On paper, at least, the gap between the FK2 Honda Civic Type R and the current ‘FK8’ has always looked like a small hop rather than a giant leap.
With the FK2 arriving so late in the ninth-gen Civic’s life, it was always going to be a short-lived car, so Honda developed its ‘K20C1’ 2.0-litre engine in the knowledge that it would be carried over to the FK8 largely unaltered. Sure enough, it’s much the same and makes a mere 10bhp more.
The FK8 may have a fully independent setup, trumping the FK2’s torsion beam/trailing arm rear arrangement, but at the front it’s deja vu central with similar torque steer-combating dual-axis struts and a mechanical limited-slip differential. Downforce increased, but not dramatically, with both cars using a similarly bananas aero packages.
The FK8 is quite clearly the better car - I’ve said before that it’s just a little bit better than the old Type R in pretty much every area, a conclusion I’ve come to after living with each as long-term test cars. But what I’ve never done is drive them back to back, which I’ve now rectified. And in the process, I’ve come away quite shocked.
After lowering yourself into the equally deep bucket seat of the FK2, the familiarity quickly fades away. God, it feels dated in here now, but then I suppose it should do - this is based on a car that first arrived in 2011. There’s no fancy LCD instrument cluster here, with the FK2 instead using a physical rev counter paired with a digital speedometer which is - for some reason - perched much further up the dashboard.
It’s on the move that the differences really start to appear. The engine in the FK8 may be mostly the same, but the software tweaks and the much freer-flowing exhaust have worked wonders - in the FK2, it feels noticeably laggier. It’s a more lethargic iteration of the engine, not helped by the fact it’s only possible to unlock its angriest mode by engaging +R mode. Something you probably won’t want to do.
That brings me neatly on to the chassis - even in the ‘normal’ mode with the adaptive suspension system slackened off, there’s not a whole lot of finesse to the damping. The ride is extremely busy, refusing to settle down however smooth the road. Switch to +R and it gets worse.
Despite the dynamic foibles it remains a great hot hatch. There are plenty of current entries to this stupidly competitive little chunk of the market that could still learn a thing or two from the FK2. It’s raw and visceral in a way that the FK8 isn’t, yet still extremely capable. You can dump your foot on the throttle far earlier in a bend than seems sensible, and the front end will just hook up, dig in, and shoot you out the other side.
Switching back to ‘my’ FK8, I’m treated to a sense of refinement I’ve never quite appreciated before. It’s quieter when you’re just cruising. The ride is a massive improvement. The infotainment, while still a long way off rival systems, is considerably less annoying to use.
But don’t go thinking this is the generation the Type R went soft. Far from it: the FK8 doesn’t have the hard, unrefined edginess of the FK2, but it makes up for it with a superior front end that’ll hang on for some time after the older Type R’s will have given up and pushed on into understeer.
The introduction of a ‘Sport’ mode gives a great halfway house in terms of firmness and response from the engine, but unlike the FK2, the hardcore +R mode is actually useable.
The keener engine, meanwhile, may not feel any more potent, but it does sound better. While the FK2 version of the K20C1 just seems to drone throughout the entire rev range, the FK8 gets all zingy in the final few hundred revs before the 7000rpm, almost reminiscent of old N/A Type R engines. Under full load, there’s also less torque steer.
The only area in which old trumps new here is the pedal placement, as it’s perhaps slightly easier to heel and toe in the FK2. But other than that, the FK8 comes out on top. That’s not unexpected, of course - this was always going to be a victory for the newer car, but the size of the margin is surprising.
The FK2 manages to highlight all the work that went into making the latest Type R better than ever, while still standing up well in a modern context. For a car you can now pick up for as little as £17,000 it’s an incredible piece of kit. Just don’t be fooled into thinking you’re getting pretty much the same car - the Type R game has moved on, and quite considerably. Honda has managed to make something which is even better to drive, while also being better to live with. Sterling work.