It’s one of the common contentions, the battle between generations old and new. Often the warm glow of nostalgia outweighs the facts, one of which is that 90s performance cars were so much better than their modern peers. While there were many amazing Japanese sports cars, such as 1996 EK9 model Honda Civic Type R, the objective argument would make the fifth generation FK8 version the best ever.
On the surface, the DNA of the Type R treatment is evident. Body-hugging sports red seats, hatchback shape, manual shifter topped by an aluminium knob, impressive front-wheel drive handling, and enough visual flair to demarcate it from its non-sporting variants, all check. When the EK9 CTR was unleashed on the world, it reset the bar on what was possible from front-wheel-drive based powertrain. Spitting out 182bhp at a maddening 8,200 rpm from a hand-built 1.6 litre, four-cylinder, it had to be driven like an angry beast to extract the best from it. The basic Civic was taken off the assembly line at birth, sent to be reinforced with extra welding before dropping in the B16B engine. The combination of a sports-tuned chassis and suspension with what was, at the time, one of the highest horsepower per litre naturally aspirated engines ever made thanks to Honda’s innovative Variable Valve Timing & Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) system proved as genius a move as its predecessors the NSX and Integra. In the end the EK9 has subjectively been held as one of the high watermarks for the hot-hatchback segment.
However, the FK8 is no slacker millennial stuck in its own technology, too busy to notice the real world around it. No, the FK8 looked at what its ancestors achieved, and blew them out of the water setting the record for the fastest front-wheel drive car around Germany’s fearsome Nürburgring Nordschleife in 2017. The EK9 has no official German stamp in its passport, not even leaving Japanese shores until the 2nd generation in 2001. The accolades continue to pile up, Top Gear Magazine’s Hot Hatch of the Year and Car of the Year in 2017 and What Car? Hot Hatch of the Year in 2019. Most recently the new CTR set the fastest transcontinental solo time for a front-wheel drive chassis by being driven across the United States. It took the FK8 CTR 40 hours and seven minutes from New York City, New York, to Santa Monica, California. In real terms, the CTR is an overachiever, fast and comfortable.
This is because the FK8 isn’t the pampered child the original was. It’s assembled right alongside the other Civic models due to the fact that Honda designed the Type R version first baking in all the company’s high performance knowledge right from the start. The styling is pure form over function. It controls the air flow around the Civic generating extra grip at high speeds — 66 pounds of downforce at 124 mph to be exact. The FK8’s looks are controversial when compared to the simple front bumper, side skirts, and rear spoiler the first CTR gained, but they’re aerodynamically sound and effective.
If controlling the air around the vehicle wasn’t magical enough, the true trick is when one gets a inside. Whereas the EK9 was stripped out three-door hatchback, the new Civic is well appointed, trimmed in alcantara, carbonfibre and metal accents with soft touch materials at key points. With five doors and a large trunk it can be daily driven as the family car, especially when put in COMFORT mode. The infotainment pumps out great tunes, has GPS navigation given to you by an alluring female English voice, all operated from a clear touchscreen. Automated functions like headlight, and wipers make life even easier.
But you don’t buy a Type R to haul the family, you buy it to haul butt, and that it does in spades. Slip into +R mode and the action amps up to eleven. The steering wheel gains weight and directness, the suspension stiffens, and the throttle allows the real beast to be unleashed — 306bhp from the weapon of an engine that the turbocharged K20C1 is. This is another ode to modernity as from fourth gear in the six-speed manual the FK8 can hit triple digit numbers, while the EK9 doesn’t even have triple digit torque figures to its front wheels. A limited-slip differential and dual axis front suspension aids significantly with traction as it claws its way to 169mph, marking it the fastest CTR ever made.
There is no real generation gap between the first and current Honda Civic Type R, just the progress one expects from the natural passage of time and automotive technology. Irrespective of the higher performance figures the new car provides it contains the raw and engaging driving experience of intoxicating power, the adrenalin rush as the rpms rise, and the razor sharp cornering ability all created the first day the Type R badge was applied to the back of a Civic.