We get the first ride-along in the new Honda Civic Type R ahead of the model’s launch in Australia.
“It’s very easy to drive,” says Tiago Monteiro, nonchalantly, as the Type R swivels neatly into a fast chicane. “You don’t have to provoke it to oversteer, the weight balance and the responses are really good. That’s why I think that it’s here, through this chicane, where you can feel the biggest improvement over the last Type R.”
This echoes words from Ko Yamamoto, technical advisor for Honda Motor Europe, who spoke to us about the new Civic Type R at this passenger ride event at Italy’s Tazio Nuvolari circuit: “It’s the improvement in chassis rigidity and the handling performance – and also the updates to the steering and suspension – that are the biggest gain over the previous Type R. It’s more engaging and more confident.”
That’s not to say that there isn’t big news regards the powertrain, too. This new Civic Type R majors on saving weight and adding rigidity, and is also set to be the most powerful Type R ever courtesy of the uprated 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which gets revised turbo geometry, improved cooling and more exhaust back pressure to improve responsiveness.
It certainly seems to have worked, as I watch the digital rev bar climb once again towards its 7000rpm redline, complete with blinking red gearshift lights and a subtly synthesised engine noise (an enhanced audio recording of the car’s own mechanical exhaust note) that rasps around the cabin. Power arrives in a constant, linear swell; almost naturally aspirated in the way it builds, and only starting to trail off as it pushes into the very last throes of its rev range. A brief but smooth stab of the brake pedal, a snick of the stubby metal gearshift (now complete with a shorter, swifter throw), a fun, massively grippy turn-in to another tight right, and the Type R is once again fired into the heat-hazed horizon.
It feels seriously rapid, this thing, but not in the way that the four-wheel drive super hatches – your AMGs at al – do. There’s no detonation of scrabbling tyres and turbo intake, there’s not any sign of the sort of scrappy, endearing fightiness that other punchy front-drivers like the Focus ST often deliver in really heavy corner exits. In the Type R, everything feels delicate and adjustable yet purposeful.
It’s also very clearly in its element on track. From the finger-tippy way it seems to respond to steering inputs, to the tidy, focussed way that the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres – now wider than before – keep the car in line through enthusiastic corner exits, there’s a really exciting and very grown up poise to it.
It does feel stiff, mind. The new Type R has a 35mm longer wheelbase, and while it is ultimately the same platform that underpinned the outrageously good FK8 Honda Civic Type R, suspension geometry is all new, and the whole car is now more rigid and a touch lighter.
Honda hasn’t confirmed the specifics of how much more rigid, nor even what the weight and power output is, but you can feel the new Type R bobbing a little over undulations in the circuit. The really high lateral g-force corners also bring a hint of tyre scrub as the car tries to kangaroo sideways a little, too. Even then it shows every sign of being playful and manageable as the diff does a remarkable job of keeping the front wheels pointing in the right direction and in contact with the track, regardless of kerbs and undulations. Thank the 16 per cent increase in front camber rigidity.
Ultimately, as Monteiro rolls the Type R into the pit lane, my lasting impression is of just how easy it all felt. Not only thanks to the talents of Honda’s WTCR driver, but also because the car felt so composed through all of it. From lift-off oversteer to high-speed straights and fast, high-g bends, it feels unflappable. Playful, but forgiving.
We’re still very light on details, never mind an actual drive in the car, of course. But, on this evidence, the 2023 Civic Type R looks set to remain the adjustable, engaging, purist option in the hot hatch class. That, far more than any news on big power or lap-time records, is exactly what we wanted to hear.