2018 Honda Civic Type R Car Review

The 2018 Honda Civic Type R is like no Civic you’ve ever experienced, at least if your driving experience has been confined to North America. For many years enthusiast drivers in other markets have had various performance-oriented Civic Type Rs to fuel their automotive fantasies, but here our Civics were very reliable commuter modules and little more. Then late in the 2017 model year, American Honda finally authorized the hot hatchback for U.S. audiences.  And now, after the limited-run 2017 went well, Honda has just introduced the ever-so-slightly tweaked 2018 version, one part pure performance sports car and one part practical four-door hatchback, all for the bargain price of $35,000.

Let’s begin with the performance portion of the equation, because the bang for buck is nearly off the charts. First there’s the 306 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque output of its 2.0-liter dual overhead cam direct-injected VTEC turbo engine.  It helps the new model jet from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than five seconds, and it makes the Type R the most powerful Honda ever sold in America in the bargain.

But there’s more to the Type R than just straight-line speed.  Its ingenious Adaptive Damper System continually adjusts suspension damping at all four wheels to enable an otherworldly 1.0 g lateral acceleration number, essentially racecar-like cornering grip.  The ADS is an integral part of the three-mode driving system that offers comfort, sport and +R modes, the last for track use. The system modifies damping, throttle response and steering assist to match up with the driver's chosen setting.  If you’re wondering how 306 horsepower can be channeled through the front wheels without killer torque steer, Honda has the answer in the dual-axis strut front suspension design.

When ordering your own Type R be prepared to shift gears yourself.  Flying in the face of the dual-clutch automatic trend in sports machines, the Type R offers a short-throw, 6-speed manual as its only transmission choice, accompanied by a limited-slip differential.  Despite the throwback transmission, the Type R is equipped with a bevy of new-as-tomorrow electronic driving aids.  Included on the list are Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) with traction control, advanced four-channel antilock brakes, electronic brake distribution (EBD), brake assist and an indirect tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).   It’ll even help you park with its multi-angle rearview camera with handy dynamic guidelines.

If you’re seeking to stay connected, you’ll be pleased to learn the Civic Type R includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility plus the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System with voice recognition.  Those connections are accessed from a roomy and airy cabin that also offers substantial cargo room behind the rear seats.  And speaking of seats, the driver and front passenger seats are specially designed, high-bolstered units with suede-like upholstery in black and red. Fuel economy of 22 city/28 highway/25 combined won’t induce you to sell your Prius, but then the Prius won’t rocket to 60 mph in five seconds either.  In fact it’ll take about twice that long.

In the 2018 Honda Civic Type R Honda is offering a vehicle with distinctive looks, a convenient and comfortable interior and a level of performance that rivals the best from Audi, BMW and even Porsche, all for $35K.  We don’t know why Type R took so long to get here, but we’re sure glad it did.


Will your Next Car be Self-Driving

Some pundits suggest that private ownership of autonomous (self-driving) cars is right around the corner. But that’s not the conclusion of Bern Grush, a systems engineer, futurist and the author of a recently published study on the subject.  He suggests that before they begin to be purchased in large numbers by private individuals, autonomous vehicles will first find their place with taxi and taxi-substitute companies like Uber and Lyft and seriously impact public bus services.  Large-scale private ownership of self-driving vehicles won’t occur until the late 2020s at the earliest, according to the study.

Recent research by Goldman Sachs Group has found less than 10 per cent of travel in North America is currently taken in non-personally owned vehicles, but the personal transport industry should get ready for a change. Grush says that by 2030, that percentage may climb to 25 per cent or higher as more people turn to robo-taxis, micro-transit and ride sharing. Why? His report claims automation will make these systems more reliable and far cheaper than today's taxi and bus services. Going further, the report contends ridesharing will be less expensive than personal car ownership for an increasing number of consumers. Improvements in vehicle automation, combined with a sharing economy, will vastly expand the robo-taxi and micro-transit juggernaut being readied by providers such as Uber, Lyft and Google's Waymo.

"We saw what happened with the town council in Innisfil (Ontario, Canada), which contracted with Uber rather than investing in a traditional bus system,” Grush said.  “This type of disruption will spread to other municipalities. Once these commercial providers begin to automate their fleets, their role in public transit and goods movement will accelerate."

Despite predictions that ridesharing in self-driving cars is imminent, the report has identified many barriers to getting people out of their personal cars and into robo-shuttles or robo-taxis. These include the safety concern of having young children in a car seat; being disabled and traveling with assistive gear; driving with a pet; and the fear that an automated car won't take a passenger everywhere she or he wants to go.  Grush calls this "access anxiety.” As these barriers are dealt with, the need for personal vehicles, as well as non-automated taxis and buses, will diminish dramatically over 15 years, the report "Ontario Must Prepare for Vehicle Automation: How Skilled Governance Can Influence its Outcome” said.

Right now, there is a lot of hype surrounding fully automated vehicles that can operate without a driver in any imaginable circumstance. Due to many hurdles, Grush does not anticipate this type of autonomous vehicle until well after 2050, when the technical issues of having driverless vehicles operate in every possible condition will have been addressed.

Grush encourages governments to prepare for this future by determining now how to influence the role fleets of shared AVs will have in cities and towns. The key to harnessing this technology is for governments and the private sector to work together to implement a regulatory system that will enhance mobility for all, the report said. Grush’s concept, the Harmonization Management System (HMS), would provide the digital tools to incorporate a subsidy and pricing system, and optimize the distribution and social performance of commercial fleets. 


Cars Talking to Cars Is Next Safety Wave

If you want to save American consumers some gasoline, invent something that will prevent cars from crashing into each other. According to Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI) 2010 Urban Mobility Report, traffic congestion wastes nearly 3.9 billion gallons of fuel annually. That costs the average commuter an additional 49 hours spent sitting in traffic, and the extra 39 gallons of gas (worth $1,112) per driver that idle time requires. Leading factors in traffic delays are caused by accidents, breakdowns and road debris, TTI says, so if you get rid of accidents and you communicate more rapidly in the event of vehicle breakdown, you will save the country billions of gallons of gas. The good news is that the industry is working on the problem, and one of the solutions is to enable cars to communicate with one another while they are sharing the road.

We recently had the opportunity to participate in an event sponsored by Ford Motor Company that demonstrated how intelligent vehicles that wirelessly talk to each other could be effective in reducing crashes. Ford built functioning prototypes of intelligent vehicles and took the show on the road to exhibit the value of the technology. In cars so equipped, it was immediately obvious that the technology could have far-reaching benefits, and safety experts agree. An October 2010 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the potential safety payback of vehicle-to-vehicle communication could help in as many as 4.3 million police-reported light-vehicle crashes annually. That’s approximately 81 percent of all light-vehicle crashes involving unimpaired drivers. You can see why Ford is so gung ho about the future of intelligent vehicles.

“Intelligent vehicles are the next frontier of collision avoidance innovations that could revolutionize the driving experience and hold the potential of helping reduce many crashes,” says Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering.

Ford’s vehicle communications technology allows vehicles to talk wirelessly with one another using advanced Wi-Fi signals for dedicated short-range communications on a secured channel allocated by the Federal Communications Commission. Unlike radar-based collision-avoidance features, which identify hazards within a direct line of sight, the Wi-Fi-based radio system allows full-range, 360-degree detection of potentially dangerous situations, even when a driver’s vision of the other vehicle(s) is obstructed. Cars that talk to the other cars can sense their presence around a curve, over a hill or behind a wall, even when you can’t see them from the driver’s seat.

Because of this critical aspect of the intelligent cars system, a driver could be alerted if her vehicle is on path to collide with another vehicle at an intersection, when a vehicle ahead stops or slows suddenly, or when traffic changes on a busy highway. The systems could also warn drivers if there is a risk of collision when changing lanes or approaching a stationary or parked vehicle, or if another driver loses control.

Preventing deaths and injuries is, of course, the greatest benefit of the system, but the other big plus is the fuel- and time-saving. By reducing crashes, intelligent vehicles could ease traffic delays. A network of intelligent vehicles and infrastructure could process real-time traffic and road information to allow drivers to choose less congested routes.

“We are not far from the day when vehicles will operate like mobile devices with four wheels, constantly exchanging information and communicating with our environment to do things such as shorten commute times, improve fuel economy and generally help us more easily navigate life on the road,” says Paul Mascarenas, vice president and chief technical officer of of Ford Research and Innovation. “A smart network of intelligent vehicles has the potential to benefit drivers in many ways.”

The Fuel Cell

It seems like the proverbial magic bullet. Imagine if you will, an energy source that leaves no residue except some water and a bit of carbon dioxide. Nor does it produce particulates, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide or anything else that might cause environmentalists to moan. Unlike the typical gasoline or diesel automobile engine, the fuel cell doesn't even use combustion to create power. Instead it uses a simple chemical reaction to make electricity, which can then be used to power electric motors and electronic equipment or stored in batteries for future use.

If all this seems too good to be true, here's a fact: fuel cells have been used in the U.S. space program since the 1960s and today they are used to provide reliable power for out-of-the-way hotels and hospitals that find it too expensive to tap into traditional electric power grids. So why hasn't the auto industry jumped on this technology long before now? Well, actually the industry has toyed with fuel cells for decades, but only in the last several years, with the bogey of having to market so-called zero-emissions vehicles mandated by law, has the industry become serious about employing fuel cell technology. Now, though, major players like General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Toyota and DaimlerChrysler are working overtime to bring fuel cell vehicles to the market.

A quick glance at the technology of the fuel cell: It's somewhat synonymous with a storage battery that doesn't require recharging. Like a battery, it consists of two electrodes around an electrolyte. Oxygen passes over one electrode and a fuel, hydrogen passes over the other, resulting in a chemical reaction that creates a flow of electrons (electricity), heat and a hydrogen-oxygen combination commonly called "water." Unlike batteries that "run down" after continuous discharge, fuel cells will continue to make electricity, heat and water as long as they are provided with oxygen and hydrogen. Unlike the typical vehicle engine, which converts energy stored in its fuel to usable power via combustion (i.e., "burning"), fuel cells chemically combine the molecules of a fuel and an oxidizer without burning, dispensing with the inefficiencies and pollution of traditional combustion.

In an era of constant tradeoffs, there seems to be nothing but an upside for fuel cell technology. But before you start whistling show tunes as you skip off merrily through a field of daisies, the technology does present challenges.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the handling of the volatile element hydrogen. As proved in the grainy film footage of the explosion of the dirigible Hindenburg ("Oh, the humanity!"), hydrogen gas can be explosive. Given this, one trick in developing fuel cells that will work in vehicle applications is supplying and re-fueling the hydrogen. Various methods have been contemplated and tried, including cold storage of liquid hydrogen and various methods for storing hydrogen gas, but the most promising for real-world use seems to be the gasoline station on the corner. Gasoline (as well as other fuels) can be broken down to produce hydrogen, which can then be used in fuel cells.

Producing hydrogen from gasoline (or methanol or ethanol) is the job of a "reformer." The reformer is sort of an on-board "cracking plant" that separates hydrogen, which is a component of gasoline, from its other components. Of course, the use of an on-board reformer adds a great deal of complexity (and cost) to each fuel cell application. Further, building reformers that are compact enough for automotive use are problematical right now, though fuel cell advocates predict that obstacle will soon be conquered.

Even given the obstacles, reformer-fuel cell technology seems the most viable alternative for getting the technology into automobiles. Why? In the absence of reformers a whole new fuel delivery infrastructure would have to be created from scratch, and the costs of such an undertaking are staggering.

Global car manufacturers say fuel cell technology is coming. In fact, Ford Motor Company, which debuted what it called the world's first production-prototype, direct-hydrogen powered fuel cell late last year, says it is committed to offering fuel cell vehicles to customers by 2004. Other manufacturers are just as eager to be seen on this leading edge. But the internal combustion engine still has a great deal of life left in it. In fact, industry observers predict that gasoline-powered internal combustion engines will still power more than 50 percent of the world's vehicle fleet in 2050. Continue to tune in to DT to see if they are right.

--Jack Nerad

Jack R. Nerad, the co-host of the nationally syndicated radio program "America on the Road," usually runs out of energy around 10 pm.