Eight long years have passed since the last Honda Civic Type R was born, and its arrival didn’t exactly represent the high point of the Type R timeline. Honda’s pride and joy was overweight, uninspiring, and quite frankly disappointing. Now though, Honda has brought its new Civic Type R into the world and I’m pleased to report it’s come out kicking and screaming.
Consider the new Civic Type R an evolution of the famous ‘R’ pedigree. While the last Type R – coded FN2 – still had that same burning desire within its VTEC heart, the world around it had moved on and it simply didn’t cut it in the new world it found itself in. Honda sensed that its creation was becoming extinct, so they took samples of its DNA, retreated deep into their laboratory, and began work on evolving the beast.
What emerged from that lab is a new kind of Type R. A Type R with longer claws, bigger teeth, and an unfulfilled appetite. This is a car of pure, undaunted aggression. At its heart, a first-ever VTEC turbo engine for Honda producing 306bhp, fancy new suspension tuning, specially developed shoes from Continental, an independently working active damper system, and perhaps most startling of all – an aerodynamic package so extreme it looks like it might cut you if you come too close. Make no mistake – mechanically speaking at least this is now a Type R fit and ready to compete with any other rival on sale today.
Mechanicals are one thing though, driving is another. To see the effects of the evolution, we took the new Type R into Austria before bringing it back to Slovakia to unclip the leash and let it run wild out on track. The results of this performance orientated test are good, very, very good.
It should probably go without saying but I believe it’s worth enforcing this regardless. 306bhp makes for a truly rapid hatchback, the acceleration is brutal for a car driven but its front wheels only, and there’s a little bit of old-school ‘on-turbo’ feel about it. Handling is exceptional with the front end in particular highlighting the quality of work that has gone into the Type R’s set up. You can get the nose of the car into corners at incredible pace and still maintain precision and smoothness providing you’re driving well and with that front-wheel drive mind-set. That terrific handling is transmitted into your body through steering and pedal feel of a truly high standard. It’s a package that produces pure fun and enjoyment, but there are two particular highlights that stand out above the rest of the package – the brakes, and the gear lever.
The braking equipment is provided by those famous Italian purveyors of stopping, Brembo, and they are absolute gems. They were treated to a great deal of abuse at the Slovakia Ring race circuit and put it up with it enormously well. Considering that flat out this is now a Honda Civic capable of 167mph, brakes of this standard are absolutely vital to the overall performance package, and they don’t disappoint.
Honda told us they’d worked hard to deliver a satisfying shift feel from the 6-speed manual and they sure weren’t lying. It’s a wonderful short throw (40mm) gearbox that really flatters the driver with each gear very easy to slot into and it’s equally as adept at handling a fast track change down as it is a lazy motorway upshift.
90% of this car is exceptional, but it still has its flaws. Responsiveness lower in the rev range is poor, the seating position is a little bit high with little room for adjustment, and the seats and ride are harder than you might like them to be. Sure it felt comfortable on the pristine Austrian motorway, but will it cause drivers to complain on bumpy British B-roads? We’ll have to wait to find out for sure, but my suspicion is it will. Some will inevitably complain about the aggressive styling, it isn’t for everyone and I can see that, but it is there for a purpose and when Honda’s cerebral approach to design and engineering is kept in mind it’s actually quite captivating.
Overall this is a brilliant car that’s exceptional to drive both on road and track, but you can’t help but feel that the term ‘hot hatch’ is no longer a suitable category for cars of this ilk. The new Civic Type R feels closer to a Nissan GT-R than it does a hot hatch of the last decade. Where on earth will the power struggle end? I can’t say I know, but if manufacturers keep producing cars as excellent as this, I also can’t say I care.