Is Honda’s new Civic Type R spicy enough to take the hot hatch crown?

12 May 2017

Honda’s new and hotly anticipated Civic Type R touched down for the first time on Australian soil at this year’s Melbourne Grand Prix, but can the latest Japanese hot hatch go toe-to-toe with the greatest performance small cars from around the world?

Nabbing the Nurburgring record for fastest front-wheel-drive production vehicle certainly helps its credentials, as does the potent 235kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and love-it or hate-it boy racer styling.

From the outside the new Civic Type R might look like a boy racer special, but underneath Honda has packed enough go-fast bits to make it a serious track day contender.

Setting the pace at 7:43.80 around the infamous Green Hell, the new Civic Type R was 5.41 seconds faster than the previous record holder – the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S – and loudly proclaims Honda’s intentions to be a serious track day contender.

Although the record-setting car had its backseats and infotainment system removed, the weight advantage was offset by the installation of a full roll cage for safety, which, according to Honda, didn’t add any rigidity and the test car used was indicative of the full production version.

Road legal, track-focused tyres were also used in setting the blistering pace, which makes the new Civic Type R – dubbed FK2 – faster than the likes of the acclaimed BMW M4, Pagani Zonda and Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano around the German race track.

The monster rear spoiler does more than just scare off grandparents and attract the attention of every police officer within eyesight, the adds to the Honda Civic Type R’s impressive aerodynamic performance.

Honda is even bringing this one to Australia by the end of the year. JDM hot hatch fanboys rejoice!

Confirmed for a fourth quarter launch, the local Civic Type R will arrive with a proper three-pedal gearbox and tricked-out triple outlet exhaust. The former promises to be a close ratio, smooth shifting six-speed unit, while the latter will use negative pressure to amplify the roar of the exhaust from mid-rpm onwards.

All the styling bits will carry over too. Honda is done teasing concept versions of the Civic Type R and it ripped the covers off the production version at the Geneva motor show in March.

While the hood scoop looks like it was borrowed from the rally-inspired WRX, the Civic Type R will use it to channel cool air into areas need within the engine bay.

A subtle hood scoop sits at the front to help direct cold air into the engine bay, while chunky side skirts, beefed up front fenders and a racecar-like spoiler complete the look.

It’s all functional too, with each element adding to the greatly improved aerodynamic efficiency when compared with the previous model.

Although Honda is still yet to confirm pricing on its latest high-performer, rumours are suggesting it will land in showrooms wearing a pricetag around the $50,000 before on-roads mark.

Forgetful occupants will be reminded of the Civic Type R’s sporting intentions by the prominent red Honda badging found on the steering wheel, as well as the sports bucket seats and sporty highlights throughout the cabin.

While this positions it almost directly against the similarly priced 257kW/440Nm Ford Focus RS, 206kW/380N Volkswagen Golf R and 221kW/407Nm Subaru WRX STI, the Honda lacks one crucial component to truly take them on, all-wheel drive.

Therefore, Honda could pitch the Civic Type R a little lower against other front-drive hot hatches including the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST, Peugeot 308 GTI and Holden Astra VXR, but with up to 73kW more than the aforementioned bunch, it hardly seems like a fair fight.

Truth is, Honda will probably position the new Type R somewhere in between, but don’t be surprised to hear tales of the flagship Civic keeping pace with much more exotic metal when it touches down this year, the Civic Type R has long been a giant-slayer on the racetrack.

An Australian on-sale date before the end of 2017 means the new Civic Type R will arrive in time for contention in car of the year awards, competing against the upcoming Volkswagen Golf GTI and R.

The latest in a long line to wear the Civic Type R badge, Honda’s hot hatch pedigree has been without question since the introduction of the EK9 series three-door Civic Type R in 1997 to near universal acclaim.

Putting the JDM hero hatchback on a serious crash diet and the inclusion of a close ratio five-speed manual gearbox helped Honda turn an ordinary grocery getter into one of the most track-focused and capable small cars available at the time.

However, it was the hand-ported B16B 1.6-litre high-revving four-cylinder engine which elevated the Civic to proper Type R status. Delivering a maximum 136kW of power, the first-ever Civic Type R had one of the highest outputs per litre in a naturally aspirated motor at the time.

And the addition of a seam welded monocoque chassis and a helical limited-slip differential ensured all that power could easily be pushed through the front axle and down to the road.

The second-generation Civic Type R borrowed many mechanical components from its critically acclaimed predecessor, but power came courtesy of the legendary K20 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.

The next Civic to wear a Type R badge was the EP3 series in 2001, upping power to 150kW in Euro-spec versions and 158kW in Japanese market vehicles from the legendary K20 engine.

A close-ratio six-speed shifter was also included in that car and the helical LSD ensured the second-generation retained the playful characteristics of its predecessor.

However, it was the third iteration of the Civic Type R, the FN2 in 2006, which divided hot hatch faithfuls from around the world

The first Honda Civic Type R to be officially made available in Australia, the FN2 unfortunately suffered from an excess of weight.

The first Civic Type R to be sold officially in Australia, the FN2 version sported a bulbous design with a triangle motif throughout.

Retaining the same K20 engine with slightly more power, racecar-like seats and a smooth shifter, the FN2 Civic Type R hot hatch sounded like another home run from Honda, but the inclusion of extra weight from its bigger size and more standard features kept it from taking off with fans.

However, Honda reclaimed its mojo with the FK2 Civic Type R in 2015, built on an all-new platform with an all-new turbocharged 2.0-litre engine.

Despite being made in right-hand drive, Australia missed out on the first Civic Type R to be powered by a turbocharged engine.

This three-door hot hatch was first revealed during the 2015 Geneva motor show and promptly snatched the Nurburgring front-wheel-drive lap record.

Produced in Swindon, England, the Fk2 series was short lived, only available in European and Asian markets from 2015 to 2016 wherein it was discontinued to make way for the incoming FK8 Civic Type R.

Tung Nguyen

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