What is it?
Traditionally you'd call the Honda Civic Type R a ‘hot hatch' but this latest generation just doesn't seem to fit that description – for reasons that will become clear. Instead, it's more appropriate that you think of this newest member of the legacy as a ‘front-wheel drive performance car' because that more accurately describes it, on multiple levels.
It takes more than two decades of experience from Honda building some of the world's most-acclaimed hot hatches to get to this point. The result is a brilliant car, which pushes the limits of what you think a hot hatch can be.
Does it have any racing pedigree?
Plenty. The Civic Type R has been the basis for the brand's TCR program for years, with this latest generation model set to debut in Australia this weekend at the TCR World Tour at Sydney Motorsport Park, with Tony D'Alberto upgrading from the previous car.
But Honda is also using the Civic Type R as the starting point for its latest GT500 entry in Japan's premier category, Super GT. It will replace the NSX supercar as the styling and brand centrepiece for the category, even if the rear-wheel drive, big-winged racing car has little in common with the road car. This is a big deal for the Civic, effectively becoming Honda's global performance flagship vehicle.
What's under the bonnet?
The basic ingredients are still very much that of a hot hatch – small car, punchy engine and agile handling. But Honda's boffins have worked and re-worked the recipe so many times over the years it's now a signature dish.
Power comes from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, making 235kW of power and 420Nm of torque. It's paired exclusively to a six-speed manual gearbox, with Honda ensuring the Type R is only for driving purists and ignoring the modern demand for an automatic transmission.
It's a fantastic powertrain, free-revving (like all good Honda hot hatches) but with more shove than the previous naturally-aspirated Type Rs thanks to that turbocharger and the extra torque it brings. It keeps pulling hard right across the rev-range, with excellent throttle response the entire time.
The gearbox is a dream, at least for those of us who still enjoy the three pedal set-up. For starters the gearshift itself has a smooth and solid aluminium knob that feels good in your hand, and the action is short and direct and coupled with a special light flywheel and rev-matching technology so every single shift is sweetly executed.
How does it handle?
Whether you want to call it a hot hatch or front-wheel drive performance car is up to you. But there is another way to describe the Civic Type R, and it may be the most succinct, think of it as the Porsche 911 GT3 of hatchbacks. It may not be the most powerful, it may be missing all-wheel drive but this is the sharpest and best-handling car of its kind in the world today – just like the 911 GT3.
As good as the likes of the Hyundai i30 N and Toyota GR Corolla are, the Civic Type R just feels on the next level. Thanks to Honda's decision to stiffen the body, overhaul the suspension, provide unique steering and bigger brakes the Type R feels so incredibly responsive and direct that it takes no time to feel at one with this car.
Where would you most like to drive it?
This latest Type R certainly feels at home carving corners on your favourite back road, but there's really only one answer to this question – the Nurburgring.
Honda has made it a point of pride that the Type R be one of the fastest front-wheel drive cars around the daunting Nordschleife and this latest model doesn't disappoint. While not quite as quick as Renault's stripped-out, lap-time hunting Megane RS Trophy R (which set a 7:40sec time), the new model manages a very rapid 7:44sec lap around the 20km circuit.
Not surprisingly, as this car feels totally at home on a racetrack thanks to its precision handling and responsive powertrain.
What's the interior like?
Before we discuss the interior let's mention the exterior styling, because the previous Civic Type R was a case study in doing too much. Instead of the wings-on-wings and aero flicks and other styling elements that made the old model clutter and too ‘boy racer' this new model is more streamlined and simplified. It's still overtly sporty, with the unmissable rear wing, but overall it's a more grown-up look and better for it.
As for the interior, it too is more grown-up and premium, following the lead from the rest of the Civic range. There are some unmistakeable Type R touches though, like the thick-rimmed steering wheel and the bright red sports seats.
How much does the Honda Civic Type R cost?
This is where we hit at the heart of the matter, and I hope you're sitting down…
This ‘hot hatch' is priced from a staggering $72,600. Fortunately that's a drive-away price, so that's what you'll pay to drive it off the lot, but it's still a stunning sum for a hatchback.
The previous generation was pricey at more than $50k, so a 40 per cent price increase is a massive step that will push the Civic Type R into a new market. Put simply, younger hot hatch fans will simply not be able to afford it, bringing us back to the idea of a ‘front-wheel drive performance car' rather than a traditional hot hatch.
For context, that's more than the Ford Mustang EcoBoost (from $64,990) and puts it in the same ballpark as the Mustang GT (from $77,002) and Nissan Z (from $75,800), which are all rear-wheel drive coupes.
Given the hot hatch market was in the low-to-mid $40k range only a few years ago, this asking price will be a shock to many and simply too much for some.
Would I buy one?
The question here is not whether you should buy a Civic Type R, but rather can you afford to. Even at a time of many great hot hatches, Honda's latest offering is something special and really does stand out. But the price will simply put it out of reach for so many would-be hot hatch buyers.
Instead, it moves into performance car territory and will instead find itself competing less with the likes of the i30 N and GR Corolla and instead with buyers looking at a Mustang, BMW M2 or Toyota Supra. Which does change the perspective that you view the Civic through.
Greatness, it seems, comes at a price.