Wild wings, monster speed, lap records — these are the three things that have already come to define the fifth generation of Honda’s emblematic Civic Type R hot hatchback. This MkV ‘CTR’ is codenamed the FK8 and it recently scorched round the Nürburgring Nordschleife in just 7m 43.8s, setting the latest benchmark for front-wheel-drive performance cars. Lap times at the near-21km German circuit are a crucial marketing tool in the bid to sell fast motors and the Civic’s performance, coming in more than 16 seconds below the previously impervious-to-FWD eight-minute barrier, is truly astonishing.
Still, such lap record trickery didn’t help the previous Civic Type R, launched in 2015 and codenamed FK2. Sales in our region of the world were appalling, despite the fact the be-winged Honda also set a sub-eight minute time when it was new. It might have something to do with the fact that, while other parts of the world got a CTR with 306bhp, we had to make do with ‘just’ 280bhp.
All of which means there’s nothing to say that the FK8 will even make it here. And, on paper, the incremental increases over the old FK2 do not make for great reading. Power from the same turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is up to a peak of 316bhp and torque is unchanged at 400Nm. Putting all this muscle to the road via a six-speed manual transmission and the front wheels only, the performance gains look marginal — the 0-100kph time is unchanged at 5.7 seconds, the top speed increases by a mere 2kph to 272kph all-in.
But on-paper stats can be misleading. This Civic Type R has more advanced multilink rear suspension, the flywheel is now a single-mass item to better allow the engine to gain and lose revs, and all that wild-looking aero addenda on the outside leads to this being the only hot hatchback in the class, says Honda, which provides genuine downforce. And the FK8 is seven seconds a lap quicker than the FK2; seven seconds, in just 21km. That’s a huge advantage.
The reworked, three-stage dampers are also magnificent, as they allow the Civic to be a far more comfortable and refined cruiser in Comfort mode than the old FK2…
So if you’re going to pay any attention to a printed piece of data about the new Civic Type R, it’s that lap time. Because it is the only thing that gives an indication to the vast improvement Honda has enacted on the car as a whole. Barely 50 metres into driving it, you’re gaping at the steering wheel in your hands and marvelling at the quality and wealth of information flooding back to you through its rim. The helical limited-slip differential fitted to the front axle works with said steering to ensure the Honda’s nose will carve into the apex of each and every corner going, without fail.
The reworked, three-stage dampers are also magnificent, as they allow the Civic to be a far more comfortable and refined cruiser in Comfort mode than the old FK2, while managing the arcane black magic of also making the Type R much more exhilarating to drive when approaching and at its dynamic limits than its predecessor. The bigger Brembo brakes are unflappable and that six-speed manual gearbox is an absolute rifle-bolt wonder.
All of which adds up to a performance hatchback that’s one of the greatest going. The Honda doesn’t utilise four-wheel drive like a Volkswagen Golf R, Audi RS 3, Ford Focus RS or Mercedes-AMG A 45, but it nevertheless could drive rings around all of them, bar (possibly) the Focus. We’ve not even mentioned the perfect driving position nor the CTR’s fantastic, if polarising looks, nor the fact that — if Honda is brave and brings the car to this part of the world — it should only cost around Dh150,000.
We hope the company does bring it back, and we hope buyers here wake up to one salient fact about this exceptional Honda: you’re not going to get any finer hot hatchback in the world than this.