SEVERAL years ago, Honda released the latest in a long line of brilliant Civic Type Rs and it was - by far - the stand-out star amongst its rivals for the entirety of its lifespan.
Although turbocharged - an unthinkable thought for Type R purists a decade or so ago, especially those who adored EK9 and EP3 varieties - Honda managed to retain some of its high-revving magnificence and stayed true to its manual, front-drive set-up.
Looks-wise, the previous FK8 Type R wasn’t for everyone; the triple-exit, central exhaust may have evoked memories of the Ferrari F40 with its design but the numerous wings, bulges and vents would be scoffed at by owners of subtle VW Golf Rs and Audi S3s. Classy it was not and it was the only reason why anyone would swerve it.
Inside, it became even more ostentatious: lashings of red trim, red seats, cheap plastics and and the world’s worst infotainment system. Quality lacked, but a pair of hip-clasping seats did help matters - never has there been such a love-it-or-hate-it car in the looks department.
However, for a shade over £30,000, it was a marvel to drive and its interior drawbacks were forgotten about within a hundred yards and several gear changes - it was the Porsche 911 GT3 of the hot hatch world and will forever be remembered as an all-time great.
A new one’s arrived and - despite much hyperbole in the motoring press - its looks didn’t especially grab me at first. I was very much on the ‘love it’ side with the FK8 - I absolutely think hot hatches should be loud, brash and in your face - but on the other side of the coin I could see why it had its critics. Although it’s quite clearly related to that car, Honda’s toned it down somewhat and although a look-at-me rear wing and triple-exit exhaust have been carried over, stuck-on vents have been axed and it’s a much more appealing car for most tastes.
Inside is arguably where the biggest changes can be found, as it now possesses a never-before-seen level of quality. It’s bright with its traditionally Type R red seats and carpet but the dashboard is now exemplary, the plastics manage to feel expensive and the transformation truly is night-and-day. To say it’s up there with VW and Audi would be a slight fib, but it’s a remarkable improvement.
Prod the starter button and the engine sounds similar because, largely, it is. It’s still a 2.0-litre, it’s still turbocharged and although it produces about 10bhp more than before, the slight changes aren’t particularly noticeable. It’s no bad thing, though - the 324bhp unit is a cracker and likes to rev.
Get settled in the fantastic driver’s seat and you’ll immediately pick up on the nigh-on perfect driving position. Ahead is an equally good new steering wheel, which is wrapped in alcantara, and inches to the left is the party piece of the Type R experience: a manual gearbox.
Put simply, it’s the best manual gearbox this side of a 911. Its action is precision personified, it’s mechanical and a joy to use and you’re left thankful to Honda for persevering with it and never following other manufacturers towards dull, detached semi-autos. The Type R’s manual means you’re an integral part of the process and shifting through its six speeds is genuinely one of the most satisfying experiences in the motoring world - you just cannot put a price on something that good.
Show it a decent road and more of its brilliance is revealed. Firstly, its beautifully weighted steering vies for your attention - which translates to pinpoint handling prowess and never-ending levels of grip - then the perfectly judged brake pedal which has bite exactly where you want it and an other-worldly feel which immediately builds trust and confidence when you grab it by the scruff of its neck.
It’s ridiculously fast, too, with a 171mph top speed and the dash to 60mph being completed in just over five seconds. However, it’s pretty hampered by its front-drive set-up and full throttle in first - even in dry conditions - will result in wheelspin taking over, but second and third never struggle for traction unless you’re asking too much of it in the rain.
There are same three settings as before - Comfort, Sport and +R - which each progressively up the ante and offer very different experiences. Comfort does what it says on the tin but I rarely selected it, while Sport is by far the pick as +R is simply too harsh for the majority of the UK’s roads. On a track, it’d be sensational, but Sport was always my go-to because I’m 32 years of age and +R on a typical countryside road wasn’t kind on my bad back.
There is a drawback, though, and it’s its price. Whereas the previous version was around the £35,000 mark at the end of its run, the new one’s very close to £50,000, and while it’s a much more well-rounded proposition, the hike is tough to justify. A couple of grand is expected in today’s world, but more than £10,000 is a tough one to stomach.
But that’s the only issue with the new Type R, as there aren’t many cars for sale that offer that unbeatable pound-for-pound experience and if you’re after an out-there hot hatch which somehow - even in this day and age - instils the magic of its predecessors while putting its own twist on things, there’s nothing quite like it. Comparing it to a Golf R or S3 is just nonsense as it would run rings around both from a driving point of view because it involves and encourages you to brim it with Shell V Power and go for a blast down a country lane.
It is effectively brimming with simple - yet perfectly executed - aspects which amalgamate to create a sheer masterpiece.