Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: June 6, 2023
The new Type R is based on the current 11th-generation Civic and while it may appear dialled back in visual flair, it’s no less focused on performance. Rather, we’d say that this is peak hot hatch.
We’re no stranger to the Type R having spent a considerable amount of time behind the wheel of the FK8 since it launched in 2017. But this new FL5 brings incremental upgrades in every department, from engine power to ride quality. Should current owners have anything to worry about? Is it worth upgrading? Long story short, no.
The 2.0-litre engine now delivers 315 hp and 310 lb-ft, a 9 hp and 15 lb-ft increase thanks to a new turbocharger and a more efficient exhaust system. The engine revs more freely than before and is happier to explore the upper RPMs where peak horsepower arrives at 6,500 rpm. It’s certainly livelier than the 1.5-litre unit in the Civic Si, which required staying in the fine margin of RPMs to get the most out of it. Here, it’s fair play no matter where the needle is swinging.
Do we notice the minor power bump? Not really. Might need a track for that. The Type R is fiendishly fast nevertheless but we did notice how much better it sheds speed as quickly as it builds. There’s so much more bite to the four-piston Brembos, yet the pedal feels linear and progressive, stopping on a dime but you can slam your foot and get the same response every time.
The abundance of torque and thrust is handled by a six-speed gearbox that’s been beefed up and is more polished than before. It’s the only transmission of choice - those who can’t row their own gears should look for the base Acura Integra instead. Shifts feel slightly better than the FK8, there’s less rev hang, and you can be aggressive with gear inputs without upsetting the chassis.
Honda added a lighter flywheel and the clutch pedal feels more feathery as a result. The bite point is more predictable and broader than before, making it difficult to stall the engine, excellent for beginners. The auto rev-matching feature is also very useful, especially in low-speed traffic creeps and relieving the amount of driving effort during long commutes.
The Type R’s shifter action is the best in the business but be warned that on a sunny day, the aluminum shift knob will be searing hot. The shifter alone is worth the entrance fee, reminding us of the one in the McLaren-Honda MP4/4 Formula 1 race car. It’s the first item you touch when you enter this manual-only car: fiddle around with the shifter and make sure it’s in neutral before you clutch in and hit the start button. It has been ages since I’ve experienced such a perfect, precise, and positively engaging shifter. It’s not notchy like a Mazda MX-5, nor is the travel very long like in the Toyota GR86. The throws are short, there is a decisive top-heavy weight to the way it shoves itself into the gate, with little wiggle or vagueness. It’s either in gear or it’s not, there’s no in-between and no play. We think it’s better than the manual in the current batch of Porsche 992s.
The largest improvement in our books is actually the exhaust noise. We know much of it is piped in through the cabin speakers but it finally sounds like a proper Honda four-cylinder. The FK8 was more of a vacuum cleaner, emitting soft and muted notes that had most owners turning to aftermarket examples. In the FL5, the noise is louder in volume and more exciting, buzzing with turbo blowoff noises and wailing pings when deliberately bouncing off the limiter.
The ride quality has also improved. The FK8 Type R rode stiff, even on its most comfortable damper settings. The new FL5 Type R is much more compliant on the road, slightly more supple, and handles undulations with more grace than before. Select the sportiest +R driving mode and it will still flow and hug every nook and cranny, but the dampers appear more sorted and diverse this time around, adding to its civility and viability for everyday use.
In all, the FL5 Type R drives like a dream. It’s very Porsche-like in the steering, power delivery, and involvement. I guess that’s as good of a praise as it gets. Flick it into a corner at speed and it reacts like it's glued to the floor, grounded by the downforce sucking it to the tarmac. Against its rivals, it’s certainly the most stable and unflappable, even at triple-digit speeds.
But we’re starting to feel the limits of a front-wheel drive layout. There is only so much mechanical grip you can manufacture out of a setup like this. Stickier rubber, more wing, more camber and toe, aggressive dampers and bump stops - we think the Type R is pretty much maxed out in these parameters, and adding more engine power won’t make it any quicker, hence why we don’t see a monumental jump up in the FL5. It’s not a revolution, but rather a solid evolution of a CAR favourite.
Give the front wheels too much to do with steering lock and throttle, and it won’t want to budge or turn. Do the same thing in a GR Corolla and it will rally drift its way through, eliciting grins from both driver and bystander. The Type R errs towards understeer and is unwilling to rotate if you don’t wrestle it properly. Rather, one must carry more entry speed and make better use of trail-braking to get the Honda rotated. Admittedly, it’s not the same satisfying kind of fun as a RWD car, but no less grippy or effective.
We think this is the best-looking Type R to date and an absolutely mega piece of kit for the money. It’s more mature in appearance and doesn’t scream boy racer, rather it whispers it. The epically wide front apron, flared side skirts, skinny wing, red Honda badges, and triple center exhausts show that this is no ordinary Civic. The 19-inch wheels are smaller than the outgoing 20s, but the wheels are wider with a larger contact patch. Still, there isn’t much we would add visually other than some white rims to compliment the Championship White paint.
The interior is the same deal, a tidal wave of red and black that’s only available in this colour scheme - not a bad thing if you enjoy having pizza parties in the car. We appreciate the layout of the cabin and the ergonomics it provides. The shifter is within perfect arm’s distance, and the same goes for the vibrant touchscreen display. There’s an actual knob and dial for the high-traffic functions and a honeycomb mesh across the dashboard that cleverly hides the fan vents.
The heavily bolstered seats are a Type R staple but they aren’t as squishy as before and feel better padded. Still no heated seat function but the cloth material means they aren’t very susceptible to temperature changes anyways. And being a five-door hatchback also guarantees hatchback practicality. The trunk and rear accommodations and cavernous, more than you would find in a smaller Golf or Corolla, and is practical and easy to live with. There are no compromises here, and there’s even a rear middle seat but like the outgoing model, the integrated cupholders in the bottom seat area can be uncomfortable.
One nifty touch on all Type Rs are the serial number plates that display the build number. There’s an actual number on it too - ours was #143 - and not just a ‘1 of 500’ plaque like on some limited edition vehicles. It adds that extra unique touch and flair to make owners feel more involved and special. And it only costs Honda what, a few bucks?
The $50,000 sports car is overflowing with competition, which makes it difficult to choose a winner, but the true winners are the consumers. As they say, a rising tide raises all ships, and competition breeds perfection. There’s the Volkswagen Golf R ($51,083), Toyota GR Corolla ($45,490), and Nissan Z ($49,344), just to name a few. The Type R undoubtedly stands out, melding together a civil ride with unflappable performance that takes this hatchback to the limit of a front-wheel drive setup. Add to that incremental upgrades in every department and we’ll say it again, this is peak hot hatch.
Model: 2023 Honda Civic Type R
Paint Type: Championship White
Base Price: $50,050
Price as Tested: $50,050
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,595 / n/a / 1,406
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 315 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 310 lb-ft @ 2,600 - 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, fWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 10.8 / 8.3 / 9.7
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 11.3
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4S; 19-inch