The Honda Civic Type-R has always had something about it – a desire not to follow the crowd. For three generations it plied its trade as a high-revving VTEC nutter, bringing a taste of 8,000rpm to those who couldn’t afford a flat-plane-crank Ferrari V8. Now though, in its fourth iteration, it’s traded rpms for a turbo, more shove and better fuel economy. Question is, by boarding the forced-induction bandwagon, has Honda sullied the Type-R name – a badge only deemed worthy to adorn 10 models in total to date?
Photography: Rowan Horncastle
We have here a pristine MkII Civic Type-R – or EP3 to any forum fans out there – and the latest Type-R. There is no MkI present as that was a Japan-only model, and no MkIII as that used the same 198bhp 2.0 DOHC i-VTEC engine as the MkII, albeit wrapped in a much wedgier suit. And where better to start than the styling, because these two relatives couldn’t look more different if they tried.
The older of the two is a model of restraint, all mill-pond-smooth surfaces with only a flick along the side skirts and an apologetic boot spoiler, whereas the new one is busier than Barack Obama. Seriously, it looks as though a small child scribbled on the final design sketches, yet they still received approval from the board. Perhaps in the absence of a screaming VTEC engine, Honda felt obligated to make the Type-R stand out visually? If so, it succeeded all too well.
The skin isn’t the only recipient of Honda’s incessant fiddling; the engine, handling and aerodynamics were played with until a 306bhp, 165mph monster capable of lapping the Nürburgring in 7m 50.63s emerged.
You can feel that capability in everything the new Type-R does – the way the engine sounds and revs is a bit of a non-event, but the way it builds speed is staggering. Then you tip into a corner and it just sticks, stays spirit-level flat and carries huge chunks of momentum with ease. Whoever set that lap in Germany had taken their brave pills, no doubt, but they had the tool for the job.
By comparison, the EP3 is a delicate flower, the steering is much lighter but weights up nicely as the cornering forces increase, then slackens off again when you start to understeer. No matter, because delicate lifts of the throttle are all you need to trim your line and perfect your trajectory, before wringing the engine down the next straight. The seats are perfect, and that dash-mounted gearlever operates with a hugely satisfying snap, but it’s the engine that defines everything this car does. Throttle pick-up is pin-sharp, and it just revs and revs until you’re wincing, certain a piston is about to bust through the bonnet, and then it revs some more.
It’s not a tuneful engine, merely more boomy as you approach the red line, so perhaps we shouldn’t be so harsh on the new one’s Dyson-inspired soundtrack. Keep things sensible, and it’s smooth and quiet enough to pootle around in, too, and with good ones going for as little as £7k, now’s the time to take the plunge.
The sad conclusion is that the Civic Type-R family peaked when the EP3 launched in 2001. The latest version is still a stand-out hot hatch and immensely capable when you chuck it around in the right conditions (preferably a dry racetrack) but some of the everyday joy has been traded for ultimate speed. We hear a new NSX Type-R is waiting in the wings – with a bit of luck that can get the Type-R badge back where it belongs.
Engine: 1996cc, 4cyl turbo, 306bhp @ 6500rpm, 295lb ft @ 2500rpm
Performance: 0–62mph in 5.7secs, 165mph
Transmission: 6spd manual, FWD
L x W: 4390mm x 1878mm
2006 Honda Civic Type-R
Engine: 1998cc, 4cyl n/a, 197bhp @ 7400rpm, 145lb ft @ 5900rpm
Performance: 0–62mph in 6.4secs, 146mph
Transmission: 6spd manual, FWD
L x W: 4135mm x 1695mm