The Type R badge has always been the hot ticket item from Honda, ever since its introduction in 1992 with the flagship Honda NSX. The US didn’t see its first Type R model until 1998, bestowed upon the Integra coupe under the luxury subsidiary, Acura. It wasn’t until almost 20 years later did the US finally receive the Type R badge on the compact Civic in 2017, which by then was the “CTR” moniker’s fifth iteration and a whopping 10th generation for the base car itself. Needless to say, US fans were hungry by the time the first official Civic Type R arrived.
Now, we Americans are graced with our second generation of Honda Civic Type R, known within the car circles by its internal ‘FL5’ chassis code. In comparison with the first FK8, the FL5 can be summarized as “two steps back, three steps forward”, largely based on its looks. Power and performance still speaks to the core Type R fans and most won’t be disappointed, but price – especially in this economic climate – is definitely a point of discussion.
As such, we had our week with the brand new 2023 Honda Civic Type R in classic Championship White and have a few things to say about it.
We’ll start with the elephant in the room – the exterior design. Ever since its introduction in 2017, the FK8 Honda Civic Type R received highly divisive reviews mainly on its appearance. “Wildly over styled,” “boy racer,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and other adjectives were often heard about the car’s over-the-top aesthetics. The FK8 adopted fins, wings, cuts, angles, fake vents, bulges and triangles galore that overall made it an eye sore. Sure, the elements may have made the car aerodynamic in functionality, but the consensus was that with everything combined on top of the conservative Civic, it was just too much.
So Honda addressed the feedback and came up with the FL5 Civic Type R. The result is, … subtler. At first glance you’d easily mistake it for a modified base Civic – an often popular choice for the budding car enthusiast. As you walk closer the dead giveaways that you’re looking at a Type R are the wider front and rear fenders and the blacked-out rear wing. The fenders are drop dead gorgeous, with just enough sleekness and curvature that really give the car a much-needed aggressive stance, especially if you’re able to view the car from above. The rear wing however is a bit less impressive, looking more like an aftermarket afterthought than something that was styled from factory to match. Honda does offer a carbon fiber wing option for a little over $5,000 USD, but choosing it would only drive the point home even more that it feels out of place. Nevertheless, while more mature consumers may love the subtle route, fanboys and statement-seeking enthusiasts won’t bat an eyelid.
The subtle design now brings the car back in line with the original Civic Type R’s design ethos… and for most that’s probably the right move.
We were also a bit unimpressed with the wheels, with Honda opting to go with 19″ rims – the previous gen came with 20″s. The wheel design is fine, but its diminished size wrapped with skinny-albeit-awesome Michelin Pilot Sport 4S 265/30 tires lack the right proportions. We would’ve loved to see the rim not only larger and wider but with beefier 35 profile tires to fill the fenders a bit more. A slightly lower stance would’ve also been appreciated.
Overall however we understand the subtle design now brings the car back in line with the original Civic Type R’s design ethos – “if you know, you know” – and for most that’s probably the right move, but we just think it feels conservative and incomplete.
Honda decided to spice things up on the inside, and the first thing you’ll notice is the all-red carpet and floor mats. Not burgundy or maroon – all of it is bright red. If that wasn’t enough, drive the Type R at night and you’ll see the dash and doors have ambient red LED stripes, not to mention red footwell lights too. If Honda wanted to cement the idea that “R” stands for red; mission accomplished.
Functionality is key, as there’s a lot to appreciate inside the FL5. The center cup holders are positioned very well, deep within the console to avoid spillage or your elbow bumping into them. Everything is incredibly easy to access and requires no training to understand – brownie points for physical volume and temperature knobs, not to mention climate controls not buried inside a touchscreen. The (smooth) leather steering wheel and Alcantara touch points are really comfortable, and the Type R-exclusive semi-buckets remain one of our favorite seats of any sporty compact car, hands down. All of this is secondary to the fantastic manual shifter and aluminum shift knob, which is molded so perfectly it feels almost liquid in your hand.
Beyond the sporty credentials however, the interior is pretty sparse. There’s a lot of things that forcibly remind you you’re in an econobox. The “L R” side mirror switch is the flimsiest inch of plastic we’ve ever felt. The lights inside the vanity mirrors look as if they belong on a plastic toy; they’re so dim and weak. The side door cup holders are made of plastic and have ridges on the inner edges, making them feel unfinished. The hazard button is rectangular, (un)fitted within a square cutout in the dash – why not recess the button, or at least match the shapes? It’s these things that remind you the car you bought, at the end of the day, is a Civic…
… until you mash your foot down, reminding you that it’s a Type R. Thankfully the CTR is a powerhouse, and a boatload of fun to drive. Two-liter turbocharged engines are a dime a dozen now, but Honda has had decades of experience making fun, small displacement engines that either rev to high hell or provide an amazing balance of power with drivability. The latter is the case for the FL5 – with 315 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, the car feels lively and responsive with little turbo lag. You never hesitate to rev all the way up to 7,000 RPM, especially with the spectrum of LED shift lights nestled inside the gauge cluster telling you when to change gear.
Speaking of the gauge cluster, the design is customizable and depends on your drive mode – Comfort, Sport, or “+R.” The lattermost features an awesome digital, horizontal rev counter ala the S2000. While we found Comfort and Sport fine for the highway and local roads respectively, +R was way too hardcore for daily driving. The steering was overly heavy and the dampening was too harsh as we navigated intersection gutters and parking lot entrances. Thankfully there’s a customizable “Individual” mode that allows for choosing each element from these different modes into one. We mix and matched Sport and Comfort for handling characteristics, but set the engine to +R – the result was the best of everything.
The Civic Type R therefore arrives to owners with an incredibly well-rounded vehicle – one you can easily take to grab groceries or meet up with friends, or drive 100 miles south from the suburbs to San Diego and arrive in one piece. Feeling lively? Take it to the track, set everything to firm, blast around Buttonwillow and drive home like you never left. It’s the enthusiast car for everyone, and you get to bring three friends with you.
“Diehards won’t think twice about putting the money down, because they know what the Type R badge means.”
And while it may be for everyone, not everyone will be able to afford it. Base MSRP stands at $43,295 USD, but consider yourself lucky if you ever see one for even close to that, thanks to private party flippers and ADM (Additional Dealer Markup). Even at $43k USD, the Civic Type R is a hard pill to swallow, but with the potential to reach $50k USD, it’s a choking hazard. Fifty grand could score you much more in terms of luxury and performance – the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe, for example, starts at $47k USD and does 0-60 in 4.6 seconds, half a second faster than the Type R.
But this is a clear case of hype driving the market, as the Civic Type R – and its competitors in the Toyota GR family – are the hottest things on the street right now thanks to scarcity and pedigree. While subtle, we were able to grab the attention of some fans on the road, with a few people who even approached to confirm “is that the new one??” For these examples alone, diehards won’t think twice about putting the money down, because they know what the Type R badge means.
And with the FL5 “course-correcting” itself back into the “iykyk” lane of generations prior to the FK8, we can honestly say the current Civic iteration is what Type R is all about – fast, functional, fairly under the radar and, most importantly, fun. We’re happy to see the Civic Type R is back and better than