Next week, a new Honda Civic Type R will appear. Not just a mid-life facelift for the current car – which hasn’t even been on sale two years – but an entirely new model.
But don’t let that convince you the outgoing car is a dud that arrived in immediate need of replacement. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s a magnificent car and its untimely disappearance from the showroom is a quirk of Honda’s product planning above anything else.
The Black Edition you see here is Honda seeing off the Civic Type R (the FK2 generation, model code geeks) in typical car industry fashion. So it’s a 100-off run-out special for the UK, with zero mechanical changes but a new lick of paint. Namely black paint with plentiful red detailing inside and out.
We’ve driven it, and it seems as perfect excuse as any to look back at why, no matter how extraordinary the new Type R may turn out to be, this one will be missed, too…
It’s made turbocharged VTECs okay
The FK2 had an unenviable task: take the Type R badge, famed for being tacked onto naturally aspirated cars that rev to almost deafening levels, into the modern era of turbocharged performance cars.
And yes, it won’t rev like an old Civic, Integra or Accord Type R. But it gets close. With its 306bhp peak not arriving until 6,500rpm, there’s still plenty of excuse to rev the absolute clangers off it.
“The Civic Type R engine is not a turbo engine with VTEC, it is a VTEC engine with a turbo added,” Hisayuki Yagi, the Type R’s chief engineer told TG at the car’s launch. We’d say he’s right.
Plenty of people will rejoice in the fact there’s life in the engine’s lower reaches, too. Peak torque comes in at 2,500rpm, making the 2.0-litre four highly useable, while there are some amusing chirrups and whistles from the turbo before the hard-edged engine note wails in as the shift-up lights begin to illuminate.
Performance isn’t as hard won nor dizzyingly satisfying as in Type Rs of old. That’s inevitable. But the Civic Type R’s transition to turbocharging is among the more successful in the performance car sphere, particularly when it comes to four-cylinder engines.
It feels closer to a touring car than anything else in BTCC
In the current era of British Touring Cars, that may not be saying much. But so committed and focused is the Civic, there’s tangible racecar-for-the-road feel to it.
The ride is unremittingly firm. There’s a lot of commotion, whether the engine is on boost or not. And its controls are supremely tight.
Oh, and there’s an unashamedly ginormous wing that probably troubles more people than it pleases. It’s only a small pack of decals away from being easily snuck into your nearest Parc Ferme.
And it’s so much more focused than an RS
The Ford Focus RS has rightly won many plaudits and much praise, as well as a number of awards. Including one from us.
And yet I’d have the Civic. The Focus is a multi-faceted car – sensible and practical when you don’t cycle through its drive modes, utterly yobbish when you do – but the Type R is hardcore all of the time. And I like that.
It does mean the engine’s quite buzzy on a motorway cruise. And that the ride’s a bit thumping on broken roads. But it also means that the car is constantly exciting, always keeping you on your toes, always rewarding you for smooth and thoughtful inputs. The Focus needs an empty road or track to truly come alive. The Civic is always alive.
It has perhaps the best gearchange in the business
Comparing the quality of manual gearchanges probably used to be a delightfully nerdy discussion that far outstretched the length of a pub lunch. Now, it’s a fairly limited conversation, unless the debate extends beyond new cars.
The Civic Type R is an exemplar of why the manual still has a lot of life left in it. It’s stubby little gearlever is tactile in every which way: short in length, short in throw and short in distance from the driver, thanks to its elevated position on the dashboard, a touch inherited from the EP3 Civic Type R of the early 2000s. It’s also small, metallic and satisfying to hold.
It’s such a precisely designed instrument, so its operation is precise, too. The turbocharged torque means you don’t need to change gear so often in Type Rs now. But the change is so good, you’ll flick up and down between gears just for the hell of it. Even on a steady motorway cruise. And that’s fine.
And maybe the best seats, too
How do you make a sensible hatchback feel like a performance car, on a budget that still allows profit? You make the rev counter more exciting to look at and bolt in some bucket seats, that’s what.
It means the hot hatch market has some of the best seats in the whole car world, and you’ll enjoy much more comfort and support in a Renault Sport Megane than you will, say, a Lamborghini Aventador SV.
Nearly everyone employs a form of Recaro, Ford, Renault and Volkswagen included. But Honda has gone its own way with the Type R’s seats, and they’re probably the most supportive and comfortable of the lot. Just make sure you lift your legs a bit on the way in, to keep those side bolsters nice and firm…
It’s unashamedly Japanese
The Civic may be built in Britain, but its styling is all Japanese. This is a bold car that knows not of subtlety.
And its dedication to its homeland continues inside. If there’s one thing that unites every Japanese car on sale, it’s a slightly unfathomable infotainment setup. Your first job is to try and turn off the irritating beep that accompanies every button press or screen jab. Your second is to find your favourite radio station in a layout that cares little for alphabetical order or logic.
Excusing flaws as ‘character’ is the oldest, laziest trick in car journalism. But there’s something endearing about the bloody-minded confusion of all this when Europe’s touchscreen and infotainment setups have gone in such an intuitive direction. If anything, it ensures you never try fiddling with the radio on the move; you simply get on with driving.
It gets a heck of a lot of attention
This probably ought to be no surprise. But even after a couple of years on sale, the FK2 Type R’s looks have not diluted at all. It’s about as crowd-stopping as sub-£100k cars get.
I’m not going to pretend all of the attention is positive. Having some haphazardly modified Corsa or mk3 Polo undertake you in a 40mph zone (because you’ve got the temerity to drive a Type R at 40mph) then glare a look of victory in your direction isn’t huge fun, but I’d argue the look of surprise as you flash oncoming traffic through a gap you’ve left makes up for it.
As car designs meld into one a bit – particularly among the European hatchback set – it’s nice to have something that garners reactions wherever it goes. And its big wing is the wildest hot hatch adornment we’ve seen since the Escort RS Cosworth. Here’s hoping it dates as well as that…
There really aren’t many about
Honda canned all performance cars at the end of the last decade, and only made the decision to reinstate the Type R badge late in the outgoing Civic’s life cycle.
The result is that its hot hatch variant has been on sale for just 20 months, and in the UK, a mere 2,250 have sold. That compares to 12,976 of the previous generation car (the FN2) and a stonking 20,963 of the ‘breadvan’ EP3.
The next generation car is also likely to be built in small numbers, but its arrival within months of the standard Civic means its lifespan will likely be three times as long as the Type R it replaces. You want rarity? You want this one.
It’s helped Honda rub VW up the wrong way at the ‘Ring
Whatever you think of Nürburgring lap times – and how much point there is to them – they’ve injected a lot of drama and excitement into the hot hatchback market.
Upon announcing the FK2 Civic Type R, Honda also announced it had taken the front-wheel-drive ‘Ring lap record with it, beating the Renault Sport Megane 275 Trophy R and Seat Leon Cupra.
It took Volkswagen’s staggeringly good Golf GTI Clubsport S to oust the Civic from the top of the leader board, and VW has been back and beaten its own record, clearly fearing the arrival of the next Type R. To have the Germans feverishly defending their honour on home turf is a sure sign the Civic’s done something right in its unfairly short lifetime.
The new one? It’s got some big racing boots to fill.