Pricing is one of the main talking points when it comes to the latest Honda Civic Type R - and quite right, too. If you haven’t heard the furore, it’s £47,000, which is a lot of dough. And the fact is, as I discovered around a very wet Thruxton, it’s not that distinguishable from the FK8 that came before. At least not to drive. Perhaps if our day on track had been dry, the FL5’s star would’ve shone brighter but, with limited grip available, driving old and new back-to-back didn’t prove that the FL5 was a huge step on.
The thing is, while everyone’s been hollering from the rooftops about the price of the Type R, we were having a little think at PH Towers. Yes, the new model is outrageously expensive against the old car, which was a mere snip at £31,000 when it came out in 2017. But time has marched on since then. Everything is more expensive in 2023. Bread’s risen, if you’ll excuse the pun, as has pasta, and don’t get me started about the cost of keeping warm this winter. And to be fair, the Type R hasn’t shot up by anywhere near as much in percentage terms as electricity has since 2017. What we’re saying, here, is that it’s all relative.
Still not convinced? Then what about the Volkswagen Golf R? Back in 2017 that was £34,000. Take a guess at how much one costs these days? No, more. It’s £42,850. And if you add one or two extras, like DCC adaptive suspension, a rear-view camera and heated seats – all stuff that the Type R has as standard – then you’re looking at about £45,000. That’s not the end of it, either. The Golf R 20 Years edition came out last year, which we did a PH Origins piece with alongside the R32. Now that, ladies and gents, is a Type R-busting £48,095. Viewed in that light, the Type R doesn’t seem quite so outrageous, does it?
Fielding the Golf R against the Type R raises another interesting point. These two began life at very different ends of the hot hatch spectrum. Think back to when they first appeared. For the Type R, let’s call that 2001, which was when the EP3 came to the UK, and Golf R, specifically, came out as the Mk6 in 2009, but my point applies to everything from the Mk4 R32 onwards. The original Type R was a hooligan. It was raw and visceral, with a high-revving VTEC nutter living under the bonnet. By contrast, the Golf R was the gentleman’s hot hatch; a car for grown-ups not scallywags. Mightily quick, but with mild manners and everyday usability as its USP.
Think how those lines of development haven’t just bent towards each other, but intersected. The FK8 was still at the extreme end dynamically but oh-so-easy to live with, and the FL5 comes with even more improvements on that front. Its ride is still cushy but it’s even quieter inside. And thanks to the latest Civic’s increased size, it’s now more than capable of carting the family around on the days when it’s not ripping up the Tarmac on your favourite road. It’s not even lairy to look at anymore.
The one thing that split opinion when it came to the FK8 was its looks, which could be kindly described as ‘out there’ and downright minging if you’re being less circumspect. The FL5 arguably sees to that, and on top of it, comes with a much smarter interior – a very smart interior, actually – with high-end materials and even an infotainment system that works. It’s like the last pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place, creating the ultimate hot hatchback.
What happened to the Golf R in that time? Well, it’s gone the other way, hasn't it? Many would argue its looks have become less appealing, the interior quality has taken a nosedive, and the best description of its infotainment system is a no-nonsense one: it's crap. Even those within Volkswagen circles would agree, because it’s about to ditch the system completely. But while it’s fallen back to where the Type R was in some areas, it’s also gained a bit of attitude. The comfort element is still there, but it has also nurtured a facet that no other R-touting Golf has bothered with: a playful side. Thanks to its torque-splitting rear diff and dedicated drift mode, this is, for my money, the most engaging Golf R to date. It’s a car you don’t need to make excuses for because it's fundamentally a bit boring. It just isn't. Its four-wheel drive system makes it playful and devastatingly accomplished in equal measure along a B road.
We'd argue that Honda and Volkswagen have crossed the streams, so much so that when you look at their price, pace, space and silliness, you really ought to be cross-shopping if you’re in the market for a hot hatch. Bearing in mind the scarcity of the FL5, you may not even have that luxury - in which case, is the Golf R a worthy substitute for the all-conquering Type R? Watch the video to find out.
Specification | Honda Civic Type R GT (FL5)
Engine: 1,996cc, four-cylinder turbo
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 329 @ 6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310 @ 2,200-4,000rpm
Top speed: 170mph
Specification | Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years (Mk8)
Engine: 1,984cc, turbocharged, four-cylinder
Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 333 @ 5,600-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310 @ 2,100-5,500rpm
Top speed: 168mph
MPG: 36.2 (WLTP)
CO2: 175g/km (WLTP)
Price from: £48,095
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