If you haven’t driven the FK8 Honda Civic Type R you’re missing out of the best handling front-wheel-drive car on the market, and one of the most memorable high-performance car experiences of all.
Many have tried to knock this unapologetic performance stalwart from its pedestal since it arrived in Australia in 2017, including the Hyundai i30 N, which arguably offers a better all-round package.
But the Type R remains the sharpest hot hatch hero of the moment.
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Despite its presence in the market for nearly four years, its performance is still katana-sharp and needs no enhancement to remain relevant.
Nonetheless, its maker has introduced a light update for the 2021 model year at no extra cash and it’s well worth a look.
Aesthetically, little has changed. A small colour-coded blade-like fin now breaks up the previously expansive front brake-cooling grilles, there’s a similar version in the same spot at the rear, and a new Racing Blue hero colour has been introduced alongside the previous red, black and white.
Less obvious is a porting of the radiator grille which has increased airflow and can reduce the coolant temperature by up to 10 degrees depending on the weather and track conditions, says Honda.
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On the inside, the steering wheel is now Alcantara covered, as is the gear gaiter, while the solid aluminium gear knob has been resculpted from spherical to a more teardrop shape.
Happily, hard buttons and a volume control knob have also been added to the central touchscreen, doing away with the frustrating tap-tap-tap controls.
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But it’s the mechanical changes that warrant a visit to Phillip Island’s iconic Grand Prix track to sample if the light refresh has been worth it.
A warm 28-degree C day was a welcome reception for our visit and in stark contrast to the conditions PI is all too well known for throwing at unsuspecting drivers.
That sent track temperatures soaring though and the boosted cooling efficiency would get a good work out.
As did another of the Civic’s upgrades with a new brake rotor design.
Dimensionally the front discs are unchanged, but instead of single-piece ventilated and cross-drilled rotors, the 2021 car has a two-piece compound version without the holes.
The change saves a significant 2.3kg which mightn’t sound like a lot in overall vehicle mass but the reduction is in critical unsprung mass, which has the potential to significantly improve handling – especially over more inconsistent surfaces.
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No such problem at Phillip Island’s beautiful asphalt. The brake update also accompanies a 15mm reduction in brake pedal travel – another welcome enhancement when it comes to hitting the picks at the end of the circuit’s fast straights.
A little less brake travel has numerous advantages including increasing the pedal feel and progressive nature, as well as maintaining a better pedal level for heel-toe gear changes – remember, the Type R is strictly a six-speed manual proposition only.
Even with the warm blacktop, the Type R’s four-piston caliper and new disc combination was faultless.
There certainly seems to be no reduction in cooling ability with the removal of the cross-drilling although a wet lap or two may highlight reduced surface water clearing performance.
The Civic’s adaptive damper system also falls into the update with a revised management system that allows the suspension to react ten times faster. The effect is a comfort setting that feels more compliant, but a Plus R setting that appears more aggressive.
Hard to believe the Type R’s handling and road-holding could get any more confidence-inspiring, but it has. There's masses of feedback at all corner points, a beautifully weighted steering and seemingly endless grip.
Keep turning in and the Honda keeps delivering rotation and grip. Magic.
Some acoustic modification has also been carried out to the exhaust system but it’s hard to identify.
No great concern as the best part of the unchanged 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder’s noise comes from under the bonnet and its strong mechanical shout like a proper race-tuned inline four.
And its delivery of 228kW/400Nm is still brilliant. Masses of turbo torque paired with an uncharacteristic desire to rev all the way to the 7000 rpm redline. It’s still a pearl of a powerplant.
Icing the Civic cake is access to a new LogR application which allows users to tap into the Civic’s sensors and electronics and closely analyse their driving habits - both good and bad.
The neat application displays an in-car performance monitor with information such as lap times and a G-meter, but also stores driving data.
Disappointingly, my braking technique that I would have sworn was fairly good at the Island had some room for improvement.
But that’s the point of the application, and by the end of the afternoon, my poor habit was a thing of the past … hopefully.
It’s always a little concerning when a manufacturer ‘enhances’ a model that was already close to perfection in the performance stakes but especially so when the model in question happens to be one of your favourite driver’s cars.
In the case of the 2021 Honda Civic Type R however, that nervousness is not warranted.
The only point of contention remains its styling. If you love the look of its outlandishly ostentatious fins, spoilers, vents and nacelles, you will also love the gorgeous new blue, which accentuates it all.
For everyone else, stick to the detail-moderating Crystal Black.
Otherwise, the update has deftly sharpened the brilliant package in a way it honestly didn’t need - but we’re glad it has.
Likes Never gets old, this thing
Dislikes Styling is still a two-edged sword
Model Honda Civic Type R
Engine 1996cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power 228kW @ 6500rpm
Max torque 400Nm @ 2500-4500rpm
Transmission six-speed manual
0-100km/h 5.8sec (tested)
On sale Now