“Due to higher than anticipated demand, the Civic Type R is currently not available to order.” – Honda.com.au.
That means if you want a Racing Blue 2021 example – a new colour not available before the Type R’s late 2020 update – you could be forever waiting. The plant that manufactures the 2021 Honda Civic Type R is set to cease production in July, which means global production allocation is already set in stone.
After spending time with the racy-looking hot hatch, you understand the demand. Its ‘dual-axis’ front end treatment is sensational, with grip reserves that make an old RevoKnuckled Ford Focus RS feel medieval.
I draw that comparison for other reasons too. The current ‘FK8’-generation car is only the second turbocharged Type R ever built in nearly 30 years, and the first turbocharged Type R to officially be offered in Australia. As a result, it feels more aligned to European hot hatchery than what is typically offered in Honda’s flagship Championship White. In order to explore what this means for the current car, we’ve arranged the best and last of the old-school – a 2007 ‘FD2’ Civic Type R.
If you’re wondering why an Aussie-delivered ‘FN2’-generation Civic Type R wasn’t used in this comparison, I’ll explain. What we got here was a watered-down, export-market product. Embarrassingly, it didn’t even feature a limited-slip differential at first, nor Championship White paint either.
Its rear wheels were also joined at the hips via a torsion beam axle too. Not a huge deal, as Renault Sport seemingly turns water into wine with the same set-up, but it’s still a sign of compromise you don’t expect to see from Soichiro’s brand.
Let’s not get into the fact its engine was miles apart to what Japan received either. After some harsh criticisms globally, Honda’s furiously backpedalled. It fitted an LSD as standard, and apologetically introduced the Championship White to the colour palette. Both gestures speak volumes.
Having owned a white, LSD-equipped FN2 Civic Type R before, I always felt it lacked pizzazz. My previous ‘DC2’ Integra felt far more alive and like more of a driver’s car.
So, with that understood, let me introduce this wonderful, full-fat FD2-generation Type R. This car was a derivative only sold in Japan, which followed the Type R formula spot on with a brutally high-revving engine, incredibly short gearing, and trick suspension.
They only became eligible to privately import for use on Australian roads about 12 months ago, and our example was one of the first in the country under the new scheme.
The car belongs to Honda enthusiast Nathan, who also co-owns an NSX with his father. It was sourced by Sydney-based vehicle import specialist GoGarage – the same mob who lent us their NSX for a modern classic review.
With 120,000km showing on its odometer and rocking up on semi-slick rubber, it’s far from a garage ornament. Nathan uses the car as intended, both on the track at full-tilt and briskly on good roads on the weekend. Other than the tyres, it hasn’t been changed from factory specification.
Visually, it’s actually quite plain. Other than a big high-rise wing, it initially looks similar to an Aussie-delivered non-R version. Dig deeper and its intent becomes far clearer. The front bumper sports an aero-friendly treatment, and big, functional air ducts. At the rear, a cheeky rear diffuser can be seen moulded into the bumper’s underside.
It’s understated as per the original Type R philosophy. Go back and look at any Integra Type R, or even the original NSX-R, and you’ll find either hard to distinguish from the regular versions. It’s the same story here.
However, alongside being all different and turbocharged, the new FK8 Civic looks positively mad. I don’t mean that in the colloquial sense either. There are many different sharp, pointy aero things all over its roof, doors and bumpers.
Something you can’t unsee after being shown is the lack of finishing trim on its side. Why didn’t Honda just make the wheel arch trim extend onto the rear door? It feels over-designed and animated, sort of reminiscent of Japanese anime cartoons. Despite thinking it looks zany, the childish part of me sort of enjoys it. It’s the same part of my personality that likes the odd crackle and burble from an exhaust.
Either way, they couldn’t be further apart. The same story goes for on-paper stats.
The old car uses the brilliant ‘K20A’ engine in Japanese trim, which produces 165kW at 8400rpm and 215Nm at 6100rpm. Don’t confuse this with the export-market ‘K20AZ4’ engine found in the 2011 Aussie-delivered Type R, as that made 148kW/193Nm.
The Japanese-spec engine is a part hand-built effort. During engine production, each was removed from the line and hand-torqued with yields carefully measured as to monitor bolt stretch. Alongside that process, it’s also filled with more exotic metal than others bearing a similar name. It’s fitted to a six-speed manual transmission with torsen (TORque SENsing) LSD.
The real party trick here is a shortened final-drive ratio of 5.03. What this does is shrink its theoretical top speed in order to promote a rev-happy nature and closeness between each gear.
Despite being naturally aspirated, the acceleration in third gear from about 70km/h is astonishing. It revs so cleanly and quickly, and feels much gutsier than 215Nm suggests.
Perched on top of the analogue gauge binnacle is another digital set of instruments. Here you’ll find a six-stage shift light that lights up four orange circles at first, then two red – until shift time.
At first, I found myself shying away and shifting two orange circles in due to my inherent and detrimental levels of mechanical sympathy. After being reassured multiple times that “it’s the Honda way” to enjoy all the tachometer, I gave it another go.
It’s fizzy right until that last red dot of the indicator, zinging its way just shy of 9000rpm. Turbocharging cars has robbed us of this form of pure-bliss motoring.
To be fair, though, few relatively affordable road cars had such a sky-high rev limit. To me, it’s the bulk of the reason why the Honda red-badge treatment was so special. Not only was its driveline formula unique, but it was unique for all the right reasons.
‘Exotic’ and ‘pure’ are some hyperbole to throw around, as would be aligning its traits to supercars of the same era.
The gearshift action is typical Honda, which is codeword for perfection. The throw is short and the linkage direct, which can be the same thing said for the new car.
That’s probably where all similarities end, however. The new FK8 Civic Type R is more of a monster, and for all different reasons.
Its 228kW ‘K20C’ engine was built to be turbocharged from the outset. The brand’s famous VTEC engine technology is only used on one half of the engine’s valvetrain. Its springs that dampen the opening and closing force of its valves are now a different design – one that doesn’t allow for high RPM.
Those observations do become irrelevant after a drive, mind you. The engine is still responsive, but for once now laden with torque. A whole 400Nm is piled on in full between 2500–4500rpm, which causes some angst for the Continental tyres up front.
Some surfaces, or slight inclines, were the most conducive to inducing torque steer. For the most part, however, it laid down the grunt, accelerating and leaving the old car for dead. While not featuring a bright rev band like the old car, it’s still enjoyable to string out to the red-zone near 7000rpm.
Another factor better with the new car was the quality of steering, ironically. The old car has an old-school hydraulic steering system, whereas the new features a purely electric set-up. The same type that has apparently robbed cars of ‘feel’.
In this face-off, I’d take the new electric set-up over the old. The FD2 Civic Type R has this odd sensation of lightness off-centre, almost like engineers have awkwardly tried to dial-in around-town manners. After 45 degrees of lock, it gets heavier, but it never quite feels right. The FK8’s set-up is fantastic, featuring a chunky, almost gritty immediacy.
The 2021 update saw its front suspension ball joints changed to improve feedback, so it’s safe to say Honda has nailed it. My co-driver on the day also agreed – and he’s spent time both on-track and on-road with the first-generation FK8 Civic Type R.
Other than the feel of Alcantara gliding through your hands, I’d say the overall steering calibration effort sees it land near those created by people in Stuttgart.
You’re forever amazed at what it does and how it does it, but never feeling truly rewarded on the road. Part of that reason is a huge envelope of performance that’s just not visible at a decent pace on a bendy road. Understandably, you’ll likely get stacks more on a racetrack, but today we’re bound by fun public roads and their governing rules.
That doesn’t stop the FD2 from coming alive at a slower pace, though. When tipped in, as its tyres load up, there’s a small sensation relayed back from the car. Movement, or a small fidget, comes close to describing it. I wouldn’t call it a rickety sensation or sign of doubt – more an honest speed check back to the driver, and a note that you should probably be paying attention.
It’s this honesty that provides a sense of reward when you come barrelling out the other side. It also becomes magnified after noting the huge amount of potential there was after you committed. Or that your efforts felt bigger than they actually were, perhaps. After a few goes, you begin to work with it and use it to uncover more depth in its ability. It prevents liberties from being taken, too, in ways, as you’re always reminded of your pace as you go.
The FK8 felt fast and stunning, but the FD2 grabs and forces you to tango. It invites you to play, without seeing you break the law.
These lightweight, naturally aspirated Type Rs are a purist’s dream. Our FD2 generation in particular signs off on Honda’s 30-year-long, single-minded commitment to its sports car vision.
With that in mind, I’d like to experience both on-track. Hopefully I get the chance in the not-too-distant future.