Honda Civic Type R (2017-2021) Review 2023 | Top Gear
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Thursday 28th September
Car Review

Honda Civic Type R (2017-2021) review

Published: 16 Dec 2022
A spectacularly good hot hatch that gained some extra focus we had no idea it lacked

Good stuff

Incredibly sharp and precise to drive, still useable every day

Bad stuff

The looks, if you care (you shouldn't)


What is it?

From the moment it arrived in 2017, it’s been a truly outstanding hot hatchback that operates on a different level to the rest of its front-driven rivals. One with barely a chink in its armour, and one that got even better upon the arrival of a mid-life update in 2020. Crikey.

However, times are a changing. Honda has revealed a brand-new iteration of the Type R, which means this FK8 generation (one for the model code nerds, there) has been put out to pasture. And that's made us a little bit sad.

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There, there. Tell me more about the old car.

Where to start? The Type R was mechanically untouched throughout its life: six-speed manual and front-wheel drive only, with a 316bhp 2.0-litre turbo four flinging its 1.4 tonnes towards a 169mph top speed via a 0-62mph time of 5.8 seconds. Proper figures, those.

And that manual was something else: the best shift action of the last decade, in our opinion. No higher praise than that. Especially at a time when everyone else was abandoning the good ship that was the manual gearbox. As everyone else was jumping ship to autos, Honda’s engineering team were the band still aboard clutching their instruments. And not only playing, but fine-tuning their performance as the water washed in around their ankles. We salute them.

What made it so good?

The lever itself was made from a satisfyingly stubby metal stick that controls the most beautifully wrought shift movement at any price. Except if you were on the Civic’s engineering team. “Could be better,” they ludicrously thought.

That 2020 update introduced a teardrop knob (rather than ball) to grasp, recalling fast Hondas of yore, and it shrouded counterweights which improved the way it moved around the H-pattern. The result was perfection.

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Steady on now. What else did Honda change?

The Civic Type R recipe was tweaked a couple of years before it came off sale. Notice we’ve not called it a ‘facelift’; to do so when one of the most divisive styling packages on the market hadn't really changed would feel wrong. But the geekier among you will spot the revised grille (and its 13 per cent larger opening) which resulted in a 10-degree drop in coolant temperature on track days.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg of Honda’s forensic-level update; behind those red-trimmed alloys lurked two-piece discs (rather than one) to take 15mm of ‘dead travel’ out of the brake pedal, which we’d wager no one had actually complained about. There was a retune of how the adaptive damping behaved through a corner, for more precision. Something we never, ever thought the FK8 Type R lacked.

Strewth. Anything else?

Oh yes. There were a few more options than before: the ‘regular’ car, pictured above, was bookended by a slightly more demure Type R Sport Line (much smaller rear wing, less red detailing, more sound deadening) and the considerably madder Type R Limited Edition (wearing committed Cup 2 tyres and weighing 47kg less than standard via forged BBS wheels, removal of the air con and stereo and less sound deadening). You can read a standalone review of that car by clicking on these blue words.

The Limited Edition cost a smidge under £40,000 when it was launched, and the UK’s 20-car allocation sold out in an hour. An hour! This rather suggests you'll never pay less than forty grand for one when they re-emerge in the classifieds.

What were its main rivals?

Oh, only some of the best hot hatches we've ever known. The Ford Focus RS was launched the year before the Type R, the Renault Megane RS was another 2017 debutant. The Volkswagen Golf R Mk7 arrived earlier and departed sooner. Quite a generation of cars that, and the Type R was arguably the pinnacle.

Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

A spectacularly good hot hatch. Possibly the pinnacle of its era

The Honda Civic Type R was spectacular, a hot hatch of great maturity when used for sensible stuff, but one possessing a truly wild side when called upon. While we're excited to see what the new Type R will bring, we're still a little sad to see the FK8 go.

Yes, the looks are OTT, but it’d be a real shame if they hold people back from delving beneath the surface, where it’s an engineer’s playground. One of the most formidable hot hatches ever. See you out there, old friend.

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