Thursday 29th October 2020
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First drive: Honda Civic Type R 2020MY. Image by Honda UK.

First drive: Honda Civic Type R 2020MY
One of our favourites and one of the best hot hatches, the Civic Type R, has been cleverly updated for 2020. Magnificent.

 



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Honda Civic Type R GT (2020MY)

5 5 5 5 5

Honda manages to edge its Civic Type R 'FK8' ahead of the hot hatch pack with a considered round of midlife updates, designed to oh-so-subtly enhance what was already a brilliant machine in the first place. Oh, and also, there's a product strategy that, as an inverse of the old Spice Girls' song, sees '1 become 3'...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Honda Civic Type R GT 2020MY
Pricing: Civic Type R from £32,820, GT as tested from £34,820
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder VTEC Turbo petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive with helical limited-slip differential, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hot hatch
CO2 emissions: 193g/km (VED Band 191-225: £1,305 first 12 months, then £150 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 33.2mpg
Top speed: 169mph
0-62mph: 5.8 seconds
Power: 320hp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 2,500-4,500rpm
Boot space: 420-1,209 litres

What's this?

If you're old enough, or alternatively you watch the Dave TV channel endlessly and you've caught it on repeat, you might remember an episode of classic sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf that was called Demons & Angels (we've dropped the Spice Girls reference now, we're revealing our age too much as it is). In it, Lister uses a device called a triplicator on the last strawberry in the universe, and ends up accidentally copying the entire ship twice over; one of these ships being all sweetness and light, the other... not so much. Well, something a *bit* like that has happened with the 'FK8', although we realise that by association we're almost calling one of the new Civic Type R family 'maggot-infested' here. Ahem. But we digress.

Anyway, as before, there's your regular CTR, which - if we're to continue the Red Dwarf analogy - is the 'original ship'. This comes in two specifications, the first being standard (from £32,820), complete with adaptive dampers, LED headlights, Honda Connect infotainment with Bluetooth as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a reversing camera, an eight-speaker stereo, 20-inch alloys, auto lights and wipers, climate control, adaptive cruise control, smart entry and start, and a host of advanced driver assist safety systems on top. Add another £2,000 to that and you get the GT, which brings in front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, wireless Qi smartphone charging, folding door mirrors, LED front fogs, and finally Garmin nav for the Honda Connect system. It'll be the big seller, it's the most 'familiar' FK8 CTR of the line-up and so it's the car we're going to focus on for our review.

As an alternative, and representing the 'angelic ship', is the new Civic Type R Sport Line. Those of you up on your Honda product launches will recall that the regular Civic range benefited from a Sport Line model late last year, which takes its styling inspiration from the CTR itself. But, on the basis that some people are put off the idea of owning an FK8 Civic Type R because of the aggressive appearance of the exterior, the CTR Sport Line is a toned-down example of the hot hatch. It changes the GT's 20-inch wheels on Continental SportContact 6 tyres for a more demure set of 19s wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber, swaps that towering rear wing of the GT for a low-level boot spoiler, switches the red pinstriping around the lower quarters of the car for a discreet grey detail and generally opts for the stealthy look on the outside. Inside, it's the same as a GT in terms of equipment and general layout, the main change being a set of black Sports seats instead of the mainly red affairs you'll find in the lairier Civic Type R. There's also more sound-suppressing materials packed into the hidden nooks and crannies around the cabin. The Sport Line, identically priced to the GT at £34,820, wasn't available on the event where we drove the updated CTR GT, sadly, but it should be arriving later this year with first deliveries to customers in January 2021. It's an intriguing car that we're very keen to sample: all the dynamic goodness of the CTR, yet with none of the overt showiness.

The final model of the trio is replete with overt showiness, frankly, and good on it. This is the 'bad ship', although we're using the word 'bad' there in the 'naughty' context, rather than suggesting it is 'rubbish'. The car in question is the Civic Type R Limited Edition, claimed to be the 'most extreme' CTR yet (available officially in the UK, that is; the JDM-only FD2 of 2007 was pretty intense, mind). Resplendent in Sunlight Yellow paint with black detailing and badging, this is the (slightly) stripped-out and lightweight special of the three, as it has forged 20-inch BBS wheels with focused Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, no stereo or air-conditioning, and a removal of lots of sound-deadening in key places around the body. Just 100 examples of the CTR LE are coming to Europe and 20 have been allocated for the UK, at £39,995 each. Want one? Tough. As soon as those 20 examples went on sale, the Limited Edition was sold out within the hour. Grief, that makes this thing even more preposterously unattainable and rare than the SEAT Leon Cupra R, and we criticised the Spanish company for its meanness with the UK allocation of that particular car. Honestly, Honda!

Anyway, that sums up the obvious changes for the 2020MY Civic Type R range, and just before we move on to the finer details, a word on weights. The GT comes in at 1,405kg, the LE is 47 kilos lighter than that and the Sport Line is 10kg trimmer than the GT because, despite its additional sound-deadening materials, the smaller wheels manage to more than offset the weight increase. Right, onto the general updates. The interior of all cars has been spruced up with an Alcantara-rimmed steering wheel and a new weighted gearknob that's more teardrop in shape than the previous ball atop the FK8's lever; this more ergonomic form for the manual 'box's lever ties it in with classic hot Hondas like the DC2 Integra Type-R and the S2000 roadster. These changes are two oh-so-simple but oh-so-welcome alterations, because they enliven what is a largely brilliant interior that is only let down by the daft octagonal dials for fuel/temperature in the instrument cluster and somewhat ho-hum infotainment on the Honda Connect screen. At least you can bypass the latter with CarPlay or Android Auto, while the former could be rectified quite easily if only the Civic would adopt the full-digi clusters of its modern stablemates, such as the e city car EV and the Jazz Mk4.

On the outside, if you're a CTR spotter keen to 'bag' a 2020MY car, you might be lucky if the owner chooses the new body colour option, which is the distinctive Racing Blue (the shade seen on the car in the pictures, helpfully); it's exclusive to the GT model, by the way. Otherwise, though, you're looking for tiny detail changes: a larger radiator grille opening, styling blades to either side of the front number plate, redesigned foglight surrounds in the nose and more styling blades at the back, which are incorporated into those large apertures to either side of the bumper. There's a new design of mesh in said apertures, too. What you can't so easily see is that the front brake callipers are now two-piece items instead of one, that the suspension geometry has been changed, that the sensors for the adaptive dampers have sampling rates than are ten times faster than before (20kHz instead of 2kHz), and that the lower front airdam under the chin of the CTR has been positioned vertically to account for downforce that would otherwise be lost on the leading axle as a result of increasing the size of the radiator grille. All of these touches are designed to make the rapid Civic even better to drive than before: the brakes won't deform as much during intense stopping phases and the middle pedal should feel better underfoot, both the ride comfort and the body control ought to be improved by the suspension mods, and the car runs cooler when you're giving it a workout or taking it on track. Question is, has the best C-segment hot hatch just got that tiny bit better?

How does it drive?

Our test of the CTR GT 2020MY on the roads was part of a very Type R-heavy day. These are days we like, lots. So not only did we test the new and improved FK8 GT for an extended run, but we managed to get on track in an 'ascending order of hotness' lineage of Civics, starting with a Mk10 1.0-litre Sport Line, then progressing to the preceding FK2 generation of the CTR, then trying a pre-facelift FK8 before, finally, sampling the Limited Edition itself. There was also the opportunity to look to the Civic Type R's past with drives in Honda UK's heritage EP3 and FN2 cars. Short summation: the LE is a proper animal but its tyres, unsurprisingly, don't like the wet, you forget just how quick and raw the first turbocharged CTR FK2 felt, and the passing of time seems to have been kinder to the somewhat unloved FN2 than it has to the 'classic' EP3. Which is surprising.

However, we mention all this because it frames the drive of the GT. Which was sensational. Not that the FK8 has ever felt anything less than superb when it comes to chassis dynamics and drivetrain prowess, but the wonderfully anorak-y detail changes to the underpinnings for 2020 have definitely sharpened what searing talents were already there in abundance. The damping is operating at another level again, able to allow the CTR to breathe easily with the worst road surfaces in Comfort mode and yet maintaining an iron grip on movements of the body in +R. The steering feels more immediate and feelsome, with a large part of that enhanced by the tactility of the wheel's sporty Alcantara grip. The six-speed 'box remains a gem but the new teardrop shifter sits more pleasingly in your hand as you snick through the gate. The mighty 2.0-litre VTEC Turbo engine, unchanged at 320hp and 400Nm, continues to provide stonking performance and the helical limited-slip front diff apportions that grunt to the roads in the most effective manner imaginable. And, for all its wild appearance (reminder: those of you who don't like the looks of the FK8 can now opt for the Sport Line, yay!), it's a remarkably civil, docile and refined car when you're not on it. As thrilling as ever, as fast as ever, but with a marginally more well-sorted chassis, you're looking at the hot hatch class leader, right here.

Any issues to report? Well, just one or two, beyond the already-mentioned foibles of the interior. One relates to the infotainment, which is that - in order to switch the CTR's rev-matching function off - you still have to go through five sub-menus on the touchscreen in order to get to it. What's wrong with a simple, physical button somewhere near, or preferably on, the steering wheel, please, Honda? This grates even more when you realise just how good the FK8 is for heel-and-toe downshifts; it's almost impossible to get the process wrong, thanks to the placement of the pedals, the speed and accuracy of the manual transmission, and the supremely judged responses of the brakes and throttle.

The other main bugbear is artificial noise in +R, which puts you off driving in this mode more than the rather-firm damping of the setting. This is down to the Active Sound Control (ACS) ramping up the cloying, buzzy sound effects in the cabin and it doesn't really work that nicely at all. We can see why Honda did this, though, because the FK8 never plays the most appealing tunes - it has one of the more anodyne four-cylinder turbocharged voices, despite those quirky triple exhaust exits supposedly enhancing the acoustics.

Ah well, we suppose Honda couldn't put out the impeccably perfect hot hatch; where would be the fun in that, eh? Nevertheless, this is still the best package going if you're after five-door thrills, this side of 50 grand. It might be more expensive on the face of it than a Ford Focus ST or Renault Sport Megane 300 Trophy, but once you start adding options to those two cars (or, in the case of the Ford, picking the Estate because it's the best example of the breed), then you soon surpass the Honda's asking price. The nearest rival to the CTR remains the stunning Hyundai i30 N Performance, but we'd say the FK8 has just nosed ahead with this round of updates. Mind you, Biermann's mob over at N will soon be revising the hot Hyundai, so watch this space. Anyway, going the other direction, the Civic is going to be a lot more affordable than the replacement for the Audi RS 3, while it is already less money than the Mercedes-AMG A 35, never mind the bonkers A 45 S. You don't, as the old cliché goes, get much more bang for your buck than this, is what we're trying to say.

Verdict

Yep, small changes this 2020MY update may entail, but they move the Honda Civic Type R to an undisputed position at the top of the class. The broader spread of options for buyers interested in this 320hp front-driver is most welcome, even if the LE is not really an option because it has already sold out in the UK, dammit, but the fact is that you can pick the normal Civic, you can go for the angelic one or you can choose to live with the demon, and the outcome will be the same - you'll be in the best hot hatchback that you can currently buy, of any shape, size or price.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 29 Sep 2020









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2020 Honda Civic Type R Revised. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Civic Type R Revised. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Civic Type R Revised. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Civic Type R Revised. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Civic Type R Revised. Image by Honda UK.

2020 Honda Civic Type R Revised. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Civic Type R Revised. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Civic Type R Revised. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Civic Type R Revised. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Civic Type R Revised. Image by Honda UK.








 

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