I cut my teeth in this business working for a magazine called Sport Compact Car. It's gone now, but it and other magazines helped create and define the entire "sport compact" enthusiast market. Think of the Honda Civics with big wheels, big wings, lowered suspensions and loud exhausts everywhere you looked in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Yeah, that was us.

Part of the inspiration for American enthusiasts was the forbidden fruit known as "Japan domestic market" or "JDM" cars, and one of the most desired for decades has been the Civic Type R. With high-performance engines, suspensions, transmissions and tech, the Type R has been the object of desire for Honda enthusiasts since the first one debuted in 1997. And, despite the clamor for the car, Honda never sold the Civic Type R in this country. An aside: Yes, I know the Type R was most recently more of a European thing. And, yes I'm acutely aware that we got an Integra Type R in the late 1990s.

Yet with the introduction of the current-generation one-world Civic, Honda is fulfilling the fever dreams of American enthusiasts by offering the 2017 Honda Civic Type R hatchback in the U.S. This is not a watered-down-for-America badge-and-paint job. It's the real deal, with 306 turbocharged horsepower, a suspension designed for the track, a reinforced body, a 6-speed manual transmission, styling that combines aerodynamic functionality and holy-crap-look-at-that-ness, sport seats, an adjustable suspension, and a unique driving mode...the works.

If you were one of those fever dreamers, feel free to geek out: It has a red "H" on the nose, steering wheel, and key fob, and that's Honda's F1-heritage Championship White you see. It's the same car Europe gets, and yes, this is what you were trying -- and, let's be honest, mostly failing -- to build in your garage on those hot summer nights.

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Track Happy

We drove the new Type R in Montreal, Canada, on two different venues to showcase the duality of the car. First, there was the ICAR race circuit and school at the Aeroport International de Montreal-Mirabel, northwest of the city. There, we'd get a chance to push the Type R to its limits. Later, we'd drive it to a place literally named "Le Snack Shack" in the hill and lake country in Quebec to test its real-world day-to-day drivability.

For the track, we selected the +R drive mode (the other two are Comfort and Sport, clearly not up to the task). +R boasts the stiffest suspension, sharpest throttle response, and heftiest steering. It alters the digital gauge cluster to clearly define the 7,000-rpm redline, and even quickens the downshift rev-matching on the 6-speed manual. Don't worry, rev matching can be turned off for you old-school heel-and-toe types.

The engine delivers its 306 horsepower in a linear manner, making it easy to use on the track. If you forget to downshift, the turbocharged 4-cylinder's 295 lb-ft of torque is available from 2,500-4,500 rpm, meaning you can just stand on the gas and the Type R moves out. Keep the revs up and the low-inertia turbo responds instantaneously to your foot, leaving lag almost imperceptible. This is a slow-in, fast-out kind of driving. Hit the big Brembo brakes late and they'll scrub off plenty of speed, and showed little fade even after dozens of laps of hard driving. The quick and sharp steering responds instantly to your hands, and the firm suspension takes a set and holds it through the corners. In quick transitions, the Type R proves itself eminently tossable. It's the kind of car that encourages you to push its limits, and rewards more and more the harder you push it. Downsides? I beat the rev-matching system a couple times, causing a crunchy downshift each time, but there's a 50/50 chance that had more to do with technique than the system itself. There's a little more body roll than I expected, but it's far from excessive. And...that's about it. Don't take my word for it that the Type R means business at the track: Its 7:43.8 time is the quickest ever recorded for a front-wheel-drive car at Germany's Nürburgring, and quicker than any published times for the Ford Focus RS and Subaru STI.

Street Happy

With such stellar track capabilities, it'd be easy to assume that the Civic Type R is beastly on the streets. But, click the drive mode to Comfort -- or even Sport -- and the suspension loosens up, the steering relaxes, and even the rev-matching gets less aggressive. On the winter-ravaged roads in Quebec, the new Type R surprised us with a ride that was still stiff, but easily comfortable and relaxed enough for day-to-day driving. The triple exhaust pipe's center outlet is a resonator, designed to amplify under full throttle but keep things quiet when cruising. We think it's maybe too good at its job, especially for the "VTEC just kicked in, yo" types, but we'd rather Honda erred on the side of too quiet than too loud. With this much power to the front wheels you get some torque steer, but the Type R's unique front suspension reduces it to a subtle tug. As for the styling, it's pretty out there, and the red-accented black body extensions might be too much for some. But little of that stuff is just styling excess -- Honda claims the various vents, winglets and rear wing all help improve aerodynamic efficiency and downforce. Besides, judging by the number of thumbs up we got from other drivers, Honda clearly knows its audience.

The equipment list is about what you get in a Civic Touring: dual-zone climate control, an infotainment system that includes navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and an electronic instrument cluster with unique displays with lap times, a G-meter, and F1-style redline indicator that progresses from green to yellow to red as you approach redline. On the streets, it was even getting around 27 mpg, and since it's a Civic hatchback, there's a decent rear seat and plenty of cargo room.

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Driver Happy

The Type R handles better than any Civic I've ever driven short of an actual race car, is the most powerful factory Civic, is blessed with more technology than you'd expect in something that starts life as a commuter for the masses, is perfectly usable around town, and costs about $35,000, including the delivery fee. That's not exactly cheap, but it's less than the Subaru STI, Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS, especially considering that the only option on the Type R is the color you choose. You're getting a lot for your money.

I came away with a pretty short gripe list. The high-performance tires will likely wear quickly, and there's a console in the rear that limits seating to four. The front seats could use more lumbar support for around town, and like all manual-transmission Civics, the Type R doesn't offer the HondaSensing suite of active safety systems; no active cruise control, lane-keeping assist, etc. In a straight line, the Focus RS and Subaru STI are quicker, but on the other hand, the Type R whomps them on the Nürburgring, costs less, and is more pleasant to drive on public roads.

We want to drive the 2017 Civic Type R on our more familiar local roads, and look forward to doing so because there's little question that this car earns those red "H" logos, the Championship White paint, and the Type R badge on the rear.

It was worth the wait.


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