Back in 2017, the Honda Civic Type R set the front-wheel-drive production-car record around Germany’s Nürburgring, lapping the infamous 12.9-mile-long racetrack in 7 minutes and 43.8 seconds. About two years later, Renault showed up with its Megane R.S. Trophy-R and shaved 3.7 seconds from that time. Honda has a score to settle. Enter the 2021 Civic Type R Limited Edition (LE).
The Type R LE should be the quickest and fastest production Civic ever, and it’s a fitting swan song for Honda’s highly successful 10th-generation compact car, which will be redesigned for the 2022 model year. But make no mistake, Honda has created this lighter and more track-focused version of its celebrated hot hatchback to reclaim glory at The Green Hell. “There’s a reason we did so much testing at the Nürburgring,” a company spokesman said.
Honda says its development engineers logged 2500 miles at the ‘Ring, dialing in the Limited Edition’s chassis and steering, shaving its curb weight by a claimed 50 pounds, and substantially increasing its grip. After removing 28 pounds of sound deadening material from the Type R’s roof, hatch, front fenders, and dash, they tossed its rear cargo cover, rear heater ducts, and the rear wiper. The Limited Edition’s new 20-inch forged-aluminum BBS wheels are the same size as the standard car’s yet weigh a claimed 4.5 pounds less per corner. Each of its 245/30R-20 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires—the same super-sticky rubber found on Ford Mustang Shelby GT350Rs and hard-core Porsche 911s—remove an additional pound of unsprung weight over the standard car’s Continental SportContact 6 summer tires.
Software changes have added a bit more effort to the Type R’s steering, and the chassis’s roll stiffness has been increased in each of the three settings for its adaptive dampers. But it’s the tire change that’s responsible for the majority of the Type R LE’s additional performance. With a treadwear rating of 180, the soft Michelins provide radically more grip than the Continentals with their 240 treadwear rating.
During a morning session of back to back laps around the 1.8-mile road course at the Thermal Club in Southern California, the Limited Edition is clearly quicker than the regular Type R. Although the changes have purportedly increased the amount of weight resting on its front tires, the LE stops harder, turns in sharper, and has additional stability in quick left-right transitions. Speeds are higher everywhere on the track and its responses are more immediate, yet the Type R’s forgiving at-the-limit behavior has been retained.
With its greater traction permitting more corner exit speed, the LE carries more velocity down Thermal’s long back straight. Whereas the regular Type R could finish the straight with its engine redlining in fourth gear, the Limited Edition entered the braking zone in fifth. That’s without any changes to the Type R’s six-speed manual transmission or its 306-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four. Last year, Honda updated the Type R’s front brakes, fitting new fade-resistant pads and two-piece floating rotors that cut 2.5 pounds per side. The updates sync perfectly with the LE’s grippier Michelins. Brake fade is nonexistent.
The quickest Civic Type R that we’ve tested hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and completed the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds at 108 mph. With the Limited Edition’s additional grip and reduced weight, we’d expect those times to improve by a tenth of a second or two. We’d also be surprised if the LE didn’t improve upon the 1.03 g of stick on the skidpad that we’ve recorded for the standard Type R.
With the removal of so much sound insulation, we suspect there’s more engine, road, and wind noise inside the Limited Edition’s cabin, but our drive didn’t include time on the street to verify that. We will say that its suspension remains nearly as compliant as the regular model’s when you engage Comfort mode.
Production of the Civic Type R Limited Edition will amount to just 1020 units, with 600 coming to the United States from Honda’s factory in England. The price is $44,950, which is a whopping $6500 more than the regular model. Since every example will wear bright Phoenix Yellow paint, they won’t be hard to spot. Its roof, mirrors, and hood scoop also are painted black, and the Civic badge on its rump is finished in darkened chrome. The only other visual tweaks are the new wheels, but you’ll likely only notice the slightly different shape of their spokes if a standard Type R is parked nearby. Inside, Limited Editions get numbered plaques on their center consoles with designated build numbers. And before you start thinking about upgrading your existing Type R with the LE’s rolling stock, know that Honda won’t be selling the lighter BBS wheels at its parts counter.
Had this been a normal year, Honda already would have made an attempt to reclaim the front-drive Nürburgring record with the Type R Limited Edition. But this hasn’t been a normal year. Sadly, both COVID-19-related issues and the arrival of winter in Germany’s Eifel mountains have delayed its return. But Honda seems determined. “Stay tuned,” said a company rep.