The Civic approaches hot hatch perfection – at a price
By Matt Bird / Wednesday, 30 November 2022 / Loading comments
There’s no avoiding it, so best deal with it first. Of all the interesting numbers around the new Honda Civic Type R, the price will get the most attention. In the UK, it costs £46,995. Any colour other than grey is an extra £650. Add the Carbon Pack and Illumination Pack and a Civic will cost more than £50k. The 25 per cent reduction in flywheel inertia, 20mm wider front tyres and 60 degree reduction in brake pad temp after five hot laps all matter rather less when presented with the reality of a £46,995 Type R. It’s £10k more for 9hp extra, put most bluntly, even if this Type R is far more significant update than that. It remains an inescapable number, however – £11k down and £499 a month for three years is no more palatable – despite demand likely to exceed supply in these lean times for fast cars. Might that demand wane when presented with a Civic that costs as a much as a Cayman? Or will there be too much excitement around an update of a hot hatch great – and what might be the last pure ICE Type R – for the price to be much of a consideration?
To be revealed, presumably. There must be some PHers with deposits at their dealers – will you go ahead? Anyway, to the car, and not just the car’s price. UK buyers will get a 329hp Civic, using the same tune of 2.0-litre turbo as found in the 330hp JDM cars but with a horsepower snatched by the petrol particulate filter. Torque is up to 310lb ft; with more rubber on the driven axle now as well (a 265-section Michelin Pilot Sport 4S), Honda reckons this will reach 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds and 170mph. Rapid, then, if inevitably not much faster than before. There’s far more to the FL5 than mere speed, however. Honda describes the development philosophy as ‘Ultimate Sports 2.0’, which sounds like a Gran Turismo licence but reflects the evolutionary approach (because the old FK8 was designed around ‘Ultimate Sports’). It means almost nothing has been left untouched of familiar hardware in the pursuit of hot hatch heaven, from more structural adhesive in the construction to reducing lateral play in the gearshift, adding more turbines (of a different shape) to the turbo and reducing the back pressure of the exhaust by straightening it out. When Honda says that throttle blipping has been improved by 10 per cent, that the electric power steering resolution (whatever that is) has been increased six times and the hip point is 8mm, it’s clear this is a very thorough (and obsessive) overhaul – not just a prettier face.
Perhaps the most significant dynamic tweaks, the Civic’s wider tracks (26mm front, 30mm rear compared to the FK8) and longer wheelbase, contribute a lot to the fresh new look as well. It’s properly mean from the front now, low and broad like a touring car. Crucially, too, there’s nothing to offend, even if it suffers the standard Civic’s problem of being a bit ungainly thanks to the sheer size. To these eyes the Civic gives off the vibe of the classic Japanese fast car, where the humble and ordinary – think standard Impreza or Evo – was made extraordinary with a meaningful flagship overhaul. And not a fake vent in sight. There’s nothing to hate and even some bits to like about how this Civic looks, which must be a good thing. Same for inside: seats are still great, as is the steering wheel and driving position, only now everything you touch and press feels a bit higher quality.
Track driving at Estoril was a bit of a disaster, truth be told, torrential rain cutting short the first session. “If this were a race day, nothing would have ever started” was the instructor’s view. To the Civic’s credit it handles monsoon conditions very well, offering up borderline unbelievable traction and braking ability for a front-drive car in the conditions. But once you’ve aquaplaned in fifth gear on the pit straight it’s hard to concentrate on much beyond getting back safe and getting heart out of mouth.
It dries up a bit later on, if never to the point of turning the wipers off entirely, and the Civic continues to impress. The brakes are just superb, both for the feel and the ability to pull the car up in no time at all with absolute stability; they must feel almost otherworldly on a dry track. Communication of the limits through seat and wheel feels improved, too, though it probably wasn’t this wet driving the old one. You’re soon confident in braking a little later here and picking up the throttle sooner there, because the Civic is both hugely capable and readable. Fun, too – it never seemed so responsive to a lift before, tightening its line keenly with just a smidge of oversteer. But, again, the conditions encouraged that. Still, should a UK track day be wet – chances are it will – the Civic will still be a hoot. The manual shift really is even better than before, the gate seemingly more compact in every direction, the rev matching is beyond much fault, the assists not too nannying, the turn in really precise and the ability to get 320hp onto greasy tarmac really incredible. Every little bit of the package that was so sorted before has been tangibly improved here, for some idea of how good the Civic is on circuit. Apart from the noise in +R; somehow that’s even worse, high pitched and tinny.
Sadly, there was no great revelatory moment on the road, either, thanks to traffic, navigation woes and, of course, more rain. For those more kindly disposed, it perhaps played favourably to the subtle, evolutionary approach, forced to pay attention to the details than thrash around in a blaze of shift lights wondering where £50k might be begged, borrowed or stolen from. On a 19-inch wheel now the Civic rides perhaps a little more comfortably than the old car on its 20s, though not as much as might be expected. Sport and +R still feel firmer than you’re going to need. In fact Comfort becomes the default setting on road, so well sorted is the standard damping, steering, sound, and engine behaviour. Individual is new here, however, and undoubtedly welcome. Because although there’s no urge to change those settings, the slightly sharper throttle of Sport and racier dials of +R are nice to match with the regular bits elsewhere. Perhaps that will change on drier, clearer routes, but the previous FK8 shone in plain old Comfort as well.
This FL5 is undeniably better on the road, be in no doubt. Whatever’s happened behind those BBS wheels (an evolution of those from the old Limited) is very clever, the Type R delivering more traction with those wider Michelins but no unwanted steering weight, camber sensitivity, or torque steer. Heel and toe on the road is even more satisfying now with a zingier throttle response (weight is down for the flywheel as well as inertia), a brake pedal of even greater precision and snickier (we’ve made it a word) manual ‘box. It doesn’t feel any faster, sure, though that still means it’s wildly accelerative, with short ratios to keep you entertained. That ever so slightly more pliant ride is allied to even stricter body control and improved stability, and that joy of operation that characterised the experience before is even more abundant. Honda wanted it to be, in fact. The new Type R is wonderful just to bimble around in as well as more awe inspiring to drive fast when you get the chance.
But not that much more awe inspiring – that’s the key. Maybe these verdicts will all prove irrelevant, given how few Civics are expected to come in and how desperate fans will be to snap one up, though it feels worth pointing out that this is unequivocally not a £47,000 experience. It improves on what was a £36,000 experience a couple of years ago, simply not to that degree. To change gears, to use the interior, to turn the car into bends and to brake as hard as you dare are all more enjoyable experiences here than in the old car, just not by the margins that that lofty price tag inevitably conjures up. Yes, it’s better looking and more capable, undoubtedly; predicted rarity will surely count in the FL5’s favour in years to come, too. Ultimate Sports 2.0 has made for as good a Civic Type R as we dared hope, taking what was truly excellent and making it utterly magnificent in some instances, albeit with an Ultimate Sports 3.0 (or 4.0) price. Even £42,000 would have been acceptable for the manifest talent on offer and the cost of rivals. However, when a Championship White Civic Type R is closer to £50,000 than it is £45,000, something has gone wrong. Ultimately, in the cold, hard, dim and rainy light of an autumnal Portuguese day, an old FK8 with all the money saved – or some invested in improving it – feels a better use of so much money. And that’s a pity, because this is a great evolution of a brilliant car, and deserves to be enjoyed by as many folk as possible. But that won’t happen. Not that anyone who can nab one of the few hundred coming is likely to care; one of the best hot hatches ever will surely now be a safe investment as well.
SPECIFICATION | HONDA CIVIC TYPE R GT (FL5)
Engine: 1,996cc, four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],200-4,000rpm
Top speed: 170mph
Price: £46,995 (as standard with Sonic Grey Pearl; Rallye Red, Crystal Black Pearl, Racing Blue Pearl and Championship White paint all £650. Carbon Pack comprised of Carbon Fibre wing spoiler, Carbon fibre centre console panel and Carbon Fibre door sill trims is £3,265. Illumination Pack comprised of Front foot and under seat lights, Door lining illuminations, Cup holder and Console illumination, and Illuminated Type R pattern projector is £1,110)
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