Review: Honda Civic Type R – the best hot hatch in the world

  • Sat,11 Jan 2020 02:22:22 PM

British Asia Network - Shahzad Sheikh

London 11 January 2020 - This is the Honda Civic Type-R - that is the FK8 edition for hard-core Honda fans - the 5th generation Civic Type-R based on the 10th generation Civic. There will be a very slightly facelifted mid-life update arriving this Summer, but for now this is the Type R, and the impending arrival of a new version, just means you should be able to negotiate a better deal on any existing stock.

It remains a fair question to ask if this Honda Civic Type R is the best hot hatch in the world right now. It has the credentials thanks to that fabled Type R badge alone. A badged that once sat on one of the handiest hot saloons around – the 1998 Accord Type R – and on a car once widely acclaimed as the best-handling front-wheel drive ever, that was the mid-90s Integra Type R.

Unlike those two though, the Civic Type R has been a constant since 1997 and has benefited from its evolution and, in the latest iteration, a distinct change of personality. The Civic Type R was typically a slightly sportier looking version of the regular Civic with a screaming high-revving VTEC engine that had to live on the limiter to live it up, with a rock-hard ride that forced some to defect to more refined and comfortable fast hatches like, of course, the Golf GTI.

So here then is potentially a Civic Type R that’s learned from its past errant ways but relinquished none of its inherent delinquency. It’s a grown-up version of the lineage, although apart from a newfound appreciation and embracing of some level of comfort and practicality, it hasn’t really grown up at all.

Lift up the large tailgate and there is a massively usable and useful amount of load space and that’s before you put the seats down. And as for that back row, there’s so much room in there – even for tall lanky body types like mine – that you can justify it as very spacious family car. Up front it’s Honda-level beautifully-finished and logically laid out, with the only wrinkle being that maybe the digital infotainment interface could be better, oh and the speakers could do with an upgrade.

 

And yet despite all this agreeableness, under the bonnet is a mental 2.0-litre VTEC Turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing about 320bhp and 400Nm or 295lb ft of torque - that'll give it a 0-62-mph time of 5.8 seconds on paper (it subjectively feels a lot quicker) and it has an outrageous 170mph top speed, managing to stay pinned to terra firma at speed thanks to the aerodynamics corralled by that vast rear wing and the rest of that outlandish bodywork.

Ah yes, unlike its predecessors, this Civic Type R, sitting proud on its delicate 20-inch alloys, makes no excuses for its road-racer status. Its looks shout louder than its engine does this time, and the heavily accentuated and appendaged design can be polarising. There are even triple exhausts popping out the back!

 

It’s aggressive and in your face, but at the same time arresting, unmistakable from its lesser siblings (plus its 8cm wider), and impossible to ignore. Spend time with it, understand it, notice how the various design elements work together and you realise that it’s actually far more masterful in its functional and compelling aesthetics than the previous version with its pudgy rear flanks. Though I maintain the 3rd generation European market FN2 version from 2007 is the pettiest design of all.

Sitting in those perfectly sculpted red bucket racing seats, the traditional aluminium shift knob, a natural hand-drop from the steering wheel (word of advice keep some gloves in the car for when it's too cold, and too hot) with carbon fibre and red accented trim on the dashboard, there’s instantly a growing sense of anticipation. Particularly when you notice the switch that selects Comfort mode, and +R mode – the car actually starts in Sports mode as a default!

 

The differences in the modes are minor – in comfort the suspension is the most compliant and if you’re carrying passengers around town, I’d recommend switching down into that. There’s not much loss in performance – there’s a pretty relentless surge of pull from 2500rpm, but there’s not much to be gained from sending the revs soaring past 4500rpm.

Just change up at that point, you’ve got six speeds to play with – use them. In fact Honda makes some of the finest manual transmissions out there, and this slick shifter is better than ever, snapping in and out of ratios with ease. You can heel-and-toe on down shifts, with reasonably well placed pedals.

320bhp may sound like a lot of power to put through the front wheels, and if you're brutal it will fight to put it down efficiently and you can provoke torque steer. Yet somehow the front just digs in and pulls you through a corner anyway, even if you keep your foot in, which is just uncanny.

Brakes are good and the steering varies assistance as you speed up. Somehow it feels perfectly weighted for whatever conditions you’re driving it in. In comfort around town it’s light, in Sports and +R it gets meaty. It’s always responsive though and accurate. Very reassuring.

 

That’s a key characteristic of this car. Despite it’s highly technical nature and extremely clever engineering and set-up, there is still a mechanical and visceral quality to the interaction with this machine, bringing back some of that old-skool joy in driving it hard.

Criticisms then? I have to get very picky, but I would say that given the visually outlandish presence of this car, and the three exhaust outlets, I would like more aural extravagance. The old Type R motors were screaming engines, this one is more boomy, but Honda could make more of the noise, and how about a menacing bark on start up? Interestingly one of the changes for the facelift is said to be improved engine noise in the cabin. Oh and I wish it had a manual handbrake.

At £31,000 or £33,000 for this GT spec with the dual-zone climate control, sat nav, better stereo and other bits and pieces which you'll all want, it makes an incredible value argument. Is it the world's best hot hatch. Right now, yep! And dammit I think want one.

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