2017 Honda Civic TypeR at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet,
on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017
After a day
out with the 2017 Honda Civic Type R and the 2016 Ford Focus RS, it
came down to this: "If someone handed you the keys to either,
which one would you take?"
This is not
"The Matrix" and these combatants are not pills. They are
the most anticipated sports cars on the market and have never been
sold in the U.S. at the same time. Until now. Both are affordable;
both are a blast to drive; both came in blue.
Both have five
doors, giant rear wings and sweet rowing six-speed manual gearboxes.
Yet the Type R and Focus RS are as different as they are similar.
350-horsepower Focus RS is an all-wheel-drive beast with sick grip
and dangerous power. The 306-horsepower Type R is a
front-wheel-drive modern marvel with a brilliant suspension and
lovely road manners.
Back to the
question posed by my colleague and co-driver, Doug George, at the
onset of our trip down the rabbit hole on a cold blustery morning at
Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill. Doug is an entertainment
editor and modest guy with a warm, easy smile. During our morning at
the track, that smile was transformed into an ear-to-ear grin.
these cars do: induce perma-grin. Hereís how.
subtle these cars are not," George said.
Type R. Based on the excellent 10th-generation Civic, the Type R is
lower and wider than the RS. Nearly all the pieces of performance
flair are functional, unlike the Civic hatch. The modest hood scoop
sucks cool air and pushes hot air down and out; the front splitter
reduces air under the body and the side skirts reduce lift so thereís
plenty of downforce to keep the car planted at high speeds,
including a top speed of 170 mph, according to Car and Driver.
to one editor, its rear end has the face of a Stormtrooper. The
large rear wing, along with a spoiler under the wing and another
spoiler above (Honda calls it a vortex generator), all create
downforce to keep the rear down and reduce drag. All these aero
elements make it look like something out of "Fast &
totally boy-racer all the way," George said. "Hey Honda,
Boeing called and wants its wing back."
Sport is, by comparison, more modest even in baby blue "Nitrous
Blue." The RS feels and looks more unified, composed and
mature. The third-generation RS has a similar splitter up front but
a more menacing face with a black RS mustache splitting the grille.
Its wing is braced off the roof, at the top of the lift gate.
The driver of
either will not be disappointed on the track. "These are both
astonishing cars," George said.
But intent is
nine-tenths of the draw and the RS is made to be tracked.
modified EcoBoost 2.3-liter twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder
engine with a tight six-speed manual sending power to all wheels,
the RS is the better track car. "The extra power seemed to come
on earlier and stay more tractable in the middle of a hard
corner," George said about the RS. Acceleration is better due
to the blend of more power (350 horsepower) and more torque (350
pound-feet) even though full torque comes later than the Type R at
The Type R
makes 295-pound feet at about 2,500 rpm. At that point, the Type R
slingshots forward; before that point, itís not as responsive as
throws of the RS gearbox get to the sweet spot more quickly and
thereís a pony car rumble to the soundtrack that sounds much
greater than a modified four-cylinder engine. Both sticks felt
great, with cold aluminum knobs and short rowing; the Type R felt
notchier; the clutch pedal of the RS had greater feedback.
wheel in the RS is also smaller, and feels more connected to the
road. The slightest motions deliver precise results. Itís less
forgiving than the Type R, so precision is paramount.
dramatic Ďwowí moment of getting behind the wheel was the
steering in both these cars, which felt like a direct connection to
the tires, like youíre holding the whole car in the palm of your
hands," George said afterward.
to the all-wheel-drive handling of the RS, allowing it to hit turns
harder and stay tight at higher speeds, and you can floor it out of
the apex with more confidence, thanks also to the grippier Pilot
Super Sport Cup 2S tires.
Yet Honda has
really worked magic beyond the limited slip differential in nearly
eliminating torque steer. With more weight up front, it was almost
easier to slide the end through turns in the Type R. It was a subtle
difference that had a bit more thrill because I was being worked
more as a driver.
surprising, amid the autumnal smell of roasting tires and cooking
brakes, was the earliest sign of brake fade on the Type R, which at
3,111 pounds, weighs significantly less than the 3,434-pound RS.
Fordís promise of its most powerful brakes ever on a Focus proved
good on the track but the RS burned through a lot more fuel.
RS, though my co-worker disagreed.
was just more fun to drive," he said. "The manual
six-speed felt lots better, and overall the car felt lighter on its
feet, more agile and more eager to go go go."
disagree here: the Type R is the clear-cut modern vehicle. With
carbon fiber trim elements and soft-touch materials, it has the look
and feel of a pricier ride.
touch screen is clunky, especially since it houses the climate
control settings, and the redundant steering controls to access the
vehicle info in the instrument cluster are confusing, but itís
better than Fordís Sync3 and its narrow touch screen.
The RS feels
like a 10-year-old car; my 10-year old asked if the gauges for oil
and temp on the top of the dash were stickers.
might prefer the old-school feel of the RS, but for nearly $7,000
more (20 percent!), it felt like a swindle in the creature comforts
The RS, with
its two damper settings and rib-hugging Recaro seats, was much
stiffer on the highway in normal mode. This is not the car for the
road trip. Adaptive damping in the Type R provided much more
condition-appropriate ride feel. Itís also wider and more
Doug, who is
four inches taller at 6-foot-1, hated the seats in both. "These
things would have masochists employing their safe word," he
The Type R is
new. The RS is old. 2018 will be the last model year of this RS
iteration. It runs like it was meant to be bounced around at track
and rally. These factors alone could be selling points for some
To answer Dougís
initial question, however, we both would take the Type R. If youíll
be racing more than getting around, the RS is the pill for you.
Otherwise, the Type R is the one.