In such a competitive car marketplace, it's rare to find a car so dominant in its sector as the outgoing FK8 generation of Honda Civic Type R. Since its launch in 2017, the Civic has taken on all comers - ST and RS Focuses, Renault Sport Meganes, Golf GTIs and the rest - and emerged victorious every single time. That's not to say problems didn't exist - the infotainment was below par, and the looks an insurmountable hurdle for some - but as a driving device the Civic knew no equal.
So now we have the MMC Civic Type R, or Minor Model Change in Honda speak. Given that name and the car's formidable reputation, you'd be forgiven for thinking that little had changed beyond the addition of Racing Blue paint. But this is Honda, don't forget, the company always tinkering with this and perfecting that; the second NSX-R had thinner gear gaiter mesh than standard (!) to save weight, the MB6 Civic VTI had a limited-slip diff for just 122lb ft and the Accord Type R has a reinforced rear bulkhead to make it 40 per cent stiffer than a standard saloon. They aren't sexy engineering solutions, but they are effective ones. Apart from the mesh, perhaps.
A similar type of alteration can be found on the new Type R. That front end probably looks about the same, right? Wrong. A redesign of the grille means a coolant temperature typically 10 degrees lower than before on track, which is useful. However, Honda found that this change spoilt the aero balance, so the front air dam was reworked to compensate, increasing negative pressure ahead of the front axle. But of course. The sampling frequency of the adaptive dampers has been increased by a factor of 10, there are stiffer bushes, "reduced friction on the front lower ball joint" and, as with the Limited, there are new two-piece discs for reduced brake pedal travel, which is said to be extremely helpful for the big stops at Suzuka. And, presumably, elsewhere as well. The wonderful new counterweighted gearknob, says the presentation, now weighs 230g; in an NSX-R of 1992 it was 255g and an original Integra 245g, just so you know. Not sure a minor model change, after all. Oh yes, and a volume knob has been instated on the infotainment screen - praise be.
All of which, on some of the Cotswolds' best B-roads, adds up to... a Civic Type R that feels a lot like the old one. Sorry to spoil any surprise. Actually, that's a slight fib, because the brake pedal is certainly firmer - initially a little too firm on the road - and the gearshift really is even better than before. For a car that looks like it's doing 200mph stood still and is infamous for its circuit antics, the Civic is actually a really lovely car to drive slowly. The weighting, accuracy and just general satisfaction of the manual makes a genuine pleasure to use at any speed, beautifully in sync with pedal weights, steering response and so on. When so often quite vital parts like gearshift, brake feel and driving position almost feel like afterthoughts, it's a joy to drive something when they've so clearly been prioritised.
Moreover, the Civic never needed much improvement as a hot hatch. Whatever's been done to the damping, the Comfort setting still delivers an uncanny blend of support and precision, and is probably all that's required for a British B-road; Sport and +R naturally ramp up the intensity, though never to a disagreeable level.
The key to the Type R's appeal is the way its prodigious limits have been spliced with a level of engagement seldom found in rivals. There's clearly no breaching its enormous limits on the road, and it won't bristle with feedback like something from the 20th century, but it remains remarkably good for something built to contemporary standards. Things like Alcantara on the steering wheel (a small but welcome addition), sensible ratios so that all the shift lights in third are illuminated at 80mph (giving more opportunity to use that gearbox) and just enough coming back through the rack to feel that tightly wound diff doing its thing on a bumpy B-road do make a difference. If 'appropriately intense' doesn't sound like an awful dating strategy, that's the Civic Type R; it's very discernibly a performance car in the way it behaves - and a pretty focused, discernibly Japanese one at that - while never sacrificing basic driveabilty. It's a neat trick.
By subtly improving upon what was already very good (primarily through those brake and gearbox changes), any criticisms of the Civic are, in the grand scheme of things, pretty inconsequential. The Active Sound Control is, like so many of these augmented systems, a bit crap, the noise in +R like Ridge Racer through a megaphone and thus one to avoid. Problem being that, without an individual mode, it's impossible to tailor the more aggressive suspension and increased steering weight that might be desirable without the arcade game soundtrack. This was an issue back in 2017, and really should have been resolved by now. Especially as +R is the only way to slacken the traction and stability control before going all the way off.
If we're being especially picky - and with a car this good it's the only way to be - there remains an initial softness to throttle response and a bit more flywheel effect than is ideal. Honestly, that's about as severe as the shortcomings get. Having a volume dial for the infotainment certainly helps, too, even if the system itself lags behind the best for both clarity and ease of use. Shame some of the Honda e's screens couldn't have migrated across, really
So, despite being a more minor Minor Model Change in certain areas than perhaps its should have been, it's hard to imagine the Civic losing its place at the head of the hot hatch herd. With such a broad scope of ability alongside tangible driver reward, the Civic's skillset remains unrivalled. Or rather, it does for now; there are a host of new rivals on the way, from Golf GTI to i30 N and Renault Sport Megane to Cupra Leon. With such a slight update, the prospect of it retaining its class-leasing status looks harder than ever. Good job then that it feels a better car than it ever has, even if by little more than a 90g counterweight...
SPECIFICATION | HONDA CIVIC TYPE R GT
Engine: 1,996cc, 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 320@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@2,500-4,500rpm
Top speed: 169mph
Weight: 1,405kg (kerbweight)
MPG: 33.2 (WLTP)
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