In the UK alone, Honda managed to shift 21,004 examples for the EP3 Civic Type R over five years, and more than 13,000 FN2s in four years. These days, the hot hatch market isn’t quite so big. After three years on sale, just 2794 examples of the FK8 Type R have found their way to owners. Tells quite a bleak story of the shifting priorities of new car buyers, doesn’t it?
This must mean there are thousands of people out there who, had they been in the market for a new car 15 or so years ago instead of now, might have gone for one of these. But for whatever reason - rising fuel prices, the explosion of fixed speed cameras or the worsening state of our roads - in the late 2020s that same kind of customer is generally looking at something else.
That’s a shame, as they’re missing out. Really missing out. Sure, the crossover or whatever other anonymous box they end up with might be practical and cheap to run, but the FK8 is a belter of a hot hatch. And now, it’s even better.
There are no huge changes, with Honda instead opting for a multitude of smaller tweaks. In line with the standard Civic, those nasty fake grille bits in the front bumper have been smoothed off. The underbody aero nearer the front of the car has been fettled, and the grille opening is a little bigger to aid cooling. You’ll find stiffer bushings in the suspension, and increased sampling rates for the sensors used by the adaptive damper system. Last but not least,, you now get two-piece brake discs.
The 316bhp 2.0-litre inline-four turbo under the bonnet hasn’t been altered, but not once did we quibble the unit’s effectiveness before. It’s a proper sledgehammer of an engine, with an explosive mid-range and a surprisingly good top end, willing you to tickle the hard rev limiter even though you don’t really need to. We were initially worried about the augmented engine noise, but it’s fairly subtle and reasonably natural sounding. It’s easy enough to turn it off if you’d prefer.
When it comes to changing gear, the sensation is even better than before, with a shorter-feeling throw. I’m not sold on the reshaped knob, though, and it’s still made from that same material which will freeze your hand in winter and damn near scorch it in summer. The new Alcantara-clad steering wheel, on the other hand, gets a big thumbs up.
The steering is even sweeter than before, with a wonderfully accurate feeling either side of the dead-ahead point. It’s one of the best electrically-assisted setups we’ve tried, and it goes nicely with the oh-so capable front end. It lets you get away with so much - however much you’ve messed up the corner, you need only floor it, and the mechanical limited-slip differential will pull the frontmost 245-section Continentals back into line.
Many powerful front-wheel drive hot hatches can pull off this trick, but I don’t think any can do it as successfully as the Honda. To go with that barnacle-spec front end, a well-timed lift or mid-corner brake can tease the back end into moving ever-so-slightly.
One element that did surprise and one that needs further investigation is the ride. This is something Honda really sorted between the FK2 and FK8 generations - the former was too firm in its default setting, and brutally harsh in +R. Damping improved in both modes when the FK8 arrived, with the more focused but still road-friendly ‘Sport’ sandwiched in between. Now, though, Sport seems to have gotten stiffer.
On rougher sections of road, the rebound stroke gives off an uncomfortable, confidence-sapping pogoing sensation which was rarely felt in the older version. Until we’ve tried one in more familiar territory, we’ll leave a question mark over the ride.
It’s a shame you still can’t adjust the suspension settings independently of the engine modes - in Comfort there’s a lot more compliance in the damping, and still barely a hint of body roll. But set thusly, the engine’s noticeably neutered, and the electronic throttle body takes an age to close.
Overall, though, the facelifted Type R is a weapons-grade hot hatch triumph. There’s precious little room for improvement (aside from the infotainment system perhaps - it’s only marginally better than before), although Honda has had a damn good go by creating the Limited Edition.
We’re yet to drive it on road, although a few laps on a small handling circuit quickly revealed the LE’s brilliance. It’s 47kg lighter than a regular FK8 (thanks largely to the ditching of the air conditioning compressor, although this does make it quite toasty inside), and it wears forged BBS wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s.
It’s this latter element that makes the most tangible difference - the already sky-high traction levels of the FK8 are turned up even further, and that off-centre feeling of the steering becomes a good as the very best EPAS setups out there. Even those of Porsche.
It might just be the best-driving hot hatch ever made - it’s a toss-up between this and the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S. The trouble is, though, as with the ultimate Golf GTI, the ultimate Civic Type R is only being made in limited numbers. Very limited numbers - just 100 are coming to Europe, and even though they cost £39,995 a pop, they’re all spoken for.
I’m not sure this matters all that much. Every one of those LE owners will no doubt be over the moon with their purchase, but anyone who’s missed out still has the option of a regular FK8, which is the best kind of ‘settling’ there is. And in any case, once you’ve worn through those Continental Sport Contact 6s, you can always sling on a set of Cup 2s, then proceed to win all the track days.