Everything in life seems to get bigger. People, cars, my waistline. Yet people moan about the important stuff getting smaller, like chocolate bars and Big Macs. Bigger can mean better, but along the way we can lose subtlety and the spirit of the object we’re working with. When you think about a hatchback, it conjures the image of a small, lean, mean machine beloved by boy racers. The sense of fun is provoked by their size and demeanour. They intend to punch above their weight. Which brings us to the latest Honda Civic Type R, the FL5.
On first impressions, it’s enormous. Putting it in the same bracket as something like the Toyota GR Yaris seems initially preposterous. It’s the same size as a BMW M3, give or take a few inches. Okay, so it’s literally a hatchback, but so is the Mercedes EQS. Can the Honda Civic Type R still be considered a hot hatch? Or should it be moved up a rung and pitted against the likes of the Ford Mustang, or even the Alfa Romeo Guilia Quadrifoglio?
Another thing that has grown with the FL5 Honda Civic Type R is the price. It starts from £49,995. Throw in the Championship White paintwork and it’s over £50,000. There’s no disguising it; that’s a fair chunk of change. The reasons are myriad. Currency exchange rates. The world has gone mental since the FK8 Civic Type R was launched. Everything is just really expensive now.
So, the FL5 Honda Civic Type R has a lot to live up to. Its predecessor was sensational and around £15,000 cheaper. No pressure, then.
Living with the Honda Civic Type R
First things first, the FL5 Honda Civic Type R looks superb. Where the FK8 drew winces and was loved despite its aesthetics, the FL5 can be loved because of its looks. It’s elegant and sleek, yet still aggressive. You simply don’t feel as self-conscious driving it.
Because it’s so big, being based on the standard Honda Civic, it’s also really practical. Forget about making compromises with this hot hatch, it’s really a family saloon. So, if you need to do the school run, enact the mundane then let loose at your local track, the Honda Civic Type R has you covered for every eventuality. There is an advantage to having a car that’s only 10mm narrower and 200mm shorter than an M3.
That 4.6m length and 1.89m width only really comes back to bite you, a bit, down narrow country lanes. For driving around town and out on the motorway, it cruises with all the refinement of something far more expensive. It can be a bit noisy if you have the engine note dialled up, but stick it in comfort and you can forget the power that sits in front of you.
One quirk with the Honda Civic Type R is that it’s strictly a four-seater. There’s no middle seat belt and where the middle seat would be, reside two cup holders. Something to consider if you frequently ferry around five people.
On the move, everything works intuitively enough via the central touchscreen. There are physical buttons for the HVAC but changing driving characteristics, such as toggling the auto rev matching on/off, can only be done when the car is parked. The stereo is okay. The interior in general feels well put together. It’s shockingly red, but you don’t really notice it once you’re settled into the rather comfortable seats.
What’s the Honda Civic Type R like to drive?
This is where the Honda Civic Type R must deliver. It’s got the practicality and comfort of a standard Civic. But it also has 324hp and 420Nm of torque delivered to the front wheels, accessed via a stunningly good manual gearbox.
At first, you’re almost tempted to wonder why they haven’t gone all-wheel drive with the FL5 Honda Civic Type R. The Golf R changed the hot hatch game, forcing the likes of Mercedes and BMW to follow the sales success and launch all-wheel drive hot hatches too.
That temptation, however, doesn’t last long. You take a hit on the 0-60 time (5.4secs here versus 4.7secs in a Golf R) and the front wheels don’t need much provocation to spin up. I had it for a week in January, so was met with freezing temperatures, damp road surfaces and a lot of grit. And you know what? I wouldn’t have wanted anything else.
Whilst you do get torque steer and understeer, it’s just really good fun. The Honda Civic Type R pulls off the trick that all great cars do in not needing to be thrashed to be enjoyed. Just cruising along, snicking through the gears, embracing the feedback from the pedals, gear stick and chassis, is a joy.
In fact, my only complaint about the driving experience was how cold the metal, teardrop gear stick was when I got in it. You had to train the vents on it to warm it up. First world problems…
I covered 615.3 miles in my week with the Honda Civic Type R and enjoyed pretty much every one of them. Even a cruise to Cardiff and back on the M4 was made enjoyable. There’s always so much pick up and more power than you ever need. 27.0mpg, if you were wondering.
What’s the Honda Civic Type R really like to drive though?
A long motorway cruise and a commute into west London were hardly what the Honda Civic Type R was designed for. But they did offer an opportunity to play around with the drive modes. One huge advantage the FL5 Honda Civic Type R has over the FK8 is the ability to set an individual mode. On UK roads, you really want the suspension set to comfort.
Pressing the +R button dials everything up to 11, but you quickly realise the set up is intolerable on the road. It’s just way too stiff. When you do those track days you’ll definitely be doing, that’ll be the mode to choose.
Instead, on the road, comfort suspension matched to more aggressive engine response and sound, with the steering in sport. The steering isn’t the last word in feedback, you get that from elsewhere, but it’s pinpoint accurate and makes the car easy to place. In +R, however, it’s too heavy seemingly just for the sake of it. Still, it’s a good option to have if you prefer a bit more weight to proceedings.
Hit a decent B road and the Honda Civic Type R comes alive. There’s so much grip to work with, even in sub-optimal conditions. You can provoke understeer and lift off oversteer very easily, and it’s so intuitive and easy to access. If this car doesn’t put a smile on your face, then driving isn’t for you.
The auto rev matching works brilliantly, but a bit of old fashioned heel and toe can be had, too. You just don’t get many manuals anymore, they’re a dying breed, sadly. You just wouldn’t want the Honda Civic Type R as an auto. The gearbox is a wonderful thing and is utterly involving.
Is the Honda Civic Type R the best hot hatch available right now? Yeah, it probably is. If you can get hold of one, that is. It’s a special machine. In a rapidly changing automotive industry, if this is to be the last Honda Civic Type R, then you can only doff your cap in Honda’s direction for going out on such a high. The inevitable hybridisation then electrification will undoubtedly alter its characteristics.
The only real points to pull it up on are that cold gear knob in winter and the price. Yet value is, really, subjective. I mentioned the Alfa and the M3 at the top of the article quite deliberately; the Honda Civic Type R is in their ballpark for enjoyment. Sure, it’s a very different type of car, but it also feels rather distant from the GR Yaris, too. Size matters. It may just be a placebo, but I had a similar experience with Audi RS3 saloon. Give me the hatchback any day. Aesthetics matter, too.
£50,000 is very reasonable for what you get. Cars like the Honda Civic Type R just don’t exist anymore. The simple fact that you will love almost every mile that you cover in it bears testimony to its value. That it’s £15,000 more than its predecessor is unfortunate, but we live in an entirely different economic climate now. Cars this engaging, refer back to the Alfa and M3, cost an awful lot more.
Whilst the Honda Civic Type R has undoubtedly grown up, in more ways than one, it retains its boyish appeal. Everything about it, to drive, feels brilliant. Precise steering, endless grip, easy to modulate brakes, plenty of power and the ability to bend it to your will in any scenario. £50,000 suddenly seems like a bargain.