In his Honda Civic Type R review, Ben Griffin puts the demon-winged hatchback through its paces on British roads – having previously raced it around Rockingham Circuit – to see just how good it can be.
When we drove the previous Honda Civic Type R, it gave us a huge buzz. If you wanted the closest thing to a touring car you can use on public roads, there was nothing else. It was unhinged in all the right places.
That, of course, included the aesthetics, which was the Type R’s biggest problem. We wanted to embrace our inner boy racer, given how ridiculously fun it was to drive, but we never could. Our mind wandered elsewhere to the more palatable BMW M140i.
This is despite the fact Honda took the Type R around the Nurburgring faster than any other front-wheel drive (a feat it has since repeated). And it got us around Rockingham Circuit pretty sharpish, too.
Fortunately, then, the 2017 Type R ‘FK8’ has grown up a bit. In terms of suspension, in terms of looks and in terms of performance. But is there a price to pay for making a softening one of the UK’s most loutish cars and can we now, finally, give it top marks?
Having spent all week cruising around, from shopping trips to Sainsbury’s (it’s the nearest supermarket, don’t judge) to a three and a half hour to Lincolnshire (to drive the Hyundai i30 N), we can now spill the beans.
TL;DR: It’s glorious.
2017 Honda Civic Type R review: What has changed?
The fifth-generation Honda Civic Type R is based on the 10th-generation Civic, which means the differences between the 2015 and the 2017 Type are numerous. New platform, new suspension, new chassis, new interior, revised steering ─ you get the idea.
In fact, just the brakes, engine and gearbox have been transferred from the old car but not before a few adjustments to make them more potent. You now, for instance, get 316bhp from its 2.0-litre VTEC engine, up 10bhp on its predecessor because of that new three-exit exhaust system.
The rear suspension is now of a multi-link flavour, which is stronger, stiffer and lighter (adios, torsion beam of old), while the front uses dual-axis MacPherson struts. An adaptive damping system provides differing levels of ride quality at all corners, adjustable using the driving mode selector.
Meanwhile the new ‘Global Compact’ platform has paved the way for a 37 per cent improvement in stiffness and the six-speed manual gearbox now uses a shorter ratio for more potent acceleration. Top speed has crept up to 169mph ─ a modest increase of 2mph.
Widening the rear track by 65mm compared to its predecessor is another difference, yet the front is down 6mm until you factor in the 20-inch wheels and tyres. The 0-62mph time, meanwhile, has dropped from 5.7 seconds to 5.8 for the heavier GT version (not that you notice).
Inside, you get the same boy racer haven but those sporty, red accent-ridden seats are comfortable and keep you from being thrown through the window at speed. The layout is similar, but the quality and finish is noticeably better – still a little away from perfect, though.
2017 Honda Civic Type R review: How does it drive?
By softening the Type R where it counts and stiffening it up in others, the result is a more forgiving drive. But its ability to tear up a circuit is no less hampered ─ if anything it has been honed, widening its breadth of ability significantly.
Obliterating the legal limit is done so fast and aggressively you forget it is a family hatchback at heart, yet the feel of the accelerator means you can stick to any speed mundane perfectly ─ even in the twitchiest +R track-focussed setting.
The brakes, meanwhile, are just as modulated and capable of painfully short braking distances. Knowing they survived a number of high-speed laps on a track without fading, we can attest to the fact they are easily up to road use.
Then there is the fact the 2017 Type R scythes through bends like a samurai sword through sun-warmed Lurpak. Scrub off as much speed as you dare before a corner, then let the precision steering, grippy tyres and chassis stick you to the floor like nothing else in its class. All you have to do is grin.
Admittedly, the Type R rather elegantly displays there is a limit to how much power you can pump through the front wheels, particularly when it’s been raining or you accelerate hard in 1st. But beyond that, Honda’s engineers ─ and limited-slip differential ─ have made the power predominantly usable.
Hammering through British countryside (responsibly), the Type R reveals an ability to smooth out road imperfections far better than before, yet even in ‘comfort’ it can go round corners faster and in more composed fashion than any other hot hatchback.
Concerns the softening of the Type R would harm its personality never came to fruition as the acceleration is even more brutal than before. Give it full power from standing and electronic trickery tries hard (but ultimately fails) to stop the front wheels from spinning themselves into a pile of rubber.
In the wet, it is very possible to nullify the steering completely with full acceleration in third, an issue emphasised by the fact you now get all 295lb/ft (400Nm) of torque from 2,500rpm. That can be quite a scary moment.
Turbo lag is often cited as a problem, but that newfound lowdown grunt means the Type R can change pace quickly when you try a lazy overtake manoeuvres. When the lonely turbo does finally spin up, you get that ‘VTEC, yo’ surge forward that makes it feel monumentally rapid.
The engine bark is decent, without being as fake as in the Focus RS and more gruff than the Hyundai i30 N, but a sporty Megane and the M140i are more appealing. At the very least, it pushes you to reach maximum horsepower at 6,500rpm, which is what is most important.
Steering feel is top-notch, which is reassuring when torque steer is definitely an issue the Type R suffers from. It is also weighty, especially alongside a Focus RS or M140i, but it never makes life harder ─ only more natural.
Changing gear is another thing the Type R makes easy, thanks to a short throw and smooth metal gear knob. You do, however, find yourself changing almost constantly if you follow the dashboard shifter light ─ think 36mph in sixth.
Luckily doing so helps with fuel economy and provides the Type R with a very quiet drive. Only at 70mph does the hum of the VTEC become a bit of an issue, as does wind noise, but then the GT model’s 11-speaker, 467-watt system goes loud enough to compensate.
Continuing the theme of sporty is a rev-blip function for automatic heel and toe. The pros will be upset, but everyone else will benefit from a feature that helps you keep the car settled.
Visibility is a bit of a problem over your left shoulder and through the back window, which is separated halfway by metal, but you can still see other cars (the top half of them, anyway) and even the standard Type R comes with a reversing camera.
You could easily live with the Type R, then, and the 420-litre boot is another feather in its practicality cap. You can even expand it to 786 litres with the rear seats down, making it particularly roomy.
Being a rear passenger is decent when it comes to leg and head room, but the non-existent middle seat makes it less versatile for dads or mums trying to make the Type R work as a minibus.
In short, the new Type R gives you all of the dynamic benefits of reduced body roll, composure and greater precision at the expense of a miniscule amount of absurdity. Not that we mind because the improved suspension means you can drive far quicker without misery, unlike its predecessor.
2017 Honda Civic Type R: UK price, running costs and specs?
You can buy the 2017 Honda Civic Type R in two versions, the first being the standard Type R and then a more lavish Type R GT. Prices start from £30,995 and £32,995, respectively.
That is about £230 more than a Focus RS in the case of the Type R GT, more than the usually heavily discounted M140i and around £5,000 more than the Hyundai i30 N, which is surprisingly close in terms of handling ability. At least, it feels that way.
Standard fittings on the Type R includes a limited-slip differential, active city brake system, Bluetooth connectivity, Honda Connect infotainment system with seven-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, smart entry and start, sports seats and LED headlights.
Spend that extra £2,000 and you can enjoy an auto-dimming rear view mirror, blind spot information, Garmin navigation, dual-zone climate control, LED front foglights, wireless charging, front and rear parking sensors and a glove box light.
The only optional extra fitted to our car was metallic paint, which was the extremely flattering Sonic Grey Pearl (not pictured). It is a real head-turner, given a trend sparked by Audi’s ‘Nardo’ grey, and bearable at £585.
Fuel economy wise, we averaged 28mpg without making any effort, although that included a long stint on the M1 – not so far from its 36.7mpg combined figure claimed by Honda. Stop and start helps the CO2 figure come in at a reasonable 176g/km, around that of the Focus RS.
2017 Honda Civic Type R: Should I buy one, then?
With little track expertise, we ended up blasting around Rockingham Circuit not that much slower than our seasoned instructor, which only highlights what a capable, intuitive car the latest Type R is. It does what you want it to and never stops feeling exciting while you do it.
Treading a balance between accessible and intimidating is, honestly, something the Type R does better than any other hatchback. Only now, it does so without shaking you to bits whenever you drive over something bigger than a pebble.
A BMW M140i offers more oomph for less money and is a tad more practical in terms of seating, admittedly, and the Type R’s looks, though a tad softer, will still put some buyers off. We understand that ─ not everyone wants their car to look like a Decepticon.
The key though, is that the 2017 Type R is king for driving pleasure and ability. So embrace your inner-ASBO because, trust us, the way it drives is worth every second of those prolonged stares, of which there will be many.