We put the latest incarnation of Honda’s hot hatch through its paces – on the road and on track…
There are a handful of new cars worthy of a genuine fanbase, and the Honda Civic Type R is one of them.
With a pedigree stretching back to 1997, it’s become a legendary model in the automotive world – and now it’s the turn of the sixth generation Civic Type R (which is based on the 11th generation Civic).
Known as the FL5 in Honda-speak, it takes over from the FK8 (2017-22).
I had high hopes for the new Civic Type R after driving the impressive family hatchback version of the now hybrid-only Civic, because it handled very well.
I praised its agile drive, adding, “it stays flat in more challenging corners, there’s good grip and the steering is nicely weighted, which all bodes well for the upcoming Type R”.
Well, I got my first taste of the new Honda Civic Type R at a wet Thruxton circuit, preceded by a varied road route on and around a sodden Salisbury Plain.
The new Type R is really a finely tuned evolution of the acclaimed outgoing model, so a tough act to follow.
Already the track record holder at Suzuka, Honda reckons the FL5 “is a fitting way to celebrate 30 years of the Type R nameplate”.
Priced from £46,995, it’s the best looking Type R yet. Inheriting the standard Civic’s softer lines and good proportions. Let’s say it’s less boy racer and all grown up.
Sure, there are plenty of extra aerodynamics compared to its sensible sibling, but even the considerable rear wing seems restrained compared to previous generations.
Unlike the regular Civic, there’s no electrical assistance. Instead, there’s a more powerful-than-before 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.
It’s got 325bhp to offer up – slightly more than the 316bhp you got in the old car – as well as 420Nm of torque.
Slightly swifter than its predecessor, it can sprint to 60mph in a time of 5.2 seconds and go on to a top speed of 170mph. In terms of economy, that’s 34.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 186g/km.
Inside, it’s had a much-needed update. Not only has the overall quality improved, but there’s also a new infotainment system (lifted straight from the standard Civic).
Add red Alcantara-trimmed sports seats up front, red carpets, a brushed metal gear knob and a ‘serial plate’ with the car’s build number on the dashboard, and you know you’re driving something special.
There are three drive modes (Comfort, Sport and +R) and they alter the car’s engine, steering and suspension feel.
There’s also a new ‘Individual’ drive setting, where the steering, adaptive dampers, rev match system and engine response can all be adjusted separately.
Comfort is just fine for long journeys and cruising motorways. Sport sharpens things up nicely, while things get hardcore when you engage the +R mode.
Here, the driver’s display switches to a new layout, more familiar to racing drivers. There’s a linear rev graphic flanked by a digital speed readout and 12 separate items of vehicle information, ranging from coolant temperature to steering angle and a G-meter.
The idea is to allow drivers to view their inputs and how the vehicle reacted. Ultimately, it can help you see where improvements can be made and go faster on track.
For comparison, I drove the outgoing FK8 on track before the new FL5. Overall, the FL5 is more sophisticated, forgiving and responsive. I had a couple of moments (corrected thanks to my razor-sharp reflexes!) in the FK8 on a couple of corners at soggy Thruxton, but no such drama in the FL5.
I definitely felt more confident in the FL5, which ties in with the biggest gains over the old Type R, namely the improved chassis rigidity and handling performance as a result of tweaks to the steering and suspension.
Needless, to say, the new Honda Civic Type R is incredibly fast – and not just in a straight line. Its ability to corner at speed is phenomenal for a front-wheel drive car, while the traction on offer is nothing short of astonishing.
The brakes deserve praise too. Not only do the Brembos (in conjunction with wider 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres) work superbly, but Honda has made changes to the front wheel arches to aid cooling.
Tweaks have also been made to the exhaust system (there are now three pipes!), so the soundtrack is better than ever. Naturally, it’s at its loudest in the +R setting, but some may also find a long trip in Sport mode tiresome, so best to stick to Comfort, which is easier on the ears and offers a more compliant ride.
Final word to the smooth and precise six-speed manual gearbox.
And as if all that isn’t good enough, then the Civic Type R is a practical daily driver too. There’s ample space up front and only the tallest of rear seat passengers have reason to complain (the penalty for that swooping roofline). You also get the same 410 litres of luggage capacity as the standard Civic, expanding to a useful 1,212 litres with the back seats flipped.
So, the new Civic Type R is hard to fault. Perhaps the only fly in the ointment is its premium price and the fact that it will be offered in very limited numbers in the UK – and we’re talking hundreds, not thousands.
Verdict: The Honda Civic Type R has matured into hot hatch royalty. Remarkably good to drive, it’s an awesome blend of performance, driving engagement, technology and practicality.