It’s been 30 years since a tiny red letter “R” appeared on a Championship White Honda. That car was the 1992 NSX Type R, an even more hard core, light weight, and track focused version of Honda’s already brilliant supercar. That would be fitting enough a reason to launch the new Civic Type R this year, but it also happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Civic itself. Which is the grander accomplishment?
The Type R ushered a new age for Honda. The NSX had catapulted the marque into the forefront of Japan’s tuning scene, but the NSX-R proved Honda was more deadly serious than anyone could have imagined. Honda didn’t stop there. It went on to make equally serious Type R variants of cars that were lower on the performance totem pole, first the Integra, then the Civic.
It was bonkers. The Civic was Honda’s bread and butter compact, a practical family car that got great mileage and didn’t break the bank. But beneath that ordinary sheetmetal the performance bones of the Civic were already there, waiting for a track-tuned alter ego.
Over the years Honda had baked its immense Formula 1 experience — gleaned from victories at the highest echelons of motorsport — right into the Civic’s chassis. Double wishbone suspension. Variable valve timing. Impeccable gearboxes. Engines that loved to rev and exquisite throttle response. A design philosophy that offered superb visibility, in part thanks engineers who bent over backwards to create supernaturally low cowls. Most buyers put a Civic in their garages because of their great value. They no clue about the battle-tested philosophies imbued in their sober purchases.
The merging of motorsports mastery and sensible engineering is what has sustained the Civic Type R. If you had been forced to guess in 1997 which one of Honda’s models would carry on the Type R torch the longest, the Civic probably would not have been you first choice. But the NSX is gone. There was never an S2000 Type R. The Integra is a shell of its former self. Only the CTR remains.
Honda has just revealed the FL5 Civic Type R, but they’ve divulged precious little information. They merely stated that it’s “the fastest, most powerful Honda-branded vehicle ever offered in the US” and “the most powerful model in Type R’s 30-year history.” That probably means its 2.0-liter turbo four will be even more potent than the 306 horsepower of the FK8. It might even have more than 316 horsepower, what the FK8 generates in Japan and Europe. It’s already set the FF lap record at Suzuka Circuit, beating the previous time set by its predecessor, the lightweight FK8 CTR Limited Edition.
Honda would only add that the six-speed manual transmission and rev-matching system have been improved, and that it sits longer, lower and wider than before, with wider tires than the previous Type R.
We thoroughly enjoyed driving the FK8, in both regular and Limited Edition guises. It’s a phenomenal car, quick and agile and about as good a performance car as one can expect in this era of this late-stage internal combustion. It had one fatal flaw, though, one thing that made it difficult to love: the styling. It was festooned with too many fake vents and jutting angles. It looked like a Transformer stuck between two modes.
The new Civic Type R fixes all that. It’s sleek and purposeful, with just a hint of menace. “We were determined to create the fastest and most beautiful Type R ever,” said exterior designer Dai Hara. “We were very particular about every detail, including the side panels and the reflection of light on each functional part.” His team actually used old school full-size clay models to hone the look, instead of relying solely on CAD software.
We didn’t particularly like the look of the normal Civic that this Type R is based on, or even its upgraded Civic Si variant. The Civic Type R, on the other hand, looks perfect for this body. Older Type Rs were expanded on base Civics, but it almost looks as if this generation was designed as the Type R first, then distilled for the lesser trims.
You might say that any car with more aggressive bumpers, side skirts and bulging fenders will look better than its base counterpart. But the last CTR was so overwrought that the Si and lesser models were far less of a visual assault. On the current Civic, there have been accusations that the front end bulges too much. The Type R’s wider fenders front and rear, as well as the redesigned fascia, balances it out better. Honda says that the Type R even has exclusive wider rear doors to fit its muscled haunches.
Inside, the car continues the Type R’s tradition of red upholstery and a bare metal shifter (aluminum in this case). Type R logos are embroidered into the headrests and a serial numbered plaque sits on the dash to indicate build sequence. There will be five colors available: Rallye Red, Racing Blue Pearl, Crystal Black Pearl, and Sonic Grey Pearl. But we all know that the only true color for the Type R (and that red interior) is Championship White.
So which is more significant, 30 years of Type R or 50 years of the Civic? Well, we’d have to say that the Civic was probably harder to get right. Honda had to make sure that it was all the things we listed above, and that it was affordable and reliable. It’s not easy to make circuit-ready sports variants, but those aren’t subject to the fickle whims of the average consumer. Both the Civic and the Type R cars are towering achievements. We’re just glad that now there’s a blend that you’ll be proud to look back at when as you walk away from your parking spot.