Honda’s Type R brand has packed quite a lot into its 25-year life, so much so that it’s hard to believe that the famous red badge is still so young. Indeed, it’s actually only 19 years since the badge first arrived in the UK, adorning the Integra Type R, which is still regarded by many as the finest front-wheel drive car of all time.
As an engineering company, Honda is known for doing things differently. It has carried that reputation through to its Type R models, creating cars with truly defining features, from the benchmark handling of that Integra Type R to the screaming, high-rev VTEC engines that lie at the heart of all Type R models.
The latest recipient of the red badge is the tenth-generation Civic, the subject of this special Autocar supplement. In addition to the behind-the-scenes access we’ve been granted to the team responsible for the latest Type R, we also look back at the 25 years of Type R experience that have gone into the new model, inspiring its development on road and track.
As you’ll discover, it’s some story.
25 years of Type R
The new Civic Type R is following in the exalted tyre tracks of some high-performance benchmarks created over the past 25 years. Dan Prosser rounds up five of Honda’s very best and drives them.
INTEGRA TYPE R (DC2) 1998 The Integra was the first Type R to come to the UK. It’s widely considered to be the best front-wheel-drive performance car yet made.
ACCORD TYPE R (CH1) 1999 The familiar Type R traits were this time applied to a very different sort of car. The Accord’s drivetrain was outstanding.
CIVIC TYPE R (EP3) 2001 Not the first Civic Type R, but the first to be officially imported into the UK. The start of our nation’s Type R love affair.
CIVIC TYPE R (FN2) 2007 The embodiment of a touring car racer for the road. A screaming 2.0-litre VTEC engine remains its centrepiece.
CIVIC TYPE R (FK2) 2015 The first turbocharged Type R and possibly the best high-performance Civic to date. A giant leap forward.
CIVIC TYPE R (FK8) 2017 The latest Type R has more power and a more sophisticated chassis than its predecessor. Expectations are high.
It’s a cool, sunny day in April. Senior Honda engineers and a team of technicians stand in the T13 paddock at the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Together they watch on as the aggressive, bewinged rear end of a new Civic Type R disappears out of sight around Nordkehre corner.
Less than eight minutes later, the Honda’s purposeful front end will appear around the low-speed T13, the last of the Nordschleife’s 154 corners. At least, they hope it will. If the stopwatch runs on any longer before the Civic Type R’s road-scraping front splitter rips through that tight right-hander, the game will be up. The front-wheel-drive production car lap record will belong to somebody else.,
A ‘significant improvement’ on the previous Civic Type R’s Nürburgring lap time was one of Honda’s primary objectives for the model, codenamed FK8. The outgoing FK2-generation Civic posted a time of 7min 50.63secs early in 2014. That was a class record that stood for more than a year.
This Type R is no halfhearted facelift. Instead, it’s almost entirely new. All that was carried over from the previous model was the drivetrain, and even that has been improved significantly. The new unibody platform is 16kg lighter than that of the previous Type R, as well being 45% more rigid, which provides a much better basis for a high-performance car. By relocating the fuel tank, meanwhile, Honda’s engineers have been able to lower the car’s centre of gravity, while the driving position has also been lowered, by some 50mm.
The new chassis is the most advanced yet developed for a Civic Type R. The rear axle now uses multi-link independent suspension, which significantly improves road holding, ride comfort and stability under braking, while the rear track is much wider for added cornering stability. The overall weight distribution of the car is more evenly split between the front and rear axles, too.
The engine has been reworked for the latest Civic Type R with peak power lifted by 10bhp to 316bhp. That makes the new car the most powerful car in the front-wheel-drive hot hatch class. The six-speed manual gearbox has been carried over from the previous car, but the ratios are now shorter for more urgent acceleration and there’s also the rev-match function to smooth downshifts.
The aerodynamics have been completely redesigned. Honda says it’s the most comprehensive aero package ever developed for a Civic Type R. Overall, the new Civic Type R generates more downforce with less drag than before – in fact, its balance between lift and drag is best in class. The improvements aid highspeed stability and keep the tyres pressed into the road surface during cornering. Back in the Nürburgring’s T13 paddock, the stopwatch is ticking on relentlessly.
As it passes through the 7min 30sec point, the engineers and technicians hear first the high-rev machinations of the turbo engine and then the squeal of tyres as the car turns into the tight final bend. Moments later it crosses the finish line, stopping the clock at 7min 43.8secs – a new front-wheel-drive production car lap record. The Civic Type R has lowered the benchmark time by 3.4sec.
The world’s supply of new Civic Type Rs is built to exacting standards right here in the UK, at Honda’s slick and efficient Swindon factory. Here’s how it’s done.
British Touring Car Championship drivers Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden have been team-mates with Honda long enough to know each other inside out. We find out what makes them tick.