Test drive: 2017 Honda Civic Type R

TGM gets behind the wheel of the hottest hatch of 2017, on and off the racetrack

Honda FK8R Germany cover

What’s this? Another Honda Civic Type-R review?
Yes, but with a little twist. Up till now, all we’ve heard are the ramblings of our Brit colleagues and their European peers. However, TopGear Malaysia managed to secure an elusive ticket to Dresden, Germany, to drive the new Honda Civic Type R as well. In fact, we are the only Malaysian magazine title to have driven the FK8 Type R. So if you want some local perspective on this new JDM hotshot, you’re in the right place.

Of all places to test drive a Japanese sports car, why Dresden?
It’s the closest touristy German township (we think) to the Lausitzring, where we would be getting some track time in the new CTR. Also known as the EuroSpeedway Lausitz, the 4.3km circuit in the east of Germany is a regular fixture on the DTM (German Touring Car Championship) and WSBK (World Superbike Championship) calendars. To get there, however, we first needed to navigate out of Dresden’s cobblestone pathways before hitting the Autobahn en-route to the circuit.

108934 2017 Honda Civic Type RCivic Type R on cobblestone… that must have been painful.
With our Type R understanding derived mostly from the excruciatingly rigid FD2R – the only Civic Type R officially sold in Malaysia – we jumped into the car thinking it was going to hurt as well. To our surprise, the FK8R glided over the bumpy terrain with minimal judder, even in Sport mode. We didn’t flick the knob up to Sport on purpose, mind you. This is the new Type R’s default driving mode – a nice touch by the engineers to preserve the nameplate’s aggressive persona. You can dial things down to Comfort if you like, which further softens the four-wheel adaptive dampers, throttle and steering response as well as rev-matching urgency.

Rev-matching? You mean heel-and-toe for dummies?
Yes. As with all past Civic Type Rs, the FK8R is manual only. Its six-speed transmission is all jazzed up with rev-match blipping, a feature which blips the throttle as you lift off to change gears for a heel-and-toe effect that keeps you well within a healthy rev range after a new gear is engaged. In the new CTR, this feature works almost invisibly in the background, easily deceiving most drivers into feeling like a pro shifter. The intensity of the rev-match blipping differs depending on the driving mode, but purists can choose to switch this off entirely, or so Honda claims – we couldn’t figure out how during our day with the car.

108933 2017 Honda Civic Type R

What engine is this not-so-old-school transmission hooked up to?
Like the gearbox, the FK8R’s engine blends legacy with modern tech. Four cylinders and a VTEC badge draw a relation to the K20A engine which powered Type R icons of the past, but what we’re looking at is actually a variant of the turbocharged K20C1 engine used in the previous-generation FK2 Euro Civic Type R. A new tune has bumped the output up to 316bhp and 400Nm, which is a lot for a car weighing under 1.4 tonnes. And being a Civic, all of this power is channelled exclusively to the front wheels.

That sounds like a recipe for torque steer…
It does indeed. But modulating the CTR’s immense potential is much easier than it seems. Going back to our stroll out of Dresden in Comfort, every driving aspect – throttle, steering, gear shifts and brakes – feels friendly enough for us to conclude that the new Type R is a viable daily driver within 30 minutes of driving. There’s no hostile war cry blaring out of the car’s three tailpipes and you’re not going to induce wheelspin or any front-end wiggling by accident. Yes, this car has all the makings of a ripped Crossfit athlete, but it knows that the dinner table isn’t a place to demonstrate how many pull-ups it can do in a single rep.

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What if you let it out on a playground – does it get too hot to handle then?
In Germany, the Autobahn is the ultimate automotive playground. And the Civic Type R feels right at home on the fast lane. Quoted performance figures for the FK8R are 5.8 seconds to 100kph and a top speed of 272kph. We doubt neither, having blitzed past 200kph many times with ease to see how close we could get to Vmax. We managed a few clicks shy of 240kph, but it could have easily been more if not for the highway’s erratic traffic.

What’s more impressive is how composed things are at these speeds – no torque steer or nervous front end whatsoever, thanks in part to its fantastic aero (more on that later). This translates to a relatively serene ride for the passenger bolstered by great NVH properties. We certainly appreciate this new dimension of refinement and comfort previously unheard of in the Type R, but the attenuated aural excitement might disappoint fans of traditional VTEC engines.

109354 2017 Honda Civic Type R

Come on, three tailpipes and it doesn’t make a good sound?
Not as good as the 9,000rpm scream of the FD2R obviously. The little tailpipe in the middle is actually in place to create back pressure at high rpms to reduce the unsavoury booms and buzzes associated with an engine under load. This seems to work a little too well in the case of the FK8R, with its growl lacking oomph, even at its 6,500rpm limit – yes, that’s another bummer. On the upside, whatever you can hear is purely mechanical, with no exhaust sound enhancement or fabrication whatsoever.

Must have been a quiet day at the Lausitzring then…
Yes and no. In a car with the eclectic blend of power and insulation, you sometimes forget how fast you’re going as a corner comes into view. This happened to us a few times on the Lausitzring – the Civic’s level-headedness which masks its incredible pace leading us to overcook some bends with too much speed and too little braking.

This is where things get bizarre. Carrying 160kph within 100 metres of some corners, you expect some understeer on the turn but the Civic just grips and goes where it’s directed. Similarly, lifting off on wider bends doesn’t throw the rear off in spite of its occasional wiggle. The all-round traction of this FWD rocket is immense. And it’s largely thanks to aero bits such as its gaping spoiler and ‘vortex generators’ sitting atop its rear windscreen, all of which back Honda’s claim of the CTR being the only car of its class to generate real downforce.

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So is it better on the road or track?
That’s a tough nut to crack. Unlike some of its predecessors, the FK8 platform was designed from the ground up with a Type R variant in mind. So while it has the essence of a passenger car, aspects such as chassis rigidity, centre of gravity and aerodynamics are all race-ready. There’s no way something simply taken off the Civic production line with go-fast bits bolted on could average 160kph on the Nurgburgring en-route to its record-breaking 7m43.8s laptime.

On the flipside, the fastest Civic Type R to date is also the most user-friendly we’ve encountered – quiet, comfortable and spacious in way a no compact car that would do over 250kph has ever been. Granted, some of the raw emotions evoked by the older Type Rs are lost on the FK8R. But why cling onto old baggage when you’ve been bumped up the food chain?

For something that still wears the name of an everyday car with pride, the new Honda Civic Type R is stratospheric, on road and track. Hopefully we won’t be saying the same about its price, if and when it comes to Malaysia.

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Author: Daryl Loy

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