Type Race Car: Taking the Honda Civic Type R to the track

I made a mistake as I was doing my third lap around the Clark International Speedway. For the first two, I concentrated on following the proper racing line (indicated by a series of cones) and minding my shift points. This time, however, as I passed the 150-meter brake marker board at the start-finish straight, I glanced down at my speedometer: 160 km/h. My balls were literally in my throat, as I scrubbed off speed into turn one. With just a nudge of the steering wheel, the Honda Civic Type R swung in without drama; not a hint of tire screech nor hesitation. This, I thought, is what real stuff is made of.

But let me do a bit of history first. The newest Civic Type R, codenamed FL5, is the sixth generation Civic to bear the crimson Honda logo since the EK9 in 1997. Back then, the design brief of the Civic Type R was simple: it was the attainable Type R, an apt description given that the very first hotted-up Honda was the limited run NSX Type R. However, in the decades that followed, it gradually embodied the Type R philosophy to the maximum as well. Today, it is the ultimate front-engine, front-wheel drive performance hatchback that can tackle the daily commute from Monday to Friday, as much as the circuits on weekends.

Getting the most controversial aspect out of the way first, let me talk about the design: I, for one, like it. For most of the Type R’s history, its Clark Kent to Superman transformation was not as dramatic. Sure, the FK8 (2017-2023) and FK2 (2015-2017) were pretty out there, but the first three ones — the EK9 (1997-2000), EP3 (2001-2005), and the FN2/FD2 (2007-2011) were tame. I’m just glad to see Honda’s gone back to that philosophy with the newest model.

It’s also worth mentioning that the “noiseless design” is functional — done for reduced air resistance and drag. By integrating elements like the widened wheel arches and even the way the rear spoiler’s mounted, it has made the Civic Type R produce more downforce while suppressing air resistance. Hopefully, this also reduces the chance of anyone who’d want to transform their run-of-the-mill Civic into a Type Ricer (cringe).

Designed around the concept of “Ultimate Sports 2.0,” the FL5 Civic Type R has gone for an evolutionary approach. It builds on its predecessor’s strength, with the goal of making it better in every single way. The basic bones may have been carried over, but Honda engineers took to a microscope, examined every single part, and optimized them with precision.

For starters, Honda didn’t just bump up the K20C1’s power figures to 320hp and 420Nm of torque, but engineers worked to improve its cooling — a known issue with the previous Civic Type R. Apart from a larger, thicker radiator, the intercooler was been redesigned and everything in front of the turbo cleared up to flow air directly to the hood vent. Given that the Civic Type R we had at our disposal did 50-odd quick laps without a glitch showed it has worked.

Suspension-wise, Honda’s gone against the grain here by fitting the newest Civic Type R with smaller wheels than before. Instead of the old 20-inch wheels, 19-inch wheels were selected. The wheels themselves have a reverse rim design not just to help clear the massive Brembo brakes, but to improve the tire’s contact patch at load. Oh, and speaking of the tires, they are also thicker — 265 mm versus 245 mm, and specially tuned for the hot hatch by Michelin.

Now that I have gotten the nerdy stuff out of the way, it’s time to learn what it feels like behind the driver’s seat. Having driven the previous Civic Type R, getting into the FL5 gave off a familiar feeling especially with the low-slung, body-hugging bucket seats. Of course, improvements have been made here, and I could feel that the moment I tooled with the shifter. There’s a reworked linkage with shorter, more precise throws. The knob itself is now a tear-dropped shape for better grip, and mounted closer to the steering wheel. Gazing into the instrument cluster, there are unique motorsports-style shift lights mounted at the top of the digital gauges. Nice touch.

With a lighter flywheel — 18 percent lighter than before — the Civic Type R channels more of its engine’s grunt to the pavement in a much quicker manner. This, along with its close-ratio 6-speed manual can catch you off-guard if you’re caught napping behind the wheel. Truth be told, there were instances, where I found myself bouncing on the rev limiter just because it ate up through all of its available revs — all 7,000 of them in a heartbeat. In a bit of genius, there is a built-in failsafe in the FL5 where the instrument cluster warns you if you’re shifting into a gear that might cause overrevving. This allows you to select the appropriate gear before releasing the clutch.

Dynamically, the Civic Type R’s on-track behavior was completely rethought. While the previous model was a crazed lunatic through corners, this one is more linear and mature, trading a bit of that outright playfulness with rock-solid stability. The steering is impossible to fault for its accuracy and precision. Better still, the chassis has the tenacious grip to match. Do not let its driven wheels fool you, the way it scratches away at pavement for traction matches even the best all-wheel drive machinery. That traction is apparent, whether it’s in a straight line or through corners. This car is willing to let you dance with it to the absolute limit, and do so lap after lap, day in and day out. It’s only when you run out of talent where you’ll find yourself with two wheels on the grass (as I did).

Track time behind the all-new Type R was fairly limited, but it was truly magnificent. Not only is it impressively complete in its engineering, but it does so without diluting the Type R magic. The resulting hot hatch has improved not just one step or two, but ten. The ethos of small engineering revisions has made an already great car, brilliant. It is just as ensnaring and adrenaline-pumping as before, but made more obedient, more competent, more fun to drive than ever before. When Honda said they wanted to make the ultimate front-engine, front-wheel drive car, I would say they’ve done it right here. It undoubtedly holds a place among the very best cars you can buy today.

Most Popular


More Articles Like This