Honda’s hottest hatch yet is quick on a track - but just how well rounded is the new Civic Type R?

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There has never been a Honda Civic Type R quite like the subject of this road test: the fifth-generation Civic Type R, which might be a little more helpfully classified as the performance version of the 10th-generation Honda Civic hatchback.

Introduced to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the original Japanese-market Honda NSX Type R, Honda's customary red-badged go-faster hatchback has turned up only a couple of years after the previous 2015-2017 Honda Civic Type-R. It has a broadly similar front-wheel-drive mechanical make-up to the previous version and a closely related engine – all of which might suggest, on paper at least, that it hasn’t changed a great deal.

Triple-outlet exhaust plays a major role in liberating the extra peak power and broader spread of torque from Honda’s 2.0-litre turbo engine

In fact, the differences between this car and the 2015 Type R are many and varied, among them an all-new platform and chassis, new suspension and steering technology, a revised transmission and a completely different interior.

Unlike any of its predecessors, this Type R is a truly global car. It has also been designed and developed from the ground up as a performance machine instead of being adapted from an existing model.

This, it could be argued, is the first fully realised Honda Type R there has been; in theory, a car ready to present stiffer competition to its VW Golf GTI, Audi Audi RS3, Skoda Octavia vRS, Seat Leon Cupra and Hyundai i30 N competition than any of its predecessors have.

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This hot Civic has already risen to prominence this year for two reasons: firstly, for setting a Nordschleife lap record for front-wheel-drive production cars; and secondly, for scooping our Best Affordable Driver’s Car title, seeing off the likes of the Volkswagen Golf R, Ford Focus RS and Audi RS3 Sportback.

Now comes its final test: the close scrutiny of the Autocar road test timing gear and the associated road and track mileage needed to inform our ultimate verdict.

Prepare to find out, then, if what’s arguably this year’s most improved performance car has the makings of an all-time great.


Honda Civic Type R 2019 road test review - hero side

The principal gains delivered for this Type R by Honda’s new Global Compact platform, says the company, are to do with lowering the car’s centre of gravity and stiffening its superstructure – neither of which Honda provides specific comparative data for.

But the new car’s wider axle tracks do show up when you compare the new car with the old one on the specification sheet.

Disappointed to learn that the Nürburgring lap record was set on non-standard Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. I can’t believe it would have been much slower on the factory Continentals

This Type R has 65mm of extra rear track width than its immediate forebear, and although its front track appears to have decreased by 6mm, that’s not accounting for the 20in wheels and 245-section tyres fitted to the new car, which make the overall front axle tread (measured from the outer edge of the wheel rather than the middle) significantly wider than on the old car.

A tiny bit of weight has been saved, albeit only 2kg overall; but let’s not forget that this Honda Civic is more than 15cm longer than the car it replaces.

The blank-sheet-of-paper start enabled a more thorough suspension overhaul for this car than the last Type R had. The front wheels are controlled by ‘dual-axis’ MacPherson struts that get derivative-specific aluminium lower arms and knuckles. At the rear, the big change is the move away from a torsion beam in favour of a multi-link configuration, with all the benefits to body control and ride tuning that should bring.

In a similar vein to the front, the Type R gets lighter, stronger rear lateral and trailing arms than the 10th-generation common-or-garden Civic, as well as stiffened, lowered suspension rates.

Above all of that, there’s an new four-corner adaptive damping system with a broader spread of configurability on ride control. And so, unlike before, this Type R has a Comfort driving mode, but it also has even stiffer damper settings than its immediate forebear for its default Sport and track-intended +R modes.

The car’s 2.0-litre single-scroll turbocharged engine is mostly as it was, but for a freer-flowing exhaust that has allowed Honda to turn up the boost enough to produce an extra 10bhp without risking cooling problems or irregular combustion.

In addition, Honda has shortened the final drive ratio of the six-speed manual transmission by seven percent for quicker and more responsive acceleration and it has fitted a new single-mass flywheel that reduces clutch inertia by 25 percent.


Honda Civic Type R bucket sports seats

The new hot Civic’s front seats are the lightest to have been fitted to a Type R.

They look slightly better than they feel under your backside, being upholstered in bright red Alcantara in a lasting Type R convention, but offering better comfort and support to your thighs and lower back than they do to your upper back and shoulders.

Honda has got the position and weighting of all the major controls just about perfect. It means this Type R would be enjoyable even with 216bhp

And yet the incremental improvement they represent is unmissable. They’re set much lower than those of the last-generation car (as a result of the relocation of the Honda Civic’s fuel tank to the usual position under the back seats) and deliver the driver as optimal an orientation to the car’s major controls and its centre of gravity as almost any rival hot hatchback can grant.

The red detailing on the steering wheel in front of you and on the fascia trim behind that also tells you that you’ve arrived in Type R central, although neither does so quite as loudly or clearly as the beautifully machined sphere of aluminium alloy attached to the top of the gearshift lever, which seems to crave the tactile warmth of your palm.

The digital instruments change with your selected driving mode and preference, but with +R mode selected, you get some extra red illumination around the instrument binnacle, an enlarged rev counter and a helpfully large row of shift lights that help you to gauge the perfect gearshift timing as the revs rise.

As hot hatchback driving environments go, this one’s certainly both charismatic and exciting. But unlike one or two similarly priced rivals, it’s quite old-fashioned in the sense that it isn’t very materially rich or upmarket.

The current-generation Civic’s interior made a worthwhile improvement on the standard of perceived quality of its predecessor, and yet the Type R remains some way off a Golf R in this respect – and probably a Seat Leon Cupra and a Peugeot 308 GTi, too.

There’s plenty of apparent integrity to the car’s fixtures and fittings and there’s leather and artificial suede used nicely in places, yet this isn’t the sort of cabin you’d call ‘premium’. There’s a technical sort of appeal to it, but it doesn’t look and feel particularly expensively hewn.

For a car manufacturer renowned for its passion for advanced technology, Honda continues to show a surprising lack of flair for infotainment. The Civic’s 7.0in system works through a touchscreen interface and it offers much of the functionality you’d want, from a DAB radio and smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android phones to internet music streaming and even optional wireless phone charging. However, it’s a relatively plain-looking system that can border on the frustratingly unresponsive at times and it isn’t nearly as easy to use as the best set-ups from the competition.

On a £31,000 car, factory-fit navigation ought to be fitted as standard, but Honda includes it on the £33,000 GT-spec car only. Where it does appear, it’s a Garmin set-up that’s short on mapping detail and, frankly, it’s little better than what you’d expect of a sub-£100 third-party add-on. Our test car had the 542W, 11-speaker audio set-up also fitted on GT-spec cars and its audio quality was respectable, if unexceptional.

Just as we found with the standard Civic earlier this year, the Type R’s practicality is commendable. The car has one of the most spacious cabins in its class and is easily capable of transporting four full-sized adults, or five at a squeeze. Its boot is particularly large as well.


Honda Civic Type R 2019 road test review - engine

We’re now on to the second generation of Civic Type R to feature a heavily turbocharged four-cylinder engine rather than the atmospheric VTEC screamer of yore.

The unit’s 295lb ft – delivered in its breathy, sucker-punch totality between 2500rpm and 4500rpm – remains unchanged from before, while power is now up to 316bhp at 6500rpm.

Stability control allows you to slide the car just beyond neutral around long bends when you use R+ mode

Anybody who anticipates a shortage of character and levity brought about by forced induction is in for a pleasant surprise. Honda has done a remarkable job in using an over-square cylinder design (that is, greater bore than stroke) to deliver an effervescent engine that rises to the occasion with every foray towards the 7200rpm redline.

The claim is that this iteration of the company’s VTEC variable valve timing system adjusts the degree of exhaust-valve lift to reduce turbo lag. In truth, you’ll still be acutely aware of its existence, the engine response exhibiting a pregnant pause following even a slight lift of the throttle, although just how detrimental this is to the driving experience is arguable.

The short, notchy throw of the six-speed ’box – about as tactile as it gets this side of a Caterham – and the 2.0-litre engine’s alarming enthusiasm for escalating crank speeds mean it’s no chore to keep boost pressure high. Do so and the Civic Type R pulls viciously hard, seemingly with no dead spot at any point in the power delivery.

As so often with overpowered hot hatches, accessing this level of performance requires an element of delicacy. Off the line, the engine will hold only 3500rpm before the clutch is re-engaged, and once on the move, it’ll happily spin up the front wheels in its first three ratios.

Through trial and improvement, on a track with damp patches, we managed a 5.7sec 0-60mph sprint, which is very strong, albeit not unprecedented, for a traction-limited high-performance front-driver.

Of greater interest is the Civic’s 0-100mph time of 12.5sec and – to pick one of several eye-widening in-gear figures – a fourth-gear 70-90mph time of just 3.6sec. When taken along with a claimed top speed of 169mph, those numbers paint a picture of a notably quick performance car and sensationally quick hot hatch.


Honda Civic Type R 2019 road test review - cornering front

Although Honda sought to round off the sharp chassis edges of this car’s predecessor, the fifth-generation Civic Type R nails its track-biased colours to the mast from the word go.

Steering inputs require some heft, there’s surprisingly little lock for a car with pretensions of practicality and, even in its softest setting, the damping remains unapologetically firm at low and medium speeds, to the extent that it will be a deal-breaker for some.

Weighty, nicely communicative steering gives plenty of information about grip levels through the corners

But not for us. It’s that trade-off of low-speed comfort for high-speed composure again. Flick the toggle switch on the transmission tunnel to Sport – forget about using +R mode on the road and save it for the track, where this chassis excels – and the Type R has just enough pliancy to diligently knead its tyres into the road surface while nipping in the bud anything approaching meaningful body roll.

The impression it conveys is one of resolute poise with calculated wheel control, although this comes at the price of suppleness.

Indeed, the suspension is a touch over-sprung for committed driving along typical British B-roads and this can make it a challenge for the driver to establish a rhythm at speed, despite the directness of the well-calibrated variable-ratio steering and the general infallibility of the front axle. Comfort mode, conversely, feels a little under-damped when up against the Civic’s 1400kg kerb weight and huge grip levels. There’s a sweet spot to be found here, which we hope the facelift would address.

Elsewhere, the chassis is remarkably resistant to pitch under heavy braking and, despite its substantial physical dimensions, this Type R never feels anything but enjoyably lithe and in possession of a low centre of gravity. Its agility is heightened by the tightly wound limited-slip differential, although you’ll need to remain calculated in your inputs to get to the best out of it.

With such potency under the bonnet, the car understeers if you’re careless with the power, assuming the traction control has been disabled. It was with irritating precision that the arrival of light drizzle coincided with the Civic’s first foray onto the ‘dry’ handling circuit at MIRA.

It meant the Honda — successor to the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S’s King of the Nürburgring title — had no chance to match the impressive lap time laid down at this facility Volkswagen by its rival, although we suspect it would have done so had conditions been kinder.

It’s a suspicion partially grounded in the direction-changing capabilities of this car’s chassis. It is capable of jinking into corners with a crisp ferocity that can take your breath away. Smooth, circuit-worthy tarmac also allows the mechanical limited-slip differential in the front axle to work to greatest effect, the car’s nose tracking from apex to exit kerb under all but the most insensitive use of the throttle.

Track-day regulars will enjoy this car, particularly as the brakes absorbed the abuse with surprising ease.


Honda Civic Type R 2019 road test review - hero front

Today’s hot hatchback buyers may well have a more complex palette than they did when the first official Honda Type R models were emerging onto the UK market two decades ago, but many of them are still likely to respond to simple bang-for-your-buck value – and so they’ll likely respond to this car.

Its 316bhp is just about the most horsepower you can buy for the entry-level Type R’s £31,550.

Experts predict a strong showing from the Civic, beating the Golf R by 5% over three years and 36,000 miles

And although a Ford Focus RS seems to offer quite a lot more grunt for little more outlay, our road test numbers suggest that the Honda is the faster-accelerating of the two beyond 60mph, once the Ford’s traction advantage has played out.

The Honda has a strong residual value forecast, too, our sources suggesting that it should fare better than a Golf R on that front.

Honda’s own retail offers on the car make it possible to acquire one, on personal contract purchase, for little over £300 a month over three years, after an £8000 trade-in or cash deposit. Standard equipment includes 20in alloy wheels, adaptive dampers, LED headlights and a reversing camera, but you have to opt for the GT-spec car if you want a factory-fit satnav, which seems a little mean.



4.5 star Honda Civic Type R

Owing to its lack of a driven rear axle, the FK8-generation Civic Type R is something of an anachronism among 300bhp-plus hot hatches today.

Indeed, there will be those who’ll have expected it to feature all-wheel drive and will instead choose to buy rivals such as the Focus RS or Golf R accordingly. Those who appreciate a car engineered to delight its driver above all else should overlook the Type R at their peril, though.

Type R is a sheer delight for enthusiast drivers and their bank balances

Uncompromising but thoroughly exploitable, and with a chassis that takes ownership of an engine capable of delivering thunderous power and considerable reward when wringing it out to the redline, Honda’s latest effort stays true to the very best Type R values.

That it does so at a price that undercuts the opposition serves only to make the case for this eccentric car that much more compelling.

A less track-biased, prettier car with a greater focus on cabin amenities than mechanical matters might have been a bigger seller, but it wouldn’t have been half as compelling. Nor would it be the most exciting hot hatch that can currently be bought from new.

Which is why the Civic Type R storms to the helm of our top five ahead of the Focus RS, Golf R, AMG A45 and Cupra 300.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Honda Civic Type R 2017-2021 First drives