Like its predecessor, one factor defines the most recent Civic Type R more than any other – its engine.
Unlike its predecessor, initial reception was less positive on its debut. It’s not that the FN2-generation Civic Type R had lost its spark; more that the hot hatchback game as a whole had moved on so much.
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Where the original debuted at a time when the genre was still finding its way after the insurance-friendly, toned-down hot hatches of the 1990s, hot hatchbacks were on an upward sweep in 2007, a sweep that has led them towards the myriad excellent choices we have today.
When we tested the FN2 in March 2007 (evo 102), we pitched it against the five-cylinder Ford Focus ST, Renault’s finally-there Megane R26, the SEAT Leon FR, Astra VXR and Golf GTI Mk5.
To cut a 16-page feature short, it lost. The engine was as fizzy as ever, albeit the odd-one-out in a class now dominated by turbocharged units, and the styling, striking interior and excellent gearshift all scored highly. But ‘peculiar’ steering and oddly inert balance, combined with a lack of mechanical grip, dropped it behind its talented contemporaries.
Fast forward to 2015 and those characteristics still remain. Well, some of them. The original car’s rampant wheelspin was later tempered by a limited-slip differential, which means the front end feels tied-down in a way it never did originally.
Given the best part of a decade, time has been kind to the engine too. Initially, it feels a little slow. It doesn’t lack torque though, a criticism often levelled at highly-strung Honda engines. A 2.0-litre unit in a 1267kg chassis is still more than enough to haul the car along at a decent rate, and the engine spins so smoothly you’re naturally inclined to extend it a little more than you might a less willing four-cylinder.
Throttle response is positively electric. Turbocharged engines have progressed at an unimaginable rate in recent years, but it takes just a few hundred yards in the Civic to make you pine for simpler, naturally-aspirated days.
It just takes a little time to learn how to extract its performance. The first few times you head towards the red line, feeling the VTEC ‘kick’ at 5400rpm, you change up at around 6500, perhaps 7000rpm. It instantly feels quick, and more usable than the 5800rpm change in cam timing of the earlier EP3. There’s a meaty rasp from the exhausts too, correcting a criticism of its thin-sounding predecessor.
It’s then you realise you have another 1000rpm, at least, to play with. You’ve not even activated the series of small change-up LEDs in the upper instrument cluster.