Honda’s current Civic Type R has been with us since 2017 which, in the world of car makers, means the wonderfully full-on and engaging hot hatch is due a midlife facelift.
For the Type R, this facelift is less cosmetic surgery, more an extra application of eyeliner and lipstick. There are new fog light surrounds, new bumper designs front and back, and a slighter deeper grille, which is practical as well as aesthetic. And that’s your lot.
Fundamentally, if you liked the Type R’s none-more-lairy looks before then then changes are a refinement of that. If you thought it looked like the result of an accident on the set of Fast and Furious then, likewise nothing major has changed.
For drivers who fancy the full-fat Type R effect but with a little more subtlety, a Sport Line trim is on its way which uses the same mechanicals as the GT but with a low-level rear spoiler, smaller (19-inch) wheels with higher profile tyres, additional sound-proofing and black upholstery in place of red.
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The standard car’s interior has been titivated as well with an Alcantara steering wheel and new teardrop aluminium gear knob. It’s still not exactly luxurious, with hard plastics and lots of dubious red and silver detailing, but the deep sports seats are hugely supportive and the driving position is excellent. The media/nav system has been updated with physical controls but is still horrible to use so be prepared to hook up CarPlay or Android Auto sharpish.
Mechanical upgrades are more significant than the cosmetic ones and improve an already great car. The bigger grille and revised front vents allow for better cooling of the engine and brakes. New control software for the adaptive dampers, stiffer bushes and low-friction ball joints offer better stability and steering. And new two-piece floating front discs are lighter and more efficient, offering better braking during intense driving.
People were hardly complaining about the FK8’s performance before and this tinkering is about mild improvements rather than a massive rethink. So, the Type R remains a razor-sharp road rocket that can cover ground with impressive pace and complete confidence.
Things start well with beautifully calibrated steering that, through a variable-ratio rack, translates exactly where you want the car to go. From those inputs, the level of grip from the Continental SportContact 6s is at times slightly unbelievable. As you tip it into a corner the front end bites and just doesn’t let go, even on the sort of British roads that can have a changing radius, potholes and camber change all on one corner. The recalibrated adaptive suspension works away beneath you constantly altering damping to offer maximum grip as you power through a corner and, coupled to that incredibly precise steering, it means you are utterly assured of the car’s abilities.
Honda Civic Type R GT
- Price: £34,820
- Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
- Power: 316bhp
- Torque: 295lb ft
- Transmission: Six-speed manual
- Top speed: 169mph
- 0-62mph: 5.8 seconds
- Economy: 33.2mpg
- CO2 emissions: 193g/km
Power delivery is as ferocious or as calm as you want, with a nice progressive throttle. There’s a little hesitation at very low revs but let the turbo start to spin and very quickly you’re going very quickly - 62mph comes up in 5.8 seconds and the Civic will run on to 169mph. Lean on the brakes hard and the Civic will scrub the speed just as impressively, although you have to give the pedal a decent prod to get the four-piston calipers to bite.
More than 300bhp in a hot hatch was once unthinkable and even now it feels like a lot, especially thanks to the way the Honda involves the driver with its immediate throttle response, big flashy shift lights that encourage you to use the short-throw, sharp six-speed manual and an exhaust that gets more vocal as revs rise and you work through the three drive modes.
Those three drive modes are simple and actually make a noticeable difference. As a hot hatch, the Civic is fairly firmly sprung but, unlike the last-gen FK2, this model offers a broader range of abilities. Comfort mode really does make a difference, softening the ride and easing back the throttle and steering response a little so you can plod along on the school run or morning commute.
Switch it up to Sport and there’s a perceptible increase in response from the throttle and steering, plus a louder exhaust note, as well as a firming up of the adaptive suspension. For me, this is the sweet spot which lets you make the most of the car’s abilities on the road without feeling punishing. +R steps it up even further but the ride becomes almost too hard for our shambolic roads. Better save that for the inevitable track days where you can properly let loose.
At first glance the Limited Edition version of the car might seem like a marketing exercise but run back-to-back on track against the GT the difference is clear. With a 47kg weight saving, forged BBS alloys, Michelin Cup 2 tyres and a unique steering and suspension calibration, it instantly feels lighter and sharper than the already impressive GT. It feels more lively from a standstill, has more bite on the steering, more responsive brakes and just a touch more focus in every area. If you drive a standard GT and somehow think it isn’t sharp enough, the Limited Edition is the answer. If you can find one. Only 100 are being built and the UK’s allocation of 20 has already been sold.
The price you pay for the added edge of the Limited Edition is £39,995 and the loss of some sound deadening, the air conditioning and the infotainment system (which is no great pity). It still comes with the Honda Sense driver aid system, while the £34,820 GT and Sport Line versions also feature blind spot and cross-traffic alert, dual-zone climate control, sat nav, a wireless charging pad, and a 467-watt 11-speaker audio system. For £2,000 less, the standard Type R does without those but keeps the seven-inch touchscreen, 20-inch alloys, climate control, adaptive cruise control and the Honda LogR data logging system that lets you monitor acceleration, braking, cornering G, and other parameters to help improve lap times.
Whether you’re on a track chasing those extra tenths or exploring a twisting country road, the Civic Type R remains an absolutely spectacular performer with engagement and ability in abundance. The new changes may be relatively small but they’ve made a great car even better.
This article first appeared on our sister site The Scotsman