The new Honda Civic Type R has had the kind of build-up that could make a US presidential election campaign look short.

The last naturally aspirated version went out of production five years ago, doing so with the biggest of bangs in the form of the Type R Mugen, which hit 237bhp and a jaw-dropping £39,000. It was hailed as a suitably feverish curtain call for one of the most affectionately regarded fast front-drivers ever produced. But that’s not how the story ended.

Shortly after the unveiling of the new-generation Civic hatch in 2011, Honda started discussing plans for a new, turbocharged Type R compatible with the tighter European emissions standards that did for its predecessor. By 2013, the firm was showing teaser videos of disguised prototypes; shortly thereafter, successive concepts appeared.

At Geneva this year, we saw the finished product. And now it’s here – so frequently previewed, so hotly anticipated and such a long time coming that you almost need to be within touching distance to believe it.

That lengthy preamble speaks volumes about the departure this car represents for Honda and the ambition bound within its swollen arches. The hot hatchback market has been transformed since the days of the much-loved ‘EP3’ Type R that was the first to be built at Swindon and the first to strike it rich on UK sales.

But 200bhp is now no longer nearly enough for a full-size hot hatch. And Honda, a dyed-in-the-wool champion of fast-revving atmospheric engines, could no longer afford to maintain its long-running indifference towards forced induction.

The switch to turbocharging has meant a fundamental change in engineering philosophy for Honda,  and it comes on a car that is reputed to be nothing less than the fastest front-wheel-drive hatch money can buy – faster, of course, around the Nürburgring than all of its rivals.

But what about around MIRA’s only marginally less tortuous handling circuit? Time to find out.

Top 5 Hot hatches

  • Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R
    The Trophy-R is a track-focused 271bhp front-drive hot hatchback

    Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy-R

    1
  • Ford Focus ST
    This four-cylinder Focus feels lighter at the front than its five-pot predecessor

    Ford Focus ST

    2
  • Seat Leon Cupra
    The new Leon Cupra is offered with a choice of 261bhp or 276bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines

    Seat Leon Cupra

    3
  • Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7
    This is the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI

    Volkswagen Golf GTI

    4
  • Skoda Octavia vRS
    It's not difficult to distinguish the standard vRS from the more conventional models

    Skoda Octavia vRS

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Honda range

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    26 July 2016
    An expensive but entertaining, intriguing and very usable road-going track car whose rarity may eventually underwrite its high price
  • First Drive
    26 July 2016
    French fashion brand Givenchy has come together with DS for a special edition DS 3. Is it now any closer to the class leaders?
  • 2016 Audi Q7 e-tron
    First Drive
    26 July 2016
    Plug-in hybrid Q7 promises economy of 156.9mpg and BIK rates of 10%. It’ll take you a while to recoup the £10k premium over a standard Q7, though
  • MG GS Exclusive DCT
    First Drive
    22 July 2016
    MG's crossover in self-shifting, top-spec form has limited appeal at this price
  • Lexus GS450h F Sport
    First Drive
    22 July 2016
    The Lexus GS450h might offer plenty of pace and reasonable running costs on paper, but diesel alternatives make more sense