I’m behind the wheel of the 2023 Honda Civic Type R on Sonoma Raceway in Northern California. Temperatures are hovering around 50 degrees and the track is getting wetter by the second. This is a technical circuit in the best conditions, with blind crests, off-camber turns, and a series of esses that elude me every time. I’m thankful to be riding on the standard Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires instead of the Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires available as an accessory, but I’m still hella nervous. “At least the CTR is front-wheel drive, not rear-wheel drive,” I think as we head out onto the track…and possibly to my death.

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New looks, who dis?

The 2023 Civic Type R gets a new design and for that I am extremely grateful. While the old one looked very Boi/Gurl Racer with its spiky rear aero bits and dual-colored wing, this Type R is a bit more grown up. It’s longer, lower, and wider, and it makes key features of the standard Civic hatch its own.

The front bumper sports a wider grille opening that helps with cooling, pushing air out of the newly vented hood. I’m digging the thin A-pillars and the wider fenders front and rear. Several vents help with brake cooling and all but one of them are functional—a win in my book. Out back sits a new diffuser, a lowered, all-black wing, and the cool three-outlet exhaust. Look closely, though, and you’ll notice that the design team has switched it up a little. Now the center port is larger than the outboard ports.

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Rain, rain, go away!

The Civic Type R has four drive modes: Comfort, Sport, +R, and Individual. Our lead driver has asked that we keep the car in Comfort. This will soften the suspension to keep some weight on the outside front wheel in corners for more grip in these terrible conditions. It also keeps the traction and stability control nannies on at full blast.

I notice only the stability control during this first track session. I know I should be paying attention to the revised 6-speed manual gearbox, the more rigid chassis, and the quicker steering, but all I can think about is sliding off this track and losing my track privileges for the day. “Keep it together, Hall. You can do this,” I think.

I can, because the stability control is really well tuned. It lets the car slide just enough to give me a little thrill but then it kicks in to save my butt. Once all is sorted, I send a little power to the front wheels and catch up to the car in front of me on this four-lap lead/follow.

It has stopped raining for my second session, and while there is still water on the pavement, I’m much more confident. This time I notice that there is no torque steer in this little hatch. Punch it and the front end stays bang on track. The steering is super-quick and heavy, even in Comfort mode, and this gear box is a dream. The new rev-matching technology is really good, never intrusive, and it eliminates any shock to the drivetrain on downshifts.

On my last lap I feel so good I switch to Sport mode. The rev matching gets more aggressive, quickly revving up to the correct engine speed to match my faster shifts. The dampers firm up, and while I lose grip once or twice in the still-wet conditions, the stability control brings the car back under control. The throttle gets a bit sharper here and the steering a tad heavier. It all feels good.

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Drying out

Honda gives us one last chance on a dry track the following morning. Although still too cold for the Cup 2 tires, we arrive to find the track crew has warmed up the 4S tires and we are ready to rumble.

Now I’m calm enough to really experience all the Civic Type R has to offer. I switch to +R mode for maximum performance and where I can, I floor it to get all 315 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque out of this little 2.0-liter turbocharged mill. I’m able to grab fourth gear on the straightaway, but I cook it a little too fast heading into the turn 7 sharp righthander. That’s OK because the ABS kicks in, keeping the car in a straight line and slowing me down enough to make the turn with no drama.

The ess turns—corners 8 and 8A—have plagued me each session, but this time I go for it, getting back on the power sooner. The limited-slip front differential keeps that power flowing to the pavement and I don’t feel any wheel spin. Before I know it, I’ve increased my lead on the car behind me. It was easier than I thought but it required some bravery.

Track driving is not the most efficient use of fuel, even when it’s dialed back because of conditions. However, the EPA gives the Type R fuel economy ratings of 22 mpg in the city, 28 on the highway, and 24 combined. Of course, we’ll have to drive one in real-world conditions before we comment on that claim.

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Where are my heated seats, bro?

Inside, buyers get red sport seats that are comfy enough for a commute but also provide ample hip and side support. I wish they were heated but no dice. Aluminum trim combines with the black dash to make a simple yet pleasing combination. A 9.0-inch touchscreen grows from the last model’s 7.0-inch unit. The 10.2-inch configurable gauge cluster has one design for Comfort and Sport modes and another for +R with more information about temperatures, g forces, and lap times.

Honda goes all-in with data in the 2023 Type R with the Honda LogR Performance Data Logger. This technology no longer needs a smartphone app to work and while I don’t have the time to sample the system, the Auto Score function seems pretty cool. This feature monitors acceleration, braking, and steering inputs, and generates a smoothness score. Remember, smooth is fast, y’all.

Buyers also get wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging, and the Honda Sensing suite of advanced driver-assist aids. This includes the old standards like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and lane-departure warnings. The Type R also adds traffic sign recognition, rear cross-traffic alerts, and blind-spot monitors.

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Perfection is pricey

Expect to pay $43,990 including $1,095 for destination for the 2023 Honda Civic Type R. That, however, is assuming you don’t find any dealer markups, and I wish you well on your quest. The Honda’s nearest competitor is the all-out fun Toyota GR Corolla, which may be down on power a bit but comes with all-wheel drive. The little hot hatch starts at around $7,000 less than the Type R for the base Core model, though I would add the front and rear limited-slip differentials and the heated seats and steering wheel to the GR Corolla and still come in under $39,000.

Other competitors include the Volkswagen Golf GTI, which has less than 250 ponies and its price reflects that. The all-wheel-drive Golf R comes in slightly higher in price, but Volkswagen really engineered the fun out of that hatch. You may be able to score a Hyundai Veloster N at right around $33,000, but the Korean car company will not make a 2023 model. Sad trombone.

It’s a tough decision to choose among hot hatches, but it’s great that enthusiasts even have a choice to make. Honda has done a great job of upgrading the 2023 Civic Type R, eking out a bit more performance and fun for this generation. Its grown-up looks are appealing and the interior tech and design are second to none. However, it is the most expensive of the bunch.

As for me, I’m looking forward to driving the Type R on a twisty back road on a sunny day without a drop of rain in the forecast.

—Emme Hall

Honda provided airfare, lodging, and track time for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report.

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