The facelifted Honda Civic Type R is barely any different, which is great news
Blue my mind
The current version of the Honda Civic Type R, the FK8, has been the hot hatch to beat for the past three years. And now, in 2020, we're being given a mildly updated version to tide us over for the foreseeable future.
I spent the day with the new car on road and track – you can watch a vlog of the day below, or read on for some less sweaty thoughts.
The big news is that the Civic Type R is now available in three flavours. The regular Type R GT, the de-blinged, smaller-winged Sport Line and the sold-out, track-ready, 47kg-lighter £40,000 Limited Edition. I had the chance to drive the GT on road and track, and the Limited Edition on track only.
The de-winged Sport Line isn't coming to the UK until early 2021, so here's proof it exists
All models get subtle tweaks to the front and rear ends – you'd have to be a bit of a nerd to spot the new mesh design and tweaked body coloured blades on the front bumper. The Limited Edition is easier to spot by way of its lightweight BBS forged alloys and bright yellow paint.
Honda says that the suspension of all facelifted Type Rs has been tuned for more responsive handling and better steering feel – and after 100 miles on the road, it felt just like the old car. I spent a good eight months living with the pre-facelift FK8 car in 2019, and the fact this feels much the same is a very good thing.
You can really tank along in the Type R, etc (first person to say BUT IT'S A PERSONNEL CARRIER in the comments gets a prize)
It still fires down the road with mind-blowing cornering grip and a sense that you're being pushed into the Tarmac. That massive rear wing clearly does very little at road speeds, but it's a good visual metaphor for how the Type R makes you feel on your favourite B-road – untouchable, like a touring car let loose with numberplates. The rear end seems more tied down than the pre-facelift car – likely the effect of retuned and 10-times faster-acting adaptive dampers – and on track it proved less willing to get sideways on a trailed brake.
It almost feels four-wheel-drive, once you're out of the slightly traction-limited first gear – and the unchanged 320hp 2.0-litre turbo engine still emits a slightly tuneless note as you surf the mid-range torque. It's fun to head for the redline, but on a B-road you'll find yourself leaving it in fourth gear and tackling bends at speeds you'd not dare in anything this side of an A45 AMG.
Could you out-pace a supercar down a country road in the Type R? Absolutely. In fact, Jonny in his McLaren would probably be holding you up. The Type R still feels like it's always got your back, and goading you into higher and higher corner speeds.
The Alcantara wheel makes a big difference to the Type R's feelgood factor
It's not all fire and brimstone though. The R's comfort mode seems to soften the car off even more than before, leaving you free to enjoy the Type R's family lugging abilities – the boot is still huge, after all. Sadly you can't customise the driving modes to combine a sporty throttle response with the soft suspension, which feels like a miss.
Better knob, still a bit sticky
The most noticeable upgrades in the facelifted Civic Type R are the improved touch-points for the driver. The steering wheel is now wrapped in delicious Alcantara for a dose of GT3 feel and the gearknob is a reshaped teardrop slug of cool aluminium, weighted for a snappier throw. It does feel more precise than the old spherical knob, but I still sometimes struggled to get it cleanly from third to fourth – a problem that dogged my old long-term FK8 test car.
Looks much more like the DC2 Integra Type R's knob
You're still helped out by a (switchable) auto-blipper, but the pedal weights and positioning are so spot-on that you can heel-and-toe your downshifts like you're in a Cayman. On a tight track you'll want to leave the system on to give yourself more brain space with which to nail your lines.
What about the Limited Edition?
Honda gave us the chance to drive one of the 20 UK Type R Limited Editions, resplendent in vivid yellow paintwork. We were limited to a small, twisty track where we were maxing out at just under 90mph but even so, the differences from the 'regular' car were huge. The brakes felt significantly more immediate and more powerful, with less dead zone at the top of the pedal travel. The Michelin Cup 2 tyres and the lighter forged wheels meant it had noticeably more physical grip all the way into, through and out of corners. The work of the differential is certainly more noticeable as the grippy rubber hauls you on a tighter line out of bends.
The yellow Limited Edition version gets BBS forged alloys, trick brakes, 47kg less weight, less sound deadening… and more
The lack of air-con had me sweating, and the blank plate where the infotainment should be is just annoying – it'd be lovely for Honda to offer the same brake setup on the regular car, but you could probably get 60% of the sensation by putting your regular Type R on the same tyres.
Sadly, only 100 people in Europe will get to experience this ultimate version of the Type R – and hopefully the owners will give them a good thrashing on track.
So should I buy one?
The Type R is undoubtedly better than ever. There are elements that still feel dated – notably the dashboard and infotainment – but every part of the driving experience feels spot on. This facelift isn't reason enough to upgrade if you have a pre-facelift car, but if you've been eyeing up Honda's mad-looking hot hatch, there's never been a better time to get behind the wheel. You can even get one without the wing now, so your excuses are few and far between.