When we first drove the 2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition, we reported that the seemingly small list of upgrades made a huge difference in how the car drove. Are the differences really big enough to quantify? We took the short-run special to the racetrack to find out, and the results speak for themselves.
Most of the Civic Type R LE’s upgrade list actually looks like an exclusion list. Reducing weight pays big dividends in acceleration, braking, and handling, and the Type R LE loses 50 pounds compared to a standard Type R. About half the weight loss comes from removing things like sound deadening material in the roof, rear hatch, dashboard, and front fenders, as well as dumping the rear wiper and the cargo cover. The rest comes from fitting a set of BBS forged aluminum wheels.
The only actual additions to the Type R LE are a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires and a new calibration for the active dampers to account for the weight loss and stickier rubber.
Fifty pounds’ worth of weight reduction on a car that normally weighs about 3,100 pounds isn’t much—literally a 1 percent reduction—so we weren’t surprised to see little difference in the instrumented test results. In fact, the Type R LE is actually slightly slower to 60 mph than the quickest Civic Type R we’ve tested, needing 5.3 seconds instead of 5.0. Although the Cup 2 tires didn’t launch as hard, the reduced weight, especially at the drive wheels, showed up in the quarter-mile result. The Type R Limited Edition needed 13.7 seconds, same as the “standard” Type R, but was traveling 1.9 mph quicker. More power went to accelerating the car, power that otherwise would’ve gone to spinning heavier wheels.
Going the other way, both the Civic Type R and the Type R LE needed a supercar-worthy 99 feet to stop from 60 mph.
As we expected, though, the real difference showed up in our handling tests. On the skidpad, the Cup 2 tires needed to be warmed up, but once they were, they provided an average of 1.04 g of lateral grip, up from a best of 1.01 g on the standard Type R. The extra grip translated directly to a faster lap time in the figure-eight test of 24.1 seconds at 0.81 average g, compared to 24.3 seconds at 0.79 average g for the regular car.
That’s a measurable improvement, sure, but it’s not huge. To really see if the Civic Type R Limited Edition delivers on its promises, we took it to the racetrack and called up our good buddy Randy Pobst. If the mods made a useful difference, he’d find it.
Find it he did. On a frigid Streets of Willow Springs racetrack that’d been rained on the night before (washing off all the helpful rubber from previous racers), Randy put down a 1:24.02 lap, nearly a full second quicker than a standard Type R tested on a much nicer day (1:25.07). Race teams would sell their souls to consistently take a second off their lap times.
Randy, ever the racer, wanted more. He cut his teeth racing front-wheel-drive cars, so he has some thoughts about how they ought to handle.
“That’s damn good for a front-drive,” he said, “but I’m not really a big fan of the handling because I can’t work the tail. Once the tires are warm, the tail doesn’t move, so it’s just levels of understeer. It has enough power to generate a real strong understeer, especially in second gear, and that just makes it want to go straight off the track. So I found I had to wait for a little bit, so I could take some steering out of it and accelerate that way.
“When the tires were cold, it oversteered a ton, and then when they got just a little bit of heat, there was beautiful balance. Once they got warmed up, it turned into more of an understeer and a typical front-drive experience of dealing with the front tires. Once they were all warm, I was really just controlling levels of understeer.”
This tracks with what we experienced driving the Type R and Type R Limited Edition back to back on the racetrack. The standard car is freer at the rear end and can be induced into a little bit of oversteer that helps point you out of the corner. The LE is just stuck, all the time. If Randy had his way, he’d add a bunch of negative camber at the front end to reduce the understeer and then dial in some toe out on the rear end to free it up. When you track your Type R LE, you can play with alignment to your heart’s content, just know that you’re starting with a car that’s already a second a lap quicker.
Don’t think you can just put stickier tires on your standard Type R and automatically get the same performance, either. We tried that with our long-term 2018 Civic Type R. On a set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, that car did a 1:25.81 on Streets, and only 39 pounds lighter than the heaviest Type R we’ve ever weighed.
Here’s the big kicker, though: The Civic Type R LE isn’t actually 50 pounds lighter. According to our scales, it’s only 21 pounds lighter than the skinniest Type R we’ve weighed, the one that did the 1:25.07 lap.
Put all these instrumented results together, and a conclusion emerges. We already know losing weight and fitting sticky tires increases performance, but the Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition isn’t just about bolt-on (or off) parts. It’s a complete package, and it works. What’s more, as we described in our First Drive review of the car, it absolutely feels quicker and nimbler than the standard car. All you need to decide is whether lap times, yellow paint, and an even better driving experience from what’s already the best-driving front-drive car on the market is worth the $6,500 upcharge to you. A quality set of lightweight wheels and Cup 2 tires will cost nearly as much, and we’ve established there’s more to it than that. Decide quickly, though, because Honda only imported 600 of them.
|SPECIFICATIONS||2021 Honda Civic Type R (Limited Edition)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$44,990|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 4-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||2.0L/306-hp/295-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,075 lb (62/38%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||179.4 x 73.9 x 56.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.7 sec @ 107.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||99 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.04 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.1 sec @ 0.81 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22/28/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/120 kWh/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.80 lb/mile|