge makes this prediction a safe bet.

Whatever price buyers end up paying, it's hard to imagine them finding much disappointment in their purchase. The 2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition is the quickest, most nimble, most fun Type R model yet, and that's saying a lot. The regular Type R boasts an outstanding Nürburgring lap time of 7 minutes, 43.8 seconds, a number that not long ago was supercar territory, and the new model will be even quicker around the Nordschleife. (Honda has tested it for more than 2,400 miles at the 'Ring, but hasn't yet released an official lap time.) No, we're not suggesting the CTR Limited Edition delivers quite the same overall thrills as a six-figure exotic, but it is absolutely one super car.

  2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition Specifications
ON SALE Now (Hurry!)
PRICE $44,950 (base)
ENGINE 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/306 hp @ 6,500 rpm,

295 lb-ft @ 2,500-4,500 rpm

TRANSMISSION Six-speed manual
LAYOUT Four-door, four-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 22/28 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 179.4 x 73.9 x 56.5 in
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
WEIGHT 3,075 lb
0-60 MPH 5.4 sec
TOP SPEED 169 mph