What is it like to drive?
Ultra-polished and precise. There’s the Kaizen hard at work. It’s got incredible breadth because at one end you can hop in the Civic Type R and drive it without effort: the gearchange is light and easy, throttle, clutch and steering are all undemanding, it’s not rowdy nor hard-edged. It’s as good-natured and even-tempered as a Golf R.
Yet when you up the pace those same facets, while losing none of their silken ease, suddenly become hugely informative and confidence inspiring. The sense of connection with the car, and the performance it’s capable of, are massive. It feels like a £50,000 sports car.
But it’s not an all-weather sports car, is it?
That’s the one limitation with front-drive. Chris Harris drove it at a dry Dunsfold track for the TV show and was staggered by its grip and traction. But in the wet, it’s not going to see which way a Golf R went, even if the Honda driver is having a better time. Wet weather grip from the Michelin tyres is decent, but you have to modulate it very carefully – get on the power and as soon as the front wheels start to spin, the turbo’s torque will spike the revs and the traction will cut in. Getting the power down in the wet is a challenge. Honda hasn’t overcome the laws of physics.
But even so, it’s great fun managing the car in these conditions because there’s so much communication through it. The throttle is very precise for a turbo car, so you can sense when you’re on the cusp of wheelspin, and the chassis is so neatly balanced. You’d imagine understeer would be the name of the game, but actually the new Civic has a very mobile rear axle. Lift off mid-corner and the nose will tuck tighter, and the tail starts to arc. In the wet, traction off at both Estoril racetrack in Portugal and Thruxton in England, it could reach quite dramatic angles.
The last one suffered from significant road roar. How’s this one?
We've now driven the FL5 on proper potted UK roads, and we can confirm that a fair bit of road noise is still present at a cruise. As far as everyday drivability goes, that was probably the last generation’s Achilles heel. This one, as you’d expect from the more mature looks, seems slightly more refined generally though.
Equally, the ride isn’t harsh. It’s short travel, but the way the suspension moves, feels soft in the first inch of travel, then progressively ramps up the resistance depending on the impact, is uncanny. It’s clearly expensively damped. Over cobbles it felt smooth and absorbent, yet on track body control was tight and roll contained. Adaptive dampers clearly help here, but the sheer fluency of the Civic is perhaps its most impressive aspect. Plus, you now get the changeable 'Individual' drive mode that the FK8 was crying out for, so you can have the engine and steering in the sportiest settings while leaving the suspension in 'Comfort'.
Does it feel aggressive?
Not exactly, it’s not in the mould of the tempestuous hardnut that is the Toyota GR Yaris – in fact if anything it’s less focused than the last Type R, and more forgiving than Hyundai’s i30N. But it’s not soft, lacking in feedback or response (quite the opposite), what it comes down to is sophistication.
It takes all the good bits of a front drive, manual gearbox hot hatch, maximises the reward and minimises the concern. It’s very predictable and approachable, not least because it does exactly what you want, when you want. And in the dry, that differential, coupled with the new, wider tyres, gives the Type R an immensely tenacious and dextrous front end.
How they’ve got the differential, steering, chassis and front Dual Axis suspension to talk so clearly and harmoniously to each other is remarkable.
How’s the economy?
Honda claims 34.4mpg. Expect 30mpg in mixed driving. A few miles per gallon better than the last one, because not only does it deliver more downforce, it is also cleaner through the air. But you could tell that by looking at it.
Quick one, what’s the future?
Honda is so diligent, and has such a pure engineering mindset, that we honestly expected them to kill off the Civic Type R rather than trying to take it into the electric age. They still might. But Type R will definitely go electric. So this may well be the final purely petrol-powered Type R.