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Honda Civic Type R engine: power meets practicality


The most capable version of the Honda Civic, the Type R, features a track-specific engine with notable features. We take a look at why it’s also a good choice as a daily driver.

Honda Civic Type R 2018 - Image of Honda

The first Civic Type R was released in 1997 in other parts of the world, but American Honda enthusiasts couldn’t drive one until 2017 when the Civic Type R arrived in the United States.

Unlike most compact cars, the Type R featured double wishbone suspension and an 182-horsepower 1.6-liter engine. The world was stunned by the incredible little hatchback that took cars many times its cost around the track.

Initially, all we could do was watch, as it was only sold in Japan. Europe received the next version of the Honda Civic Type R with the 2001 Honda Civic Type R. Once again, the United States was left out.

The Type R became an immediate success in the United States in 2017

Finally, however, with the release of the 2017 and later Civic Type R (also known as the FK8 Civic Type R), America finally had the chance to find out exactly what makes this car so special.

The FK8 Civic Type R retains the spirit of the original Civic Type R with a high-revving engine, manual transmission, and efficient suspension. It’s configured for fiercely competitive handling mated to a powerful 306-horsepower four-cylinder engine.

This winning combination lapped the iconic Nurburgring faster than a 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera.

Let’s take a closer look at this engine and see what makes this trail monster so wild.

2021 Honda Civic Type R

Honda K-Series Engine Becomes Popular Swap Platform

The FK8 Honda Civic Type R uses a Honda K20C1 engine. If you’re at all familiar with the tuning and performance aspects of automobiles, you’ve probably heard many people praise the Honda K-series engine. Over the years, it has appeared in a handful of Honda and Acura vehicles, including everything from SUVs like the Honda Element and Honda CR-V to performance-oriented cars like the Honda Civic Si and Acura RSX Type S.

Additionally, these engines are so notoriously tough and capable of generating additional power that they are quickly gaining popularity as a trade-in platform for performance cars and race cars.

In fact, the website Course of Action describes some of the craziest K-series engine swaps, including a Honda S2000 and an Acura NSX.

Even lower-level Civics and Honda Accords come standard with a K-series engine under the hood. For example, the Honda Accord Sport has the same engine as the Civic Type R, although detuned and producing slightly less power.

However, as you might guess, the K20 engine found under the hood of the FK8 Honda Civic Type R is a little more special than everything else.

Honda Civic Type R 2021 Limited Edition

Honda Civic Type R K20C1 Delivers Turbocharged Performance

The K20C1 found in the FK8 Civic Type R shares much of the same basic architecture as its less powerful counterparts, according to engine reviewers. It uses an aluminum engine block and an aluminum cylinder head.

Additionally, it is configured with a fairly standard double overhead camshaft (DOHC) design in which the cylinder head houses two camshafts that control valve timing.

However, what really sets the Type RK series engine apart from the crowd is that it is turbocharged.

The Honda Civic Type R uses an MHI TD04 turbocharger with an electronically controlled wastegate. It produces an astonishing 22.8 pounds per square inch of positive thrust at full speed.

Turbocharger-specific exhaust flow eliminates lag

Additionally, the turbocharger flange is molded into the cylinder head frame, so exhaust flow goes directly to the turbo instead of first passing through a manifold, effectively eliminating turbocharger lag.

It has an air-to-air intercooler to keep intake temperatures low and idealize the air-fuel ratio entering the cylinders.

At the opposite end of this spectrum, to match air optimization, Honda engineers equipped the F20C1 with direct fuel injection to, again, get as close to perfection with fuel delivery as possible.

Finally, the Civic Type R engine also features Honda’s variable valve timing control (VTC) on the exhaust camshaft and, of course, the legendary intelligent electronic variable valve timing and lift control (i- VTEC).

Honda Civic Type R engine with intercooler

K20C1 Engine Specifications

As mentioned, the FK8 Honda Civic Type R engine is a standard DOHC engine. However, the camshafts are hollow to save weight. It also uses a low-friction timing chain to synchronize the crankshaft and camshaft.

The engine features a lightweight forged steel crankshaft with hot-forged high-strength steel connecting rods. Its pistons are lightweight with cavity-shaped crowns and a low-friction molybdenum coating is applied in a dot pattern to increase its heat resistance and durability.

The pistons also have cooling oil channels to reduce the temperature in the piston ring area. They are also sprayed with oil from underneath by oil jets in the engine block.

With a bore of 86 millimeters and a stroke of 85.9 millimeters, the engine has a compression ratio of 9.8 to 1 and a maximum speed of 7,000 rpm.

The K20C1 is truly a marvel of engineering, with no corner cuts to ensure it is durable and powerful without sacrificing reliability or handling. After all, the FK8 Civic Type R is still a road car that the general public can buy.

Civic Type R engine has remarkable fuel economy

Although the Type R is not designed with fuel efficiency in mind, it is in fact still remarkably efficient according to the EPA fuel economy ratings.

The 2017 Honda Civic Type R received up to 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway for a combined total of 25 mpg.

Considering this car’s goal is to be a high-performance vehicle that can be taken to the track, it’s relatively impressive to clock nearly 30 miles per gallon on the highway.

2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition TC Race Car

Known Civic Type R Engine Issues

Although Honda is known for making tough, reliable cars, creating a high-performance engine or vehicle often comes at the cost of sacrificing reliability to some degree. Unfortunately, the Honda Civic Type R and its engine hold some of that truth.

Some Honda Civic Type R owners report that their rev-matching system is failing, leading to grinding gears and error codes, which is something that car and driver mentioned in his review of a 2019 Honda Civic Type R.

According to Honda, the turbocharger bypass control valve tends to vibrate with the engine until the wires become loose or even break. Honda’s official solution to this problem is to repair the wiring, then wrap the wires with heat-resistant tape and two zip ties to prevent the problem from happening again.

Additionally, many FK8 Civic Type R owners report that their cars overheat both on the track and, less frequently, under standard highway driving conditions.

These issues are fairly unique to the first model year, 2017, and do not reflect the majority of R-types that were produced. These questions are worth researching before purchasing a used Civic Type R, of course.

2020 Honda Civic Type R

Conclusion: Civic Type R engine offers practicality and speed in a daily driver

All in all, Honda and its engineers have created an extraordinary engine and an equally extraordinary car to complement it. Although it has its problems, like any other car, Honda has really managed to capture the essence of the original Civic Type R and apply its founding ideals to modern vehicle technology.

So if you’re looking for a fun car that can be driven every day and leave the door open to dominating the drag strip or weekend autocross, the Honda Civic Type R is exactly what you’re looking for.

Photos: Honda


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