Honda Builds the Best Interior on Sale Today
For a masterclass in interior design, we rarely look to Honda. Often that’s a function of the company’s value focus. Its cars sit in a crook between segments, neither premium nor truly entry-level. A Civic—traditionally the company’s core model—must offer tremendous value and a sense of dignity above all. Value rarely strums our heartstrings.
So Honda pairs a punchy, efficient engine with a simple and durable chassis. It follows a decision tree which underlines practicality, then slaps that five-letter badge on the back. With whatever money’s left rattling the coffers, it seems, Honda designs an interior for mass appeal, often chasing tech amenities to lure in younger buyers.
That approach appeals like ipecac to us enthusiasts.
With sportier iterations of the Civic, however, Honda tries to elevate the car’s interior, taking aim at those car-nerd heartstrings. We’ve seen red bucket seats here and there, some decent shift knobs and funky gauges, but rarely has the company raised a fast Civic entirely above the model’s cut-rate roots. All that changed with the newest Civic generation, which offers masterful interior design out of the box, even in the lowest trim levels. We’ve written about that leap before, in our review of the Civic Si.
With the Civic Type R, Honda’s gone further. It’s done something spectacular. The CTR’s interior appointments go far beyond fortifying the Civic’s baseline goodness. This Type R’s interior feels truly special. Forget Corvette, Porsche, or Ferrari – for the right kind of driving enthusiast, the Type R’s interior is the best on sale today.
In defense of this thesis, a brief primer: We judge interiors largely by two metrics, design and quality. Both are easily understood. Design is how the interior looks, how it functions. Quality is what it’s made of and how well it’s all screwed together.
Most brands do one or the other very well. Porsche offers surpassing interior quality, often with a drab, utilitarian bent to its design. Rolls Royce uses the best interior finishings on earth; the Phantom’s interior is one big billowing poof of ‘mallow-soft leather. Exquisite to touch, beautiful to behold. Gorgeous. Yet Bentley offers the better interior overall, owing to masterful fit and finish and a more usable and considered layout.
Rarely do brands earn high marks on both metrics, especially those outside the luxury space. So how’d Honda do it?
It starts with design, but also quality. Take a look at each interior element, especially ones the driver touches. The CTR’s pedals are made from metal, not heavy plastic, and covered with grippy rubberized dots. Their sporty looks offer a gleaming affirmation every time you swing open the CTR’s door. The three pedals are spaced perfectly apart for heel-toe downshifts and snap-quick gear changes, with enough grip that you can step into the interior with wet Nikes and still feel confidence during the process of braking, downshifting, then trailing the car into that first corner off a long back straight.
Ergonomically, there’s enough space between the top of the pedals and the bottom of the steering wheel to accommodate the long-legged among us (the critical wheel-to-pedal metric prevents me from owning most compact cars built before 1990). Plus the footwell’s wide enough to allow for more relaxed hip/leg positions when you’re not working the pedals in anger. On many sporty cars, ultra-wide wheels encroach on footwell real estate. Not here.
Moving up from the pedals, the seats. THE SEATS. THE HALLOWED THRONES. I love these seats. Maybe it’s gimmicky, but the red fabric just does the business for me. The shade evokes that Brian Spilner spirit of yore. It speaks to every JDM fantasy dreamed up by my sixteen-year-old self. More importantly, the seats feel supportive in traffic, relaxed on the interstate, cosseting in bending two-lanes, and perfectly firm when the CTR is stuck real deeplike into racetrack chicanes. For my body type—lanky and stretched—there’s enough space in the bucket for your posterior meat and the perfect amount of bolstering for thighs and shoulders.
The steering wheel has too many buttons for my taste (Porsche gets huge credit here, despite what I said earlier, for offering a three-spoke steering wheel with zero buttons on some models), but it is functionally a three-spoke design wrapped in leather, never mind the split bottom spoke which technically makes this a four-spoke wheel. Just the right rim thickness. Just the right kind of leather. Red stitching holds the wheel together and looks damned good. Goldilocks stuff.
That metallic shift knob, however, deserves a spot in The Knob Hall of Fame, sat between Ron Jeremy and Piers Morgan. Yeah this material can get cold during the winter and scorching during the summer, but Honda dropped this high water mark for production shift knobs between the CTR’s two red thrones and that deserves to be celebrated without any meaningful caveats.
Feel the weight of it, the chunk-a-chunk heft of the throws between gears, the solidity of the linkage, the lack of lateral play when the knob is slotted into gear; this is a shifter which all companies should borrow ideas from. Precise, compact, hefty enough. Only the Miata and Porsche’s six-speed stick give the Honda shifter a run for its money, but the CTR lends a feeling of solidity the Miata can’t match, and the Honda’s ‘box snaps more fluidly between gears than the Porsche. Among all elements in this car, the CTR’s shifter feels especially special.
Again though, the joy we derive from physically interacting with the car is only one metric. Many interiors feel lovely to use, but pair that satisfaction to eye-bleed looks (examples: Hyundai’s Elantra N, and sadly, the very Toyota GR Corolla from this comparo) and the magic fades.
Thankfully, this is another area where the Honda shines.
Normally, I'd feel annoyed with the lack of analog gauges in any interior, but Honda nails the screen behind the steering wheel. The CTR pairs its virtual gauge cluster with a strip of physical LED lights on the upper rim of the dashboard. These LEDs sit in your peripheral vision but light up progressively as you approach each shift point. A flashing red warning at redline pairs with an audible cue (handy, since this CTR’s engine note sounds about as engaging as the a/c unit perched in your bedroom window). It’s a fun touch. Not necessary, but fun. The virtual tach layout itself feels like an homage to the S2000, which will stoke the nostalgia of Gen X-ers and older Millenials like myself.
Another design element worthy of praise: the central vent slashed across the entire length of the Type R’s dashboard. This streak of honeycomb mesh lends visual continuity across the whole interior, acting as a framing device for every other element inside the car. It’s both a centerpiece and somehow just a piece of the CTR’s greater design philosophy, offering contrast between those little precise, intricate details and smoother, broader, longer surfaces.
The honeycomb strip itself is narrow, but visually arresting. The pattern looks interesting and well-crafted but not garish; the design won’t wear on you. This little hexagon honeycomb pattern will age finely (as our piece on the Civic Si mentioned, this strip borrows heavily from the brushed steel strake seen in the interior of Sixties Porsche 911s), becoming better looking with time. We’ll remember the CTR’s interior motif when we’re looking back fondly at the end of internal combustion, likely from our Blue Origin infirmaries.
I’ve taken Honda to task in recent years for its switch from physical knobs and switches to mushy touch pads, functionally terrible capacitive buttons, and a reliance on distracting touch-screen menus, so I need to recognize a course correction with the Civic.
There’s a physical control for basically every component in the car that you’d interact with daily. Moreover, the physical controls feel really nice to operate. Just the right clack on the turn signal switchgear, that perfect gummy notched resistance to the turn volume knob. This interior exists to remind us why we beg for physical controls in the first place—there is joy found in tactile controls which serve to narrow our focus on the act of driving, rather than attempting to woo a driver’s attention away from the road.
Now, it could be said that for an MSRP around $45,000 USD, the Civic Type R’s interior should feel this well executed. It’s a fair point. But how many cars at any price deliver just that? As I sit in the Honda’s deep red buckets and gaze around from the headliner to the cloth accents on the door panels and down to the floor mats, this car feels every penny of its asking price. It doubles down on the Civic Type R’s general excellence, its excellence as both a Civic and a sports compact.
This interior is a masterclass from Honda, providing a compelling mix of quality materials that were assembled dutifully, plus genuinely thoughtful design aimed at flattering the exact type of buyer who’d seek out the Civic Type R.
At a core level, the Civic Type R’s interior succeeds because it makes its owner feel truly special. That’s rare for any sports car, let alone a sporty sedan with economy car roots. How many vehicles actually manage to nail both form and function? From my experience, far fewer than you’d think.
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