The good news is that, as a consequence of Honda’s 2004 Civic range makeover, timed to pre-empt the new Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra, the Type-R finds itself comprehensively tweaked: outside, inside and under the skin. It even includes a little honing of its best feature – a lighter flywheel and clutch assembly reducing inertia, improving throttle response and shaving 0.2sec from the 0-62mph time (now a claimed 6.6sec).
All three-door Civics get new front and rear styling, retuned suspension, damping and steering, brighter projector-style headlights with a wider beam spread and a space-saver spare wheel to liberate 55 litres more boot space. Visually, Honda has made a fair fist of injecting extra interest. At the front, the new headlights make the biggest splash, while round the back, new tail light clusters look smarter and provide equally clear-cut differentiation for the new model.
Routine stuff, all well conceived and executed. A tougher challenge for Honda’s engineers was to improve steering response, linearity and on-centre feel and, in particular, to sharpen the Type-R’s tautness and precision. In pursuit of these aims, all models get stiffer steering and suspension mounting points, a new variable-ratio steering rack, increased steering caster angle and recalibrated spring, damper and anti-roll bar settings.
On the road the differences between the new Civic Type-R and its predecessor are immediately apparent. It feels harder-edged, more precise and more physical than the rather nervous and tip-toey previous Type-R, with modest body roll and genuinely keen turn-in. Ride comfort is firm, occasionally bordering on agitated, but the Type-R clearly does a better job of inspiring confidence in its driver than its predecessor. Get the entry right, step on the gas and the outcome is much more rewarding: fine grip, no torquesteer, a mild tendency for the nose to run wide that can be trimmed with the throttle and, ultimately, stonking exit speed.
It’s all relayed through steering that’s more meatily weighted – albeit with a pervasive sense of damping that filters out some of the feel. But even if you shut down the power on the limit mid-bend, only the merest tweak of corrective lock is required – and thanks to the Honda’s quick rack it’s more of an instinctive nudge.
Which leaves one question: does the Type-R’s chassis now match the talent of its phenomenal drivetrain? Not a chance. For that, it would need to handle like a 911 Turbo. But at least the two elements are on speaking terms, and it makes all the difference.