Honda has been building racing cars since 1964, eventually bringing bespoke competition machines to practically every sector of motorsport. With a distinctive white and red livery derived from the Japanese flag, the company remains a potent force on the track.
In 1992, a new division was set up within the car company to bring these racing genes to road-going cars, initially with the intention of turning them into track-focused tools. Starting with the (first generation) NSX Type R, Honda went on to make Type R spec versions of the Integra, Accord and Civic, creating a host of cult objects along the way.
Typically, Type R spec meant stripped out and enhanced, with niceties like aircon and cruise control omitted, window glass swapped for lightweight polycarbonate and brakes, engine and drivetrain all uprated for endurance and performance. Over the years, usability and refinement has crept back in and this, the latest Honda Civic Type R, is as at home on the open road as it is carving up racetracks.
The Honda Civic Type R 2023
In many respects, the new Honda Civic Type R is a gleeful anachronism that can’t possibly make any commercial sense in today’s quota-driven car market. ‘New’ is a slight misnomer, for this 2023 car is based on the much-changed 2017 model, with all sorts of important enhancements and improvements.
To the layperson, the big difference is the styling. The humble Civic has been around since 1972; over 27 million of them have been sold. Back in the day, simple, compact and affordable hatchbacks ruled the world. Eleven generations in, it can no longer be called compact, cheap, or even particularly simple.
The new car fixes some of the more outré and awkward aesthetic choices of its predecessor, particularly around the light clusters and the nose-forward stance. It’s not a pretty car, by any means, and in Type R trim you are fated to stand out from the crowd, thanks to a massive rear spoiler and body kit.
This is what the Type R driver desires. Over the generations, the basic car has served as a blank slate for driving enthusiasts, tinkerers, dreamers, and outright show-offs. The Type R is simply Honda deploying its considerable skills in order to max out all available options.
This is a car for a generation reared on modern racing games, with their garages stuffed with esoteric and exotic machinery. It’s a world where you buy upgrades with your winnings in order to win more lucrative races, a cycle of incremental improvements on a journey to performance perfection.
The Honda Civic Type R arrives with all the options ticked. In Europe, you can’t buy a stock Civic that isn’t a hybrid; Type R dispenses with all that superfluous electrification nonsense (see the Honda e) in favour of a turbocharged four-cylinder VTEC engine putting out 329 PS. There’s a six-speed manual gearbox – again, exclusive to this model – along with supportive sports seats and complex dashboard displays that track things like G-forces and lap times.
All of these reinforce the video game analogy, because if truth be told, this car is basically a toy. We were given a chance to drive the Honda Civic Type R at Thruxton, a particularly rapid racetrack in the south of England. Battling against the best of British winter weather, the Type R is visceral, intense and reassuringly stable. The short-throw gearshift is punchy and direct, reminding you that this kind of time-honoured analogue interaction is fading fast from the collective memory.
The Type R’s character has been carefully honed to emphasise the connection between driver, car and track, even if the F1-inspired screen displays are pure Gran Turismo.
Suspension, steering and even exhaust note can all be switched through three settings, Comfort, Sport and ‘+R’, ramping up the feel and power with each step. You can also make your own bespoke selection.
Compared to the exotic track-focused (indeed, track-only) machines built by dedicated sports car manufacturers, the Civic Type R is a bargain. Not only that, this four-door, five-seater is an uncompromised everyday car for when you’re not honing your skills at a circuit.
The truth is that fewer and fewer drivers have the means or desire to follow this particular hobby. Honda only expects to sell a few hundred Type Rs in the UK market each year, down from around 5,000 two decades ago.
As combustion engines start to putter out, the halo effect of this kind of car is slowly but inevitably dimming. All credit to Honda for putting its all into making the new Type R a worthy end to the line.
Honda Civic Type R, from £46,995
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Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.
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