Honda Civic Type R Guide | 25 Years Of Hot Hatches

For 25 years, Honda has been competing at the very top of the hot hatch game. Here’s your complete Honda Civic Type R guide, covering all six generations so far…

It’s a double celebration for Honda’s Civic this year. The standard humble grocery-getter has been around for 50 years now, while its renowned sporty cousin, the Type R, has been with us for 25.

Throughout that time, Honda has stuck to the Civic’s front-engine, front-wheel drive roots, and in doing so, has continually raised the bar for what a front-wheel drive hot hatch can do. Here’s our Honda Civic Type R guide to help you identify the different generations.

Honda Civic Type R Guide

The Honda Civic Type R Guide: EK9

Honda Civic Type R EK9

The mathematicians amongst you will have figured out by now that the Type R’s story begins back in 1997: the year that the EK9 generation Type R made its public debut. In the mid-nineties, Honda was making waves in the performance car scene thanks to its NSX supercar, which was also brandished with the Type R moniker. The hype around the NSX was so large that Honda decided to release a selection of more attainable Type Rs, based on the DC2 Integra, and the unassuming Civic hatchback.

The EK9 Civic Type R was actually only sold officially in Japan’s domestic market, but word of its ability spread on a global scale. A 1.6-litre DOHC VTEC four-cylinder engine, designated ‘B16B’, equipped the EK9 with 182hp at 8200rpm. The peak torque figures were reached similarly high up the rev range, with the 7500rpm point offering 118lb/ft. On paper those numbers might not sound that impressive, but in a vehicle which weighed just 1050kg, that was more than enough grunt. In fact, in ‘horsepower per litre’ terms, the B16B was one of the highest-performing naturally aspirated engines of its era, resulting in a 0-60mph time of 6.7 seconds and top speed of over 140mph.

It wasn’t just the case of slapping a quick engine into a regular old Civic though. A helical limited slip differential was added at the front, while both ends of the car benefitted from double wishbone suspension. The chassis, meanwhile, was a seam-welded monocoque, thus greatly improving rigidity over the standard Civic. So, although it may look relatively nondescript, the EK9 is blessed with the sort of technology to give it driving dynamics that any entry level sports car could be proud of.

The way it handles, and the way it goes, is augmented further by the design of the cabin. Bright red Recaro bucket seats not only get the pulse racing, but they also hug you tightly in place when the roads get twisty. And as for the gearbox, the short titanium stick is simply delightful to use when shifting through the five-speed manual transmission.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before Japan’s illustrious tuning industry got its hands on the EK9. One of the most well-regarded examples of this was the upgrade package offered by Spoon Sports. In addition to a carbon fibre bonnet, the EK9 also received a new ECU (honed by Spoon’s own yellow and blue-clad racing team), and much more on top. Spiritually, it felt like the final evolution of all those modified EF9 and EG6 Civics used by the infamous Kanjozoku night runners.

For many people, this original iteration of the Civic Type R is still the ultimate example, so we’ve put together a handy EK9 Type R guide to help you buy a good one if you fancy it.

From Honda’s perspective though, they couldn’t just sit on a recipe as good as this forever more. No, a car as accomplished as the EK9 Type R deserved an international sequel…

Honda Civic Type R EP3

That sequel came in the shape of the EP3. For the Civic Type R’s second iteration, production was increased to fit demand from Europe, and as a result, manufacturing was shifted to Honda’s Swindon plant in the UK. However, unlike some of your favourite indie bands, none of the magic was lost by going mainstream.

The EP3 Type R debuted in 2001; the headline being a brand-new engine, which was a bold move considering how adored the B16B was. In its place though, the 2.0-liter DOHC i-VTEC K20 unit surpassed expectation. In fact, Honda’s line of K-Series engines would go on to reach an even greater level of ‘icon status’ than what the B16B managed. Admittedly, the changeover into the ‘VTEC Zone’ wasn’t quite as explicit as in the old motor, but the K20 was still nonetheless a riot to use. Power output in the EP3 was upped to 197hp for Europe thanks to the new engine, while the Japanese version got as much as 212hp. It was durable too. Check the classifieds today, and you’ll come across a hoard of EP3s with way more than 100,000 miles on the odometer, despite the track days and B-road chases that they would’ve undoubtedly gone through in the past.

Handling-wise, the EP3 picked up where the EK9 left off. In this sense, the Japanese spec EP3’s firmer chassis marked it out as the one to have, but that’s not to say that the European-spec variant was to be sniffed at. Compared to the old EK9, even the European EP3 enjoyed an 80% increase in torsional rigidity, thanks to the use of high-tensile steel in its underpinnings.

Electric power steering was another new trick up the Civic Type R’s sleeve, though, being a fairly primitive iteration of the technology, it won’t be to everyone’s taste nowadays. Nevertheless, struts at the front and double-wishbone suspension at the rear, as well as a minimal 1200kg kerb weight, gave the car a puppy-like playful charm through the corners.

An extra cog meant that you now had six speeds to play with in the close-ratio manual gearbox too. The dash-mounted positioning of the gear lever is something that takes a moment to get used to, but after a short recalibration of your muscle memory, it starts to fall effortlessly into hand.

If there was one area which might have stifled the EP3’s success, it perhaps would’ve been the way it looks. Personally, we’re fans of the EP3’s aesthetics, but we know that the love isn’t universal. That said, any surface-level doubters were soon silenced once they got behind the wheel of it. An instant hit when it was launched, the EP3 enjoyed a fantastic reception amongst both fans and the early noughties motoring press alike, who pretty much unanimously crowned it best in class.

These days, the EP3 is still one of the most financially attainable Civic Type Rs, despite its strong reputation. So, be sure to check out our EP3 buyer’s guide and tuning guide if you’re thinking about entering the market for one. We’ve also featured plenty of modified EP3s over the years, so feel free to check those out too while you’re at it!

The Honda Civic Type R Guide: FN2

Honda Civic Type R FN2

With the bar set so high, it was always going to be difficult for the car that replaced the EP3. That task fell the way of the FN2, which from the offset divided opinion. The chunky, ‘spaceship-like’ proportions didn’t naturally evoke thoughts of sporting agility in the minds of some, and sadly its 1320kg kerb weight didn’t do much to quash their fears – after all, that’s more than 100kg heavier than the EP3.

Nevertheless, the FN2 Type R does still deserve some plaudits. It’s a slightly more cleverly packaged car compared to its non-Type R counterpart, with the fuel tank moved beneath the front seats to improve interior space. The rear suspension was simplified from double wishbones to a torsion beam, but the car still handles better than many would have you believe. Then there’s the engine. The spec of K20 found in the FN2 produces a single extra horsepower over the EP3’s power unit – but hey, every little helps, right?

By most accounts, the peak example of the FN2 platform is the one built by tuning house, Mugen. Just 20 were ever built, and all of them came to the UK. In this guise, the K20 engine was thoroughly revised to bump it up to 237hp, while the brakes, aero and suspension were all bespoke. So too were the 18-inch rims, which weighed in at around a third of the weight of the ones found on a standard FN2 Type R. Plus, as a nod to the car’s extreme intentions, it was fitted with semi-slicks as standard. On a track, the Mugen elevated the FN2 experience to a whole new level, though as a road car, some felt that its ride was simply too harsh.

In reality, if you want the absolute best that this generation of Civic can offer, you have to look overseas.

Over in Japan, the third-gen Civic Type R was very different. Instead of the FN2 hatchback shape, Honda’s domestic market got a Type R based upon the FD2 saloon, which these days is considered far more desirable. Not just because of the aesthetics and the rarity, but because of its underpinnings. Their regular FD2 Type R had an extra 24hp under the hood compared to our standard FN2 Type R: to put that in perspective, that’s just five horsepower less than the bonkers Mugen mentioned above.

The Japanese car had more powerful Brembo brakes too, as well as a host of other alterations which, to be brutally honest, make it a far more appealing prospect than the European version. Oh, and in case you were wondering, it too got the Mugen treatment. Known as the Mugen RR, only 300 were ever built, and every single one was spoken for within ten minutes of the model going on sale. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about it.

Let’s be honest though, most of us in the Western part of the world are unlikely to be able to get our hands on a Mugen RR, or even a regular FD2 Type R. At least, not cheaply, anyway. That is the beauty of the humble FN2 though. Sure, it has a few shortcomings, but it still represents fantastic value in today’s market. Often the cheapest Type Rs around, they’re a great way to get into the world of hot Civics on a tight budget.

So, if you’ve got around £5000-£6000 or less to spend on a hot hatch, check out our FN2 buyer’s guide, and tuning guide. There’s some cool modified FN2s in our back catalogue as well!

Honda Civic Type R FK2

Fast forward to 2015, and the automotive landscape is starting to look very different. With environmental regulations looming over Honda’s shoulders, the inevitable switch to forced induction arrived with the fourth-gen FK2 Civic Type R. Realistically, this was the only way to keep emissions down, but horsepower up.

However, instead of viewing turbocharging as a dilution of the Type R’s purity, Honda’s engineers embraced the tech to make it one of the FK2’s most appealing features. The resulting K20C1 engine developed 306hp – a staggering amount more than the FN2. What’s more, weight only increased marginally, meaning that the FK2 could offer a much more explosive driving experience.

To combat the newfound power, Honda introduced its Dual Axis Strut Suspension, which included a wider track and reinforced rear torsion bar. This, combined with a new limited-slip diff, would help the car to overcome torque-steer. Yet, despite all of these positives, the FK2 tends to be overlooked, and we think we might know the answer as to why.

When lined up against the rest of the Type R bloodline, the FK2 looks a bit like an adolescent dog that hasn’t quite grown into its big pointy ears yet. It’s still recognisably a Civic Type R, just a bit gawkier in some areas. The aggressive splitters and obnoxious rear wing, for example, just don’t seem to match the rest of the bubbly silhouette. Unfortunately, there’s no other way to describe it than the awkward middle ground between the soft, round FN2, and the frivolously aero-adorned FK8 (more on that, next!)

It’s a shame really, because what lies beneath the bodywork is a genuinely brilliant piece of engineering. The introduction of turbocharging opened the doors to a definitive new chapter in the Type R history book. All of a sudden, a Honda Civic was capable of 168mph flat-out, and it had a much more usable powerband along the way to that figure too. Peak power arrived 1000 revs earlier than in the FN2, while maximum torque (which stood at double the amount offered in the old car) was on tap from just 2500rpm compared to 5500rpm. What’s more, an individual oil cooler for the gearbox ensured that the FK2’s transmission could keep up with the extra mechanical demand when used on track.

It perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise then that the FK2 Civic was the basis of many successful racing cars. It won multiple titles in the British Touring Car Championship, and had it not been for a freak testing accident, Tiago Monteiro probably would’ve claimed an FIA World title with his FK2 in 2017.

Overall then, the FK2 Type R maybe doesn’t get the recognition that its underlying engineering deserves. However, nobody seems to have told the used market that, as prices for these cars are still surprisingly strong compared to its predecessors…

The Honda Civic Type R Guide: FK8

Honda Civic Type R FK8

If the FK2 has flown under the radar, the same can most definitely not be said for the fifth-gen Civic Type R. The FK8 took on a much sleeker silhouette, and with it a large array of highly divisive aero parts. Some liked the unashamed aggression of the car’s design, whereas others felt it was far too ‘boy racer’ fresh from the factory.

Whatever you think of the way the FK8 looks, you can’t deny that it’s a fantastic vehicle to drive. Arriving in 2017, the FK8 was adorned with new adaptive dampers to improve its handling, while the K20C1 under its bonnet was boosted to 316hp. That wasn’t quite the case over in the US though; instead, the power figure across the pond remained at 306hp. This was, however, the first time that a Civic Type R would officially be sold in America.

A flat underfloor worked in unison with all those wings and splitters to give the car exceptional downforce, which translated well into grip. Nürburgring lap records soon tumbled at an impressive rate. To this day, it remains the second-fastest front-wheel drive road car to ever lap the Green Hell, with a time of 7 minutes 43.8 seconds. In a wider context, that’s just two seconds slower than a Porsche 997 GT3 that was piloted by World Rally champion Walter Rohrl. Bonkers.

Honda still saw room for improvement though, so in 2020, they fitted a larger radiator and bigger grille to go with it. The brakes also got an upgrade – not only making them able to withstand more hardcore track use, but also giving you some extra feel through the pedal. At the same time, the damping was refreshed to cope even better with sharp cornering, while the gearstick – a key touchpoint for the driver – was given an ergonomic redesign.

Scarce variants of the updated FK8 soon followed, one of which being the imaginatively named Limited Edition. Only 20 came to the UK, all of which boasting an unmissable yellow paint scheme and some significant weight loss. Then, there was the Type R Sport Line. Clearly, Honda hadn’t been deaf to the complaints about the FK8’s ‘immature’ styling, and so the Sport Line was designed to remedy that. The big rear spoiler got ditched for a subtler one, and on the inside the bright red upholstery was swapped out for a calmer shade of grey.

Whichever side of the styling debate you stand on, the FK8 is widely considered the most dynamically adept hot hatch on the market. Or at least, it was. Now though, there’s a new Civic Type R on the block…

(Be sure to check out our FK8 buyer’s guide, tuning guide, as well as our review of it and modified FK8s we’ve featured, too!)

Honda Civic Type R FL5

If any car can knock the FK8 off its throne, it might well be this one. The FL5 Civic Type R is the latest and – hopefully – greatest hot hatch to roll off the Honda production line.

First things first, let’s tackle the biggest gripe that people had about the old car: the exterior design. Well, happily, it’s good news! The FL5 has certainly reined things in a little, and to our eye at least, has become a more attractive car as a result. It’s still a sporty little number thanks to a lower and wider stance than the previous car, but it carries itself in a manner which isn’t going to make its driver feel self-conscious every time they pull up at the lights. Of course, aerodynamic aids like splitters and spoilers remain a key feature, but everything has been dialled down just a smidge. And that’s a good thing.

Tech-wise, the changes made are largely incremental. A more compactly packaged turbo and high-efficiency exhaust should help to improve the car’s power-to-weight ratio, while a new rev-matching system and lighter flywheel aim to further reward spirited drivers. Honda are also promising a better sound out of the back of the Type R’s three central exhaust pipes.

The usual array of ‘driving modes’ return in the FL5 too, however the addition of a new ‘Individual Mode’ should give keen drivers the most customisable set-up options ever seen in a Civic Type R. Each of these different modes allow the driver to adjust the car’s steering, suspension, and various elements of the engine’s performance.

At the moment, details beyond that are still relatively sparse. More info about the Japanese-spec FL5 has been released, but for now, those of us based in Europe and America will have to wait a little longer for a full spec sheet. We’ll be sure to update this article once those announcements get made!

Overall though, it’s fair to say that the FK8’s dynamics needed little in the way of improvement, so we’re pretty confident that whatever Honda have come up with will suffice. The main task for the FL5 was always to offer the tantalising Type R ingredients in a more appealing aesthetic package, and we think it’s achieved exactly that.

Let us know, from our Honda Civic Type R guide, which is your favourite generation of the car?

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