‘Fun’ is an interesting and perhaps misleading descriptor for the new Honda Civic Type R. ‘Fun’ is of course what the hot-hatch class has always been all about.
The more fun the car, the better. Shortcomings in ride quality, the flimsiest of cockpits, poor economy – you’d happily forgive any and all of it so long as there was enough attitude, enough full-throttle potential, enough lift-off oversteer. Enough fun.
And then came the previous generation of Civic Type R, the FK8. It was obvious early on that Honda had in some way altered the game because the new car was so precise, so ‘dialled’ into the road yet light on its feet, and so rich in its feedback.
With its long snout, two-and-a-half-box silhouette and ridiculous rear plumage, it looked like something that had gone beyond time-honoured hot-hatch parameters – like the Escort Cosworth – and this was mirrored in the driving. Fun wasn’t really something that concerned this car.
Its kicks were doled out by an almost addictive sense of precision engineering, both for chassis and powertrain and a level of seriousness that went beyond laughs and hinted at the kind of raw driving satisfaction usually only provided by pedigree sports cars of the most elevated disposition. There’s a reason why people referred to the FK8 as a ‘front-wheel drive 911 GT3’.
By Honda’s own admission, it could have simply reprised that car’s mechanicals in the more visually appealing body of the new FL5-generation Civic, and gone for an early supper.
The resulting Type R would have sold well because even today the old car doesn’t feel old, and I daresay that were you to throw it into a group-test with the best and newest alternatives 2023 has to offer, it’d probably win. And yet the FL5 is riven with detail changes – lightweighting here, geometry there, different bushings here, revised airflow for better resistance to brake-fade there.
Increased camber rigidity; a stiffer steering column; track-rod ends that flex less; a revised turbo; improved exhaust flow; an even sweeter gearshift action (somehow!); a lighter flywheel. You get the sense that the team behind this car was in full end-of-days mode for this very special machine. It’s a car, quite clearly. But it’s also a statement.
The new Civic Type R is faster than its forebear and more capable, being more stable when you need it and more adjustable when you want it. With a considerably plusher cabin and better rolling refinement, its everyday remit is also much stronger, and yet it lacks nothing of the old car’s sense of intent.
It possesses, by some margin, the most engaging powertrain in the class. Its dynamic personality isn’t defined by superficial tricks or contrived excitement, though it will do all those things as well as any comparable car. It’s ‘fun’, but isn’t also more than that. It’s brilliant, inimitable, a bit of an enigma.