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Car reviews - Honda - Civic - Type R


We like
Sizzling performance, tenacious handling, accuracy of primary controls, exceptional driving position, not as hard on front tyres as predecessor
Room for improvement
Considerably dearer than FK8-series model, lacks the aural theatre of some rivals, growth in size may not be to every hot hatch buyer’s taste

Is the Civic Type R Australia’s best front-drive sports car? We head to The Bend to find out

11 Dec 2023



IT IS a rare opportunity that sees a bunch of motoring scribes thrown the keys to a sports car and let loose on the racetrack. No minders. No instructors. No follow-the-leader handholding. Just the chance to experience the car at its natural best, and against one of Australia’s best drivers…


You see, not only was this event one that allowed the opportunity to pit ourselves against the car, but against a time set by TCR racer Tony D’Alberto. In all my years as a motoring journo I’ve never been offered the chance to try anything like this – and you’d want to believe there was some ‘healthy’ competition in pit lane.


But before we get into that, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of just what makes the Honda Civic Type R the icon it is.


As well as being the front-wheel drive record holder at Germany’s famed Nürburgring Nordschliefe (7:44.881), the FL5-series Civic Type R also holds the Aussie front-wheel drive record at The Bend Motorsport Park (2:12.260) – a record set by Mr D’Alberto himself.


To clarify, this is not the time the Australian media would be challenged to beat. Instead, Mr D’Alberto set a time around The Bend’s West Circuit we were inspired to match – a very tidy 1:33.950.


Honda’s latest generation Civic Type R was launched around this time last year, its upgraded K20C1-series 2.0-litre Turbo VTEC engine developing 235kW (+7kW) at 6500rpm and 420Nm (+20Nm) between 2600-4000rpm courtesy of a redesigned turbocharger, remapped ECU, and more efficient exhaust and intake.


The figures make it the most powerful iteration of its kind to date, the engine paired exclusively with a traditional six-speed manual transmission, lightweight flywheel, and a revised rev-matching system to ensure what Honda says are “hyper precise” shifts.


Honda says it has retuned the Civic Type R’s dual-axis strut front and multilink rear suspension to improve straight-line stability and steering feel. While two-piece front rotors reduce unsprung mass and improve braking performance.


The Type R rides on 19-inch matte black alloy wheels shod with 265/30 profile Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres.


On the equipment front, the Honda Civic Type R offers individual drive modes, an active exhaust valve, 10.2-inch digital driver display, a 9.0-inch infotainment array with wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charger, Honda LogR 2.0 telemetry system, sat nav, folding door mirrors, and ambient door and footwell lighting.


The Civic Type R shares much of its safety equipment with the Civic VTi LX including a full complement of airbags, blind-spot information system, rear cross-traffic alert, speed limiter, driver attention monitor and more.


Inside, the cockpit includes the Civic Type R’s iconic red seats, carpet and trim, a redesigned aluminium shift knob and a serialised Type R build plate affixed to the dashboard.


Locally, the Civic Type R is offered in a range of four paint colours including Championship White, Rally Red, Crystal Black, and Sonic Grey.


Drive Impressions


The previous Civic Type R was a cracking good thing, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the new one is even better, even if it is essentially the same car underneath.


But in optimising and perfecting every last detail of the FL5-series newbie, Honda has created a car that we reckon might now be the best front-wheel drive hot hatch on the market – and one that remains entirely enjoyable to drive.


Throttle response is improved – there is less turbo lag when opening the taps from just about anywhere across the rev range. Gear shift feel is improved – there is less free play than before promoting cleaner changes, especially across the gates. Handling is improved – thanks in no small part to a longer wheelbase and more rigid body that gifts the Type R with improved stability. The more you work through the car, the more you find to separate new from old…


We’ll leave it to you as to whether you think the asking price is worth it, or whether you’d take a European competitor for similar money. In our opinion, the Civic Type R is hard to look past.


There’s a sense of balance and accuracy that isn’t usually associated with a front engine, front drive setup. The chassis remains playful and easy to adjust, but is at the same time more tenacious, delivering grip well beyond where expectation and instinct says it should end. Start to overcook it, and the warning signs are there – well before any electronic intervention is necessary.


In fact, we can’t think of any other sports car this side of $100K that is as entertaining to drive with the stability control left on. And after a few laps of exploring within those limits, it’s time to throw caution to the wind and rely on “talent” alone.


Enter R+ mode and dial back the nannies, and the Civic Type R feels entirely alive. It’s clear the vehicle was engineered to be enjoyed in this environment, and not constrained by the limits of the road. Through fast, tightening corners you can feel the differential quickly shuffling power to the outside wheel, the steering conversing both the torque and road feel with abundant accuracy.


Small corrections are all it takes to keep the Type R tidy, and to get down as much power as you dare in finding the next turn.


The Bend Motorsport Park has a couple of spots where corners are entered over a crest, which can shift a lot of weight from the rear as you enter the turn. But with wonderfully strong and balanced braking, and the aforementioned clarity of the steering, it is surprisingly easy to lift off the throttle and slide the rear end just enough to aim the nose at the exit – before again getting back on the loud pedal.


Or should we say, the not-so-loud pedal. You see, unlike many of the all-paw German rivals – and indeed the Megane and i30N – the Civic is better mannered; more reserved. It certainly has the engine note to keep a grin on your face, but the exhaust is rather muted. A little more ‘bark’ certainly wouldn’t go astray.


It’s about the only downside we can come against as we slice through lap after lap, following the LogR 2.0 telemetry to improve where possible, shaving tenth after tenth from our initial lap to close the gap on Mr D’Alberto’s 1:33.950.


A few breathers in the pits, and a chance to bleed off the tyres and cool the brakes, gives us the perfect opportunity to pore over the telemetry, seeing where improvements can be made, and where more conviction is required.


It’s a remarkably detailed level of feedback. Without it, you could circle lap after lap without really knowing where your mistakes are made. But instead, in just a few sessions, we’re whittling down the seconds, first into the 37s, and then the 36s…


Still, I am not happy with some of the silly mistakes made and reckon there’s more in it – even with a wannabe racer at the ‘wheel. The Honda crew look over my data and find a spot where ‘lifting’ the throttle spoils the entry to a complex left-into-right. “Stay on it here and you’ll be quicker,” comes the advice.


That fourth gear left-hander feels mildly terrifying at full throttle, but the 100-odd kilograms of downforce keeps the rear-end planted as the front tyres claw at the asphalt, the engine rising through 6000, then 6500, then BEEEP, FLASH – redline.


It’s at this exact moment that it’s time to brake, firmly. Shift down to third, then second. Set the car’s attitude, get it turned in, slide the rear just enough to point the car at the ripple strip, feed on the power. The advice from pitlane is paying off: that was definitely quicker.


The LogR system shows it too. If I don’t stuff this up, it will be my lap!


Holding the edge of grip through a long series of left turns and the rubber is protesting loudly. That “you’re approaching the limit” howl is building now, just as the track straightens into a fast straight and two more turns.


There isn’t another car in sight, and the threatening rain has stayed away (we’re honestly not too sure how the front-drive Civic Type R would handle the rain on these tyres). There’s plenty of grip, plenty of brake pedal and plenty of power… there’s also plenty of ‘tenths’ left on the screen – we are on a flyer.


We can see the finish line now. 180km/h, 190km/h, 200km/h, 210km/h… the line rolls under the car and the lap timer takes what seems like seconds to calculate our time (in all likelihood its half a second or less).


We have a result, a 1:35.910.


I’ll take that.


A cool down lap and we track back into pit lane, the Honda crew eager to look at the time. We’re chuffed with the result, and even more chuffed with how well the technology had helped us progress. Only race drivers have access to this kind of technology, surely?


This is a cracking car, and one that is subjectively the best front-wheel drive hot hatch I’ve driven. Only a true back-to-back test would sort the Honda from its rivals, but on the strengths of this experience alone, we’re willing to say it would ruffle some feathers – French, Korean, German or otherwise.

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