Review: 2017 Honda Civic Type R (FK8) – Making 320PS Work On FWDUlasan
The original Honda Civic launched in 1972 was the car that changed its maker’s history forever. Forty five years and ten model generations on, the Civic has become the benchmark car of the C-segment. It is the default car for the middle-class and after a thorough re-engineering to produce the current-gen FC model, better than ever.
The Civic Type R, on the other hand, follows an entirely different narrative. There have been five versions of the Civic Type R produced since 1996, at one point including two – the FD2 and FN2 – that were being produced concurrently. Depending on model, Honda has alternated between making the Civic Type R in either Suzuka, Japan, or Swindon, UK.
But regardless where they are made, all versions of the Civic Type R consistently follow the same formula of building high-revving track-focused machines within the familiar body of a regular Honda Civic.
The latest addition to the linage carries the FK8 codename and is based off the hatchback version of the current-generation Civic. Even before going into full production, the FK8 has made the greatest introduction of itself possible, by re-writing the Nurburgring Nordschleife’s record lap time for a front-wheel driven vehicle.
At the time of writing, Honda Malaysia refuses to officially confirm if the Civic Type R will be officially available in our market, but they did get us a slot in the car’s European media drive programme that was recently held in Dresden, Germany. To date, the Philippines is the only ASEAN market which this car has been confirmed for.
Engine: 2.0-litre, Inline-4 Transverse, Turbocharged Petrol
Power: 320 PS @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 400 Nm @ 2,500 – 5,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, FWD
Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, LSD, ISOFIX, Electronic Stability Control, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control,
Origin: Made in Swindon, UK
Unlike recent history where Honda kept the European and Japanese versions of the Civic Type R separate and distinct, the all-new FK8 Type R is a global model that will sold in one format across the world. No alternative configurations are being planned, meaning there won’t be a sedan version, and despite its considerable power, neither dual-clutch transmissions nor all-wheel drive were ever considered – both add too much weight, according to Honda.
Power is supplied from a 2.0-litre VTEC Turbo engine rated with outputs of 320 PS and 400 Nm. The engine is carried over from the previous-gen FK2 Type R hatch that catered primarily for the European market. From a Malaysian perspective, however, the new numbers represent a 95 PS and 185 Nm jump from outputs that were previously available from the naturally-aspirated FD2R.
The engine is paired to a 6-speed manual transmission that had its ratios shortened by 7% for improved acceleration. To help drivers achieve smoother downshifts, the transmission incorporates a rev-match feature that automatically blips the throttle as you slam the lever into the gate of a lower gear.
Over-eager enthusiasts may be tempted to diss rev-match as an aid for novice users, but the reality is that it helps even experienced drivers in the initial acclimatization process of the car. In our experience, the feature was on the ball the when called upon, but we recommend gradually practicing your heel-and-toe footwork as you familiarize yourself with the car.
Being based on the current-generation global Civic platform, the Civic Type R finally as independent rear suspension to call upon again, having to live with rear torsion beams in the preceding FN2 and FK2 models. Immediately, the FK8 gains an inherent advantage against the torsion beam-propped Renault Megane RS.
Much of the FK8’s chassis work is done up front, however, where Honda has revised the standard Civic’s suspension to separate the steering knuckle that is otherwise integrated into the front strut. It is similar to Ford’s RevoKnuckle setup in the Focus RS and its purpose is to reduce the effects of torque steer – a very real danger for a FWD car with this much outputs.
Despite similarities in the overall layout, much of the Type R’s suspension parts are unique to it and not shared with the regular Civic. They include bespoke high-rigidity arms as well as all-round adaptive dampers that are individually controlled.
The regular Civic already has a fair degree of sportiness in its looks, but the Type R truly takes it to another level with its unashamedly loud looks. It’s not all for show though, Honda claims that all the outrageous protrusions are aerodynamically functional helping reduce drag by 3% over the previous FK2 Type R and, more importantly, generate additional downforce to press the vehicle down at speed.
The comprehensive aerodynamics package includes a smoothened underbody and front tyre air curtain vents for starters. The spikes at trailing edge of the roof function as vortex generators that work in conjunction with the large rear wing to divert air flow across the tail to generate additional downforce over the rear axle. Look closely too at the edges of the front splitter and side sill spoilers – the flick-ups at the edges are meant to generate even more downforce.
A major talking point on the new Civic Type R is its centrally-mounted triple-exhaust with two larger pipes either side of a smaller central pipe. The pipes are laid out in such a way that the central pipe lets exhaust gases out at low engine speeds; at high engine speeds, air pressure at the centre pipe becomes negative, making it suck in ambient air. According to Honda, this gives the Type R a more aggressive-sound exhaust note at low RPMs and eliminates the booming sound at high revs. All this is accomplished without the need of a single moving component.
Another unique element on the Civic Type R’s exterior is its bonnet, which sports an integrated air duct and weighing 5.3 kg less than the standard model’s item thanks to its aluminium construction. Lastly, 20-inch alloy wheels complete the Type R’s visual differentiation over the regular Civic.
One thing is for sure. Regardless whether the Type R actually comes to Malaysia, you can bet that accessory shops are already hard at work developing replica body parts for eager owners of the Civic FC sedan.
Imagine the regular Civic FC’s cabin with red highlights and front bucket seats, and that’s what you’ll get in the Type R. What this means is that all the packaging and ergonomic goodness already built into the regular Civic is carried over to the Type R, chiefly the deep centre console storage tunnel and two-tier storage area ahead of the gear lever.
At the rear, passengers get similar levels of head and leg room as the sedan, whilst boot space is measured at 420 litres, down from the Civic sedan’s 519 litres. Foldable rear seats are provided, however, allowing the cargo hold to be expanded to 786 litres at the expense of rear seating capacity.
Seven minutes 43.8 seconds. It’s not merely enough to state that the Civic Type R is the fastest FWD ever to lap the Nurburgring Nordschleife. It is just as telling that the likes of the BMW M4, the previous-generation Audi R8 V10, and the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano all require a few seconds more than Type R to lap the world’s most famous proving ground.
Our own track time in the Type R – a brief 15-minute stint around the Lausitzring circuit – was unsettling at first. Lacking the ability to spread its traction to all corners, the Type R can initially seem wild and not a little unruly to the unfamiliar driver. Lift-off oversteer was easy to provoke around tight corners too.
As the laps accumulated, I gradually built my trust on the car, which slowly revealed itself to be rather finely balanced on the turn. Front end grip is convincing; combined with a quick steering ratio, it makes for a sharp turn-in. The playful rear makes the car even more eager, with wiggles easy to catch and correct early on.
Being a heavily-boosted unit, turbo lag from the 2.0-litre mill is inevitable, but sufficiently well mitigated. You’ll need to downshift and keep the revs above 3,000rpm for rapid progress on track, but in the open road, respectable rates of acceleration are on offer from 2,000rpm upwards. Mid-range is decently punchy and at the same time, the engine will happily rev all the way to the red line like a good old-school VTEC.
Does the chassis feel in anyway overwhelmed by all that power going to the front? Not in the conditions we experienced, though we’d still advise extreme caution in bad weather.
The 6-speed manual transmission turned out to be an absolute delight of a gearbox with its short and precise throws. So rewarding is the transmission to operate, Honda could slash the Type R’s power by half and the car would have lost none of its appeal. The only word of warning is that the gates are stacked extremely close to each other – the shift from fifth to sixth is rather easy to miss.
The transmission’s rev match feature is of great overall help. Although we’d still advocate that you learn to blip the throttle and practice your heel-and-toe on downshifts, the rev match function proved especially handy in easing the acclimatization process with the car. There is the option to de-activate the function, but the off switch is buried too deeply in the infotainment’s layers of menus to bother trying in the short duration of the drive programme.
Comfort & Refinement
Whilst the Civic Type R’s product premise is to offer a track-ready machine that double duty for day-to-day use, our brief experience with the previous-generation FD2R suggest that it was a car that is extremely capable for the former, but too compromised for the latter. Its high-strung engine and ultra-stiff suspension guarantees good fun and lap times, but represent less appealing propositions for on-road use.
It is an area which the FK8 appears to have improved upon greatly. Having proved its capability on track, the FK8 also incorporates just the right compromise to be a usable daily driver. Whilst Honda’s claims of its trick exhaust reducing high speed engine boom weren’t too convincing to this pair of ears, the suspension did a serviceable job in absorbing potholes and road patches. It’s no S-Class, but in the context of a car with firmly-sprung sports suspension and low-profile 20-inch tyres, impressively good.
The FK8 is, without doubt, the best-engineered and most talented Civic Type R ever. That the engineers were able to deliver a chassis setup that effectively harnesses 320 PS in a front-wheel drive configuration without feeling overwhelmed is credit to their capabilities. In my personal experience, the far less powerful Ford Focus ST felt way more unruly on the road.
As its Nurburgring laptime proves, the Type R remains a devastating track weapon, but the real progress is the marked increase of its on-road manners. This is truly a car that can serve track duty and then be driven home in decent comfort after the fun is over.
Despite its capabilities and thrills, however, this car has quite a task at hand justifying its appeal outside the circle of hardcore Honda fans. For starters, its UK origins mean that it would not come cheap. Also, motorists spoilt by rivals with all-wheel drive and dual clutch transmissions that are far easier to drive will take some convincing to take up the Type R’s three-pedal proposition.
All being said, we applaud Honda’s steadfastness in delivering a car that appeal to the old-fashioned purists among us. A Civic Type R will not be as refined nor as easy to drive as, say, a Volkswagen Golf R or Mercedes-AMG A45, but the few who would stump up the cash and have the courage to work those three pedals will find themselves in possession of a very special and characterful car indeed.
Below is a full video review, as well as a recording of one of my less embarassing laps around the Lausitzring circuit in Germany.