Honda Civic Type R | PH Origin Story

The FL5 Civic Type R is imminent – which of its illustrious predecessors should it strive to emulate?

By Matt Bird / Saturday, 24 September 2022 / Loading comments

For more than 20 years, the Honda Civic Type R has been a hot hatch lynchpin. Even without continuous production, the CTR has built itself a formidable reputation among UK enthusiasts. For good reason; if not always the class leader, the Civic’s combination of performance and value has kept it at the hot hatch sharp end since 2001. For 2022, the imminent arrival of another Type R feels more exciting than ever. There’s the superb FK8 to build upon for starters, but beyond that, the new FL5 is also carrying the can for hot hatches with manual gearboxes, 2.0-litre internal combustion engines and front-wheel drive, which is absolutely a cause we can all support. It’s a hero in its own gestation, let alone lifetime. 

There isn’t a manual Golf R anymore, there won’t be another conventional Focus RS, the Astra VXR is dead and the Renault Sport Megane has also met its maker. Yet Honda has made the case for another Type R in the most old-school format – not for nothing either, it’ll be the only non-hybrid Civic in the range – and for that it deserves considerable credit.

In hat doffing tribute, we’ve assembled the quartet of Civic Type Rs offered to UK customers since 2001: EP3, FN2, FK2 and FK8. Yes, it’s not the full 25-year history, missing the original, seminal EK9, the Japan-only EP3 with its extra power and LSD plus the incredible FD2 saloon, though hopefully that can follow for a separate feature. For now, it’s the UK Domestic Market CTRs, from 8,000rpm, 200hp, sub-£20k tearaways to £30k+, turbocharged record breakers – a celebration, yes, but also a contemplation of the model’s impressive legacy. 

For numerous reasons, the day must begin in the breadvan. To many it’s not just where the Civic Type R story starts, it’s the beginning of UK Type Rs full stop. Yes, the Accord and Integra preceded the EP3 (great cars they were as well), but they were expensive and rare groove. Both had launched in the late 1990s at around £23k with rivals aplenty; the Civic debuted in 2001 for £15,995 at the beginning of the hot hatch’s glorious resurgence – it was properly exciting after the very lean late 90s. 

After all, here was an 8,250rpm, 140mph-plus Honda Civic at a price people could afford, before there was even a Focus ST170, let alone Renault Sport Megane, Astra VXR or good Golf GTI. Yes, the Clio 172 was already generating universal acclaim – but when you consider that yawnathons like the Nissan Almera GTI were still being made as late as 1999 (and cost almost £15k), you get some idea of the impact the EP3 made when it gatecrashed a new millennium. 

It still boasts considerable star appeal today. The car is far less attention-grabbing than later variants, though a few details – the badges, the gear lever sprouting from the dash, the off-white dials and wheel with nothing but a red ‘H’ – set the tone perfectly. Despite a driving position that’s too high, the Civic immediately puts you in the mood. As any good hot hatch must.  

What’s great about this car is evident by 30mph. The throttle response is perfect, the gearshift an utter delight, and clocking 8,250 revs on the counter never fails to raise a juvenile smirk. However, the issues don’t take long to surface either; perhaps it’s the increasing prevalence of both Civic Type R race cars and expensive used ones subconsciously raising expectations alongside values, but the EP3 isn’t a flawless driver’s car. Call it S2000 syndrome: an epic powertrain, distinctive look and cult following have earned it a reputation, which is handy for glossing over issues. 

The electric steering is a bit slow and undeniably numb, at odds with the frenzied nature of the powertrain; the VTEC kick (yo) isn’t quite as fierce in this K20 as it is in either the Integra’s B18 or the Accord’s H22 and is mated to an open diff; and being perched so high means an inevitable feeling of detachment when you want to be keyed into every movement. It’s an entertaining car, no doubt, because the engine is still brilliant, there’s some lift-off oversteer in there eventually and it’s brilliantly compact, but the first UK Civic Type R feels a victim of the modern classic hype. It was a fun thing to thrash around for £5k; to buy a late, low mileage one like this might now cost something like £13,000, and no longer does that seem like money well spent. 

Driving the FN2 straight after is revealing to say the least. Because this is the Civic Type R that everyone loves to hate – too stiff, too slow, too spaceship-like and so on. Funny how perceptions can change with time, particularly with this generation still affordable and the car it replaced appreciating by the hour. What was stiff in the mid-2000s simply isn’t anymore; taut, yes, noticeably so at low speed, but far from intolerable. Call it old-school eagerness. The interior is far more contemporary than the EP3, too; perhaps not as classically cool, but with an improved driving position, a better relationship to the gear lever and a sense of being cocooned by the dash rather than hovering above it.  

Much was made of the FN2’s solitary extra horsepower over the EP3 back in the day, especially given the additional weight (consistent figures are hard to track down; it varies between 30kg and 100kg difference). Whatever the true numbers, it doesn’t seem too distant today. On planet hot hatch performance equals progress, and not going any faster (for more money) didn’t do it many favours in its day, but it doesn’t feel like a problem now. Particularly as a more exciting experience, with some extra VTEC ‘bwaaarrrrp’ coming through even before the cam changeover, that rev counter dominating your field of vision and shift lights accompanying the shriek past 8,000rpm.   

This wasn’t in the script, of course, but there are improvements on the road as well. The FN2 steering is significantly better than the EP3 – speedier and weightier and with a greater sense of what the front wheels are doing. A limited-slip diff in these later cars lends the front end a tad more precision (predictably traction isn’t challenged all that much with only 140lb ft to call on) as well.  

Maybe, just maybe, the weightier FN2 is prone to a smidge more understeer than the EP3, though it’s hardly some nose-heavy dullard at road speed. Nobody seemed to take issue with torsion beam rear ends when Renault Sport used them, after all. If you wanted to sacrifice a Type R for a screaming track build then perhaps the EP3 and its multi-link rear end would hold advantages, but that’s becoming ever harder to justify as prices rise. Because so many have been taken for track. As a reminder of what’s so great about these classic Civics in a package that still feels eminently usable, the FN2 feels a very canny buy from as little as £3k. Don’t forget the Championship White, too, with that iconic colour scheme and diff, for less than £10,000.  

For the sake of the story, it would be nice to draw a parallel between FN2 and FK2 – only one letter difference, right? Both were pretty daring to look at when launched, too, the FK2 still wild seven years later. And while a few hot Honda hallmarks remain – brilliant gearshift, fantastic brake pedal, an engine that thrives on revs – the first turbo Type R is on another planet against the FN2 for performance and ability. And entertainment value, it should be said. 

On paper, 50 per cent extra power and more than twice the torque look like worthwhile improvements; on road, the FK2 is like upgrading from a Hawker Tempest to a Eurofighter Typhoon. They’re both Civics like they’re both planes, but it really does feel like a gap of four decades and not four years. Even with the later FK8 around, there remains something unforgettable about the 2015 car.  

For one thing, it has that single-minded approach of some of the very best Japanese cars. The FK2 is always firm (stupidly so in +R) and seems determined to cover ground at the most ferocious rate possible: the brakes are mighty, the diff acts like a winch and the engine just won’t stop, hauling until a soft limiter that feels at least 1,000rpm early. It’s utterly insatiable and ferociously fast, yet also capable of containing its riotousness before it becomes a problem. Compared with its forbears, there’s an urgency to this Type R that compels a more aggressive approach, without that eagerness then collapsing into wheelspin and understeer when really pushing on. It can talk the talk, walk the walk and then talk through the walk, which is handy when it looks as, er, confident as this. 

Time hasn’t been kind everywhere, but those problems that do exist almost complement the FK2’s broader appeal. There’s lag seemingly in both the throttle pedal and engine; get a corner exit wrong and you’ll be left trundling off boost like a chump. But get it right, pre-empt the inertia and there isn’t much FWD stuff that compares to a Civic hooked up on its LSD and romping around to 7,000rpm, wheels just on the cusp of spinning. Perhaps a grippier tyre would further help its all-conquering character, though again it’s something to adapt to rather than complain about. No sloppy footwork on the way up either, please, as that throttle delay will mean an ugly flare of revs for those too slow. The FK2 demands a lot, but with ample reward. Plus a ginormous boot, an easy 30mpg, and, with so little time on sale, rarity in its favour. For thousands less, nowadays, than the equivalent Focus RS it betters. Who says five-door hot hatches must be as worthy as a Golf GTI? Some way to establish turbo Type Rs… 

Of course, in retrospect, the FK2 was diminished less by its own issues than what followed it. It says much about the FK8’s talents that, on top of being the class of the wider hot hatch field, it stands proud in this Civic collective. The FK2’s performance is as revelatory as the day gets: its successor merely confirms what we knew coming in: it’s as good as everyone says. Moreover, while its immediate predecessor (for all its charms) provided an easy go-to list of areas to improve, it’s hard to think of ways in which the FK8 might be made better. Any gains achieved by the FL5 are therefore an exciting prospect, because the benchmark is already in the clouds. 

That the newest car is also the most capable is perhaps not the revelation; what’s more notable is that it’s easily the most rewarding to drive as well. Finally sat low with the fuel tank relocated from the FK2, your relationship with Honda’s peerless controls is how it always should have been. A physically much larger car doesn’t necessarily feel it either. The gearshift is the best of an exquisite bunch, improved ever so slightly with the weighted teardrop lever of Minor Model Change (MMC, introduced in 2020) cars, of which this Limited car is one. The same goes for the brakes; pushing into a middle pedal rather than down on one already helps, with feel beyond reproach. A Suzuka lap record doesn’t come without some serious brake performance, either.  

Though just 10hp stronger than the FK2, a lighter flywheel and sharper throttle response ramp up the intensity even with its cloistered behind far superior refinement. Seemingly aware of the turbo’s appetite for revs (and how Type Rs are generally driven), the shift lights shine brighter and the limiter now bap-bap-baps like it ought to. Mere minutes from driving the old VTEC screamers, there’s not much desire to switch back. The FK8 is not just newer and slicker, it is more joined up – and yet not in a way that significantly dials back the involvement being meted out by the rawer FK2. 

If anything, the Limited’s additional focus actually undermines the cohesion of the FK8 just a little. Typically, the stiffer sidewall of an aggressive tyre like the Cup 2 brings welcome bite to the front end and weight to the steering, but truthfully everything seemed in such harmony beforehand that now the Alcantara wheel needs wrestling rather than guiding, even in the tamest Comfort mode. And any improvement in ride from lighter forged wheels must be negligible, too. The changes would probably all pay dividends with the higher loads of track use – but they’re of limited (sorry) benefit on the road. Especially because deleted air con and infotainment means you have to stave off boredom and discomfort when not pushing on. 

Still, with only 19 in the UK (and £60k being asked for them), the drawbacks of the Civic Limited aren’t a significant concern. There are plenty of FK8 examples out there with air-con, CarPlay and plain old Continentals available, and they’ve never been more recommendable. Perhaps the arrival of a new car will dent what have been fearsomely strong residuals but, honestly, who knows what’s going to happen with used cars? To spend less than £30k on a car as good as the FK8 still looks like fine value, as hot hatches really don’t get any better – well, not until another Civic Type R turns up, at any rate. 

The FL5 will need to be supremely able for its precursor to fall into its shadow the way the FK2 did. Marginally superior lap times suggest its improvements are marginal; certainly we’re expecting a much more subtle generational gap than the one that occurred between the FN2 and the turbocharged era. But the thread that runs through all four versions will surely remain intact. The EP3’s star rose as it did because it allied old-school hot hatch giggles with an unburstable powertrain. Two decades later, the allure of high rev fireworks does not require explanation – especially given the aforementioned dearth of rivals among mainstream manufacturers. 

Possibly for that reason, the FN2 proved the surprise of a long day in Wales. Slow it might seem in the context of a rapier-like age, but the wild-eyed motor ensures it retains something like the raw excitement of the EP3, even while the interior upgrade confers some welcome modernity and usability – it even has a USB. If VTEC is life, it must now be considered worth a look, given the relative affordability. Just don’t forget to rev it. A lot. 

The FK2 can be revved, too, but be prepared to go a whole lot faster. Driving the motliest Civic of this lot crew was the perfect reminder that it deserved more. More time on sale, more recognition, more chance to show people that fast and furious Japanese cars needn’t be four-wheel drive, or twin-turbocharged, or £60,000. Imagine if this had arrived with the Focus ST and Astra VXR around 2013 and got almost four years on sale rather than barely 18 months? Then, surely, we’d be talking about a Type R icon rather than a fascinating footnote.  

Instead, it was the car that replaced it that ascended a hot hatch pedestal. This is fitting in the sense that it was the FK8 that smoothed off the FK2’s rougher edges. But it did not prevent the model retaining a distinct personality, improving the steering and sound and look of its forebear as the FN2 did to the EP3. Its standout components are unchanged – a peerless engine, that gearbox – and still serve as Type R touchstones, yet it is the constant evolution of every other aspect that help it stand apart as one of the most complete and desirable performance cars of the last ten years. That is the bar Honda has set itself. It is now up to the FL5 to clear it. 


SPECIFICATION | HONDA CIVIC TYPE R (EP3)

Engine: 1,998cc, four-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],400rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],900rpm
0-62mph: 6.6secs
Top speed: 146mph
Weight: 1,204kg
MPG: 31.7 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 212g/km
Price new: £15,995 

  • Read more about the EP3 here

SPECIFICATION | HONDA CIVIC TYPE R (FN2) 

Engine: 1,998cc, four-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],800rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],600rpm
0-62mph: 6.6 secs
Top speed: 146mph
Weight: 1,301kg
MPG: 31
CO2: 215g/km
Price new: £18,619 

  • Read more about the FN2 here

SPECIFICATION | HONDA CIVIC TYPE R GT (FK2)

Engine: 1,996cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],500-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.7 sec 
Top speed: 167mph
Weight: 1,467kg (Honda figure, with fluids and driver)
MPG: 38.7mpg (Honda internal figure)
CO2: 170g/km (Honda internal figure) 
Price: £32,295 

  • Read more about the FK2 here

SPECIFICATION | HONDA CIVIC TYPE R LIMITED EDITION (FK8) 

Engine: 1,996cc, four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],500-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.7sec
Top speed: 169mph
Weight: 1,358kg (kerbweight)
MPG: 33.6 (WLTP)
CO2: 191g/km
Price: £39,995 (sold out) 

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