We assembled all 6 versions of the Honda Civic Type R at Killarney to decide which one is best. To give you some more context, herewith a summary of each model we managed to source for our very special Type R track test.
Generation 1: The EK9
Golden yellow seemed an appropriate colour for the golden oldie Civic Type R, which must surely be regarded as a modern classic.
The 1st-generation Civic was a small capacity, high-revving marvel. Its 1.6-litre engine produced 136 kW and although rev counters aren’t always accurate, the example we tested topped out close to an indicated 9 000 rpm. Honda lightened the chassis, added extra welds plus a limited-slip differential, and the result was spectacular.
Having driven the EK9 it feels better than the sum of its parts. It’s a very special little car. Compared with the rest of the field it did lack power and felt slightly slow. But once the motor's Variable Valve Timing & Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) system kicks into full performance mode and it screams its way towards the 9000-rpm redline, the EK9's limited pace will be the last thing on your mind.
Watch this video to see how the VTEC system works:
Generation 2: The EP3
The EP3-generation (right) and its FD2 sedan successor are arguably the least attractive iterations of Honda's Civic Type R.
Despite being billed the ugly sister of the Type R troop, the EP3’s exterior styling has aged... surprisingly well. The EP3 may look a pumped-up minivan and its unorthodox, dash-mounted gear lever was widely frowned upon, including by this author, but its performance wowed aficionados. Once you are seated inside the car, the high visibility and involving ergonomics make the EP3 "shopping trolley" feel like a roadgoing touring car.
The version we had on track was the JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) version, which comes with a trick limited slip differential, uprated suspension and more power (158 kW). On track, the EP3 outperforms some of the newer models thanks to its low dry weight (1 200 kg) and that tuned 2.0-litre 16-valve K20 engine.
The EP3 looks so understated that it could justifiably be labelled a "sleeper".
Generation 3: FN2 Euro Spec
The FN2 (right) marked a major design departure from its predecessor's boxy look... its DNA can still be seen in the FK2's front end.
The futuristically-styled FN2 is to Type R what the MK3 Golf is to GTi – the black sheep of the family. Slower than the previous version, and with an inferior suspension setup, the FN2 didn’t generate much fanfare it was launched. It was the first Type R to be made available in South Africa (about a decade ago) and, although not a bad car, in the company of its pedigreed siblings it just didn’t deliver on the hype.
The version we had on track was tuned and fettled to the point where all the inherent issues from the factory were sorted. With its beefed-up suspension, brakes and light engine mods, this version packs the same punch as the Japanese spec, making this FN2 the car we’d all originally hoped for, but ultimately never received.
The translucent strip on the tailgate and triangular exhaust tips are unique to the FN2 (right)... A far cry from the EK9 (middle).
Generation 3: The FD2 (Japanese Spec)
Did you know that the Type R was offered in sedan guise too? Few do.
The FD2 was never offered in South Africa, which means that the example you see here is one of less than a handful in the country privately imported from Japan. It sports a chassis bonded together with a special glue as well as a fully-functional rear diffuser and Honda Japan’s engineers went to great lengths to ensure that the FD2 carried on the Type R name proudly. In spite of understeer at the limit, the Type R FD2 broke numerous records for front-wheel drive cars and was able to compete with much faster turbo cars despite being powered by the same K20 engine found in earlier models. The FD2 was heavily track-biased and the suspension proved to be very harsh on anything other than near-perfect road surfaces.
Even though most offerings in the world of hot hatches had embraced turbocharging by the time the FD2 arrived, it held its own.
Generation 4: The FK2
The FN2 (middle) looked like the future, but its naturally aspirated motor was out of time. Enter the record-breaking FK2 (right).
The turbocharged 2.0-litre 16 valve FK2 marked a major departure from the manic VTEC-equipped performance Hondas of the past, including the revered S2000 sports car. Ever since then, the following questions have been asked: Are the newer-generation Type R models worthy of the badge? Even if the FK2 is maniacally fast on any strip of tarmac, does it have the same essence as its celebrated naturally aspirated brothers?
Thanks to the big leap in power (up to 228 kW in standard trim), torque steer became a very real problem and the ride quality was stiff thanks to its (Nürburgring record-breaking) suspension. The bucket-style front seats were supportive and firm, and many felt the car demanded just too much of a compromise. The perfect track day weapon, yes, but remember to pack a kidney belt for the drive home...
The FK2 was the first Type R to brandish overt aerodynamic addenda (apart from an elaborate rear wing, of course).
Generation 5: The FK8
The current-generation Type R is more practical than its immediate predecessor, but will history remember it with fondness?
With the latest-generation Type R, Honda has made incremental, but nonetheless significant changes. The torque steer is drastically reduced, the pedal placement, interior quality and ergonomics are slightly better, and even the seats are more comfortable. Furthermore, a much better “Drive Mode” has been added to make the new Type R easier to live with. The FK8 Type R (pictured below – at the front of the Civic Type Rs lined up at Killarney) is still astoundingly fast, but now much less compromised. Now, more than ever, the reputation the Type R has been called in question.
And it was with that very question utmost in our minds that we produced the video featured below. Watch the clip to find out if the new Civic Type R lives up to the iconic badge placed upon it, and if the older versions are as good as the Internet says they are...