FK8 Honda Civic Type R Review (2017-2021)
Recreating the magic. Honda's new Civic finally finds itself again.
The Honda Civic Type R has been stuck in a rut for over a decade and the FK8 Civic Type R set out to relight the model. Victims of their own success putting a rough and ready formula together for the EP3 model that ran between 2001-2006. A loyal customer base was found and then quickly lost once the FN2 model, running from 2007-2012, took the riot of laughs of the previous generation and tamed the beast. No more lift-off oversteer, the chassis of the EP model constantly feeling at its limit when asked to handle complex corners. It is without a doubt that more EP3’s have found their final resting up a tree or on their roof than the newer models. In this danger there was magic, and as elusive as it is to witness, it can be easily lost, the wrong flick of the wrist and the trick is exposed. Honda appears to have been outside of the magic circle for some time. We will make a case for the FN2 generation in that upon driving several, of different mileage, condition, and age, they still were a thrill.
Whenever a conversation on the Type R begins and my position is assumed, having owned two EP3's, I remember taking an FN2 along a particular stretch of country lane. Few car experiences stay with you, but similar to a dashcam that auto-stores recording of anything it deems worthwhile, the FN2 has its moment. There was an urgency, but not emergency to it.
On a backroad the new Type R feels slightly frenetic, bumps in the road don’t crash the ride but instead jab at it
If there is one line that could define the new Civic Type R against its granddaddy it's this. Drug fuelled partying, vs full rounded athlete.
The old Type R was like a Rave, everyone jumping, screaming, the music loud, you can’t move for being bashed into, and even the toilets aren’t a refuge from the flashing lights and drugged up patrons. The new Type R has managed to record this rave, then play it to you on a pair of sound-cancelling headphones. Put them on, and you will be at the wheel of a mentalist, take them off, and peace and quiet resumes. The new model is brilliant at delivering a riot to the driver's seat, and then relative calm. You can cruise home in peace. The EP3 was a one-trick pony, mad every minute, either take part or be an unwilling participant. The FK8 can switch into R mode and let the lunacy free, switch to comfort, and take the kids home in peace, the rave silenced as quickly as it blew up.
On a backroad the new Type R feels slightly frenetic, bumps in the road don’t crash the ride but instead jab at it. The thick figure-hugging seat holds onto you enough to install confidence but doesn’t grab and hold like some. A particular rough patch of road shows the suspension up every now and again, but unlike the older model, a disturbance in the road followed by a heavy foot doesn’t threaten sudden snap oversteer. It isn’t only rutted roads, but camber that the new model deals with on par with the competition. A memorable experience in the old EP3 was coming up a hill, cambered peculiarly toward the side you were turning away from, and finding myself sideways within a second. Completely unrecoverable, leading up a curb and perilously close to a fifty-foot drop. Fortunately, all this happened at a low enough speed to be caught quickly. In the new one I wouldn’t have been so lucky, the pickup in speed from a crawl is instant. Whereas the old model needed to be worked to get into the power zone, the new one shoots you forward only a second after flexing your ankle. Thank the turbocharger and some excellent mapping for the sudden turn of speed. You can almost lazily work your way into speed, such little commitment will get you nowhere in the EP3 model.
This is where the charm of the old model starts to win back points. It wants your attention, this comes from a generation when your phone’s best feature was a colour screen. Distracted driving was rubbernecking, not staring at Instagram posts wandering why you only have six likes. The EP3 will only offer up redline to those that chase it. The uncommitted, the distracted, and the over-enthusiastic will be punished in the old model, the new one will save them. There is also the challenge of how much of the time the new one can really be used, it's very handy being able to cruise along looking for a fight, but when you do want to push on restraint is needed to avoid some serious speeding fines. The answer is to shift early, but that feels like cheating. The gearbox has been a Type R strong point from the old EK9 days and short shifting feels like taking a child to Disneyland, only to show them the entrance before turning home. The enjoyment factor somewhat sacrificed then, but everything in this bracket is in the same powerboat.
The EP3 feels a bit more special and the even older EK9 fizzes more, but naturally aspirated screamers are gone for good. If this is the replacement then we should all be relieved. Following the market and creating a slug of torque with no excitement at redline would have been much easier to make, but Honda delivered where so many others are failing. The excitement factors are the soul of this car, not a power figure. The new 2020 model is a brilliant car, it lives in the shadow of its predecessors in the right way, the DNA shining through. Critically it isn’t overshadowed by the older cars, it has its own limelight. Well done Honda.