It was a day of mixed emotions, Honda launching its sixth-generation FL5 Civic Type R at the soon-to-be-defunct Pukekohe race track.
Sadly, it is closing in March but honestly it has seen better days, the facilities drab and maintenance of the track seemingly beyond its uncaring owners. We soon discovered this when using the +R race mode in the outgoing and new type R, both too stiff for the lumpy high speed corners.
Still, can’t dwell on the downside, for its the 30th anniversary of Type R this year, and the new and rather different FL5 is the result. It will likely be the last of the solely combustion era. The two prior examples, FK2 and FK8, were on hand for comparison purposes, and we got to drive all three of these modern type R offerings, in oldest to newest order.
The FK2 that arrived in 2015 represented the start of the second Type R era, of turbocharging and more balanced circuit/road performance; this variant even featured a Comfort mode. It proved a foil to the AWD heroes of the day, like Golf R, though it was never sold new here. FK2 came with adaptive damping, active cruise, and 228kW and 400Nm under its hood.
It was the outgoing FK8 we climbed into after a rather exhilarating opening stanza in the FK2. The latter was good as a taster, but the lower, longer, wider and torsionally stiffer FK8? Streets ahead. After a lap of Pukekohe it’s not hard to understand why it has proven so popular, almost 50,000 sold globally, even if its transformer-esque design isn’t everyone’s idea of what a performance hot hatch should look like. But crikey, it’s quick and oh so composed.
Compared with FK2, it seems to have more midrange, to the point where you don’t bother chasing engine speeds much above about 6000rpm. The tendency to understeer is reduced too, thanks in part to torque vectoring, the stability in the rougher corners noticeably better, the brakes stronger, the steering sweeter, more neutral. Both cars in the R mode make a real cacophony. The auto blipper in FK8 makes heel and toe downshifts unnecessary, although the pedal positioning is perfect for this. The best drive mode setting for Pukekohe in this is Comfort, which seems bizarre but the adaptive damping in the +R mode is just too stiff for the rougher corners here, throwing the car off line. On Hampton Downs, a different matter perhaps.
Into the FL5 newbie and there’s another lift, though it’s not as marked which you might expect as the newbie is based on FK8 mechanicals. The transmission is silkier, slicker, the brakes even stronger (they’re tweaked, lighter, and have better cooling) while corner grip improves as well (partly thanks to the new wider 265/30ZR19 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber). And the steering is even truer so you can exit corners somewhat quicker with more gas applied.
There’s slightly more power (235kW@6500rpm) and torque (420Nm from 2600-4000rpm) to play with as well, up by 7kW and 20Nm, though kerb weight also increases by around 40kg. The increase in output is subtle but perceptible. Extra herbs come from a smaller, lower inertia turbo, and less restrictive inflow and outlet tracts. There’s an active exhaust valve too.
Like with FK8, the Sport and +R settings are too stiff for the fast and lumpy Pukekohe corners but FL5 has an ace up its sleeve; you can select the Individual drive mode, the myriad settings available meaning you can tailor the car better to the particular track or road surface. Even in Comfort mode it would still whip almost all front drivers on this circuit.
While it’s based on the same mechanical bones as before, the new look is a radical overhaul, from edgy to smooth, the body kit bits of the FK8 now integrated into muscular bumpers, bulging fenders. Extra cooling and better aeros were the overriding concern (lower levels of drag, extra downforce). It sits a touch lower than before too, and has a more muscular look from the rear, in part because of added width to the tracks, hidden behind integrated wheel arch flares. There’s 35mm more wheelbase too, for added stability.
Honda describes the look as simpler, cleaner, more mature and sophisticated. The rear spoiler has been designed to be rigid at the car’s top speed of 270km/h so as not to distract the driver – attention to detail – and it sits on new aluminium extrusions.
Inside, the blood red theme of Type Rs past continues on the new sports seats and carpets, the former with a suede-like finish, as on the wheel, and now there are fully digital instruments. The view is enhanced too with slimmer, wider set A pillars and a lower (aluminium) bonnet line. Smatterings of CF trim are expected. The treasured aluminium shift knob has been redesigned for added comfort. A data logger remains, enhanced, for track work.
Based on the current 11th gen Civic, this has an even stiffer platform than previously, evidently using four times as much adhesive as before for a 15 per cent hike in torsional rigidity. Chassis settings were evidently honed on racetracks of significance around the globe, before a preproduction example set a new FWD lap record at Suzuka. The Nurburgring and the Megane RS Trophy R’s time of 7min 40sec await.
Traffic sign recognition is a handy new feature, part of the Honda Sensing safety specification that includes adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring, autonomous braking and lane keeping. The asking price is $69,000 plus ORCs and clean car fee (TBC). Five colours are available and orders are being taken now, with deliveries starting before Christmas.