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The Honda Civic Type R. I know this… It’s been hard to escape it recently. We’ve driven it overseas, but recently we had the chance to drive the first car to land in the UK. That’s an opportunity not to be missed. One, because it’s the most talked about hot hatch in years. Two, because our high praise for the car in Germany might well crumble on broken British roads. Time to find out. What are the specs? Like the ‘FK2’ Civic it replaces, this new ‘FK8’ Civic uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine. It’s still a VTEC, though, so it likes to rev, too.
Power is 316bhp – up just 10bhp on the old Type R – while torque is the same, at 295lb ft. The car weighs about the same, too, so its 5.7sec 0-62mph time and 169mph top speed are barely different. But that’s okay. This isn’t really a numbers car. Over 300bhp, though. Is it still front-wheel drive? It is, with a limited-slip differential on the front axle to help make sure the power isn’t all spun away as the car scrabbles for grip. Mightily effective it is, too. There’s a new Comfort suspension mode (as well as the existing Sport and +R modes), while the rear suspension is a new multi-link setup. All you need to know is it makes the Type R considerably more comfortable before, and more stable at speed, too. Does it ride properly on UK roads, then? It does. The old car was a wonderfully exciting thing, but it could be blooming hard work over rough surfaces. Its +R mode was almost unusable, the car torque steering like mad in its lower gears if the road was bumpy, while you’d be wincing every time a pothole neared. It needed commitment. The new car loses none of the excitement, but it can suddenly handle whichever roads you throw at it. I’d been fiddling with the drive modes on the motorway and turned onto a bumpy backroad still in +R mode, something I didn’t even notice until I pulled over later on to fuel up. It’s still no softie, but it’s now purposefully firm rather than downright stiff, and +R ought to be the default mode for keen drivers. Is it quick? It really is. At 1,380kg it’s a light car for its class, particularly given how big the Civic has become; it feels enormous these days. So while its power hasn’t risen much over its predecessor, the FK8’s ability to put that power down and avoid torque steer means it feels much quicker and more effective than the FK2 when you want to use its performance on the road. The front end grip is tremendous, too. You can turn into corners at bafflingly high speeds, the Civic completely resisting understeer, then get on the throttle super early. There’s a little bit of lag in the engine’s delivery – not much, mind – so by the time it spools up you’re leaving the corner, the diff subtly but assertively dragging you onto the next straight. It’s not a car to flamboyantly throw around like a Ford Focus RS (though there’s adjustability in the chassis if you want it), but that doesn’t mean it’s not thrilling. Quite the opposite. Its ruthless appetite for speed makes it feel every inch the tarmac rally car its new body kit makes it resemble. Ah yes, the looks… I’m not going to cast too much judgement, for styling is an entirely subjective thing. But there is rather a lot of styling, aero accoutrements seemingly everywhere you look. The row of vortex generators on the roof are pure Evo VIII FQ-400, while the overall silhouette brings to mind the late 2000s Impreza WRX STI hatchback. All of the aero is functional, we’re told, though the bonnet air scoop doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. The triple exhausts do serve a purpose, mind; the middle pipe boosts the whooooarrgh under acceleration (which is excellent) yet cuts down boominess on the motorway. Sounds very sensible. It works, too. For all the brilliance of the Civic’s chassis and the punch of its performance – both of which deserve a lot of praise – it’s the refinement that’s most stark about this new car. It may look like a motorsport refugee, but it’ll require no change in lifestyle if it’s your only car. The boot’s massive, there’s more legroom than ever, there’s loads of anti-crash tech and it’s quiet and comfortable at the everyday stuff. To be a proper hot hatch all-rounder, these things are important. And Honda’s nailed them this time around. Yawn. Tell me more exciting things. The steering is great for an electronic, variable-ratio system and plays its part in just how faithful the front end of this car is. The seats are even better than before, more hugging, even redder and sitting much lower in the car. Get in a Focus RS after this and it feels like you’re sat on the roof. The gearbox remains wonderful, too. Honda has rigidly stuck with a manual gearbox – paddleshifts just add weight and complication – and it remains one of the tightest, most satisfying shifts on sale at any price, while the car now blips your downchanges for you. Japanese performance engines have always felt more sensitively set up than others, more appreciative of a rev-matched downchange. The system is brilliant and rarely fluffs a shift. You can turn it off, too, and part of the Civic’s magic is that it’ll make you want to raise your own game to get the best out of it. That wasn’t untrue of the old car, but the new one is tangibly better in every area and more useable, more of the time. It could be the best hot hatch on sale. Read our comprehensive 18-page test of the new Civic Type R in the latest issue of Top Gear magazine, on sale now. It tackles road, track, the old Civic Type R and its toughest rivals from Ford, Seat and VW…