It’s a year of anniversaries for Honda’s hot cars. It’s 30 since the launch of the first-ever Type R road car, a lighter, sharper version of the NSX. The Integra Type R came next, but it’s also 25 years since the launch of the first Civic Type R, the EK9.
It’s also the 50th anniversary of the mainstream Civic this year. Although we’re now at risk of going completely off topic, New Zealand’s Pukekohe Park Raceway is in its last days as a motor racing venue and will cease hosting cars in April 2023 – exactly 60 years since it opened.
Take all of the above, wrap it up into one tight package and you have Honda NZ’s media day for the new FL5 Civic Type R: a look ahead, a look back (likely our last media drive at Pukekohe) and a lot of high revs.
The new Type R making a 2023 NZ debut is pretty special in itself. We’re one of the first countries outside Japan to see the car and the example you see here is the one and only in the country. For now. But orders are open as of midday today (November 1).
So, the facts: the new FL5 model is the sixth-generation Civic Type R. It’s 35mm longer, 15mm wider and 30mm lower than the previous FK8, still pure internal combustion (no electrification at all) and still six-speed manual.
There’s been some confusion about power output since the new model was announced, so let’s clear that up. The Japanese/European version has 243kW, which is a huge bump from the previous 228kW. But the Kiwi-market model is 235kW/420Nm, in line with the US state of tune (where the Type R engine is built, by the way), in consideration of fuel quality/octane says Honda.
There’s dizzying attention to detail everywhere. The Type R body shape relies less on stick-on bits and more on integrated, bespoke panels – everything forward of the A-pillars is now unique to Type R, for example. The wheels have gone down from 20-inch to 19, but the tyres are 20mm wider: 265/30.
The 2.0-litre engine is carried over but thoroughly finessed, including a new turbocharger, new intake and a new exhaust system with active valves, a first for the Civic Type R.
We can’t give you the final word on what the new model is like as a performance road car (although we will soon, promise). But we can tell you about an awesome day at Pukekohe and a rare opportunity to drive the new car back-to-back with two of its predecessors.
Honda NZ’s Type R story only begins with the FK8 (2017-21): that was the first model it sold from new. But thanks to used imported vehicles, every generation is represented here and the Kiwi company has certainly embraced that quarter-century of Type R culture.
Our track day began with the FK2 (2015-17), a car from Honda NZ’s own Heritage Collection (pictured above, at the back). It was the first Civic Type R with a turbo-2.0-litre engine, so it really does represent the origin story of the car as we know it today.
From there it was onto the FK8 (above right, in blue) and the new FL5. In that order.
We won’t go blow-by-blow and lap-by-lap, but the FK2 deserves a special mention. It’s really where Honda was working out this turbo-Type R thing: the boost requires a bit of management on the circuit and the packaging is a little compromised, because the Civic base platform (specifically, the position of the fuel tank) means you’re sitting relatively high.
But still: what a machine. It’s powerful (228kW), light (1380kg) and still super-sharp on track. It’s also pretty raw, with the soundtrack and chassis feedback giving the FK2 a special type of mania that stands apart from the models that followed.
In fact, what’s remarkable about the Type R over these three generations is how comfort and refinement has improved significantly with each model, yet not at the expense of circuit composure and speed. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The last FK8 update, in late-2021, brought a positively geeky suite of upgrades, including a 90g counterweight in the manual gearlever to improve shift feel/accuracy, two-piece brake rotors that removed 17 per cent of play, a 13 per cent larger grille to improve cooling (and a consequent tweak to the spoilers to balance out the loss in downforce)… the list goes on.
Point is, the last iteration of the FK8 stood as one of the finest FWD hot hatches out there in terms of driver appeal.
Jump out of that into the F15 and it’s clear the new car has not lost any of that mechanical precision, while being more forgiving in its low-speed steering response and chassis behaviour. The promise is of a day-to-day drive that’s more refined than the previous model, yet it’s also a Type R that raises the bar the faster you go. On track, of course; why else have the HRD Sakura Super GT team test that rear spoiler to 270km/h?
The rev-match function now works right down to first gear, there’s an upgraded LogR app for mobile that allows you to enhance/share track experiences and the drive mode function now has an Individual setting, meaning you can mix and match different steering, adaptive suspension and sound profiles.
One thing all three cars had in common: hitting the crimson red R-button transforms the little Civic into a stiffer-than-stiff circuit machine. Arguably too stiff for Pukekohe, which is a notoriously bumpy circuit. But a reminder that despite the Civic Type R’s abilities as a day-to-day driver, Honda remains very serious about its credentials as a track car. It’s still machine made by purists, for purists.
HONDA CIVIC TYPE R
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four
GEARBOX: 6-speed manual, FWD