We already knew that it would have more than 316bhp and be able to top 169mph, but what does Honda's latest hot hatch actually feel like? We've been out in a late prototype to find out...

2023 honda civic type r hot hatch: first impressions

On sale: Early 2023 | Price from: £35,000 (est)

Some names are so powerful that you know immediately what market they relate to. MacBook, for example, means laptops, while any chef will know that Le Creuset is a big brand in cookware. By the same token, any car lover knows that the Honda Civic Type R name demands huge respect in the world of hot hatches. And now there’s a new one.

The most powerful Civic Type R yet, the new model is built on the same underpinnings as the outgoing model, albeit heavily updated to reduce weight and improve agility.

After all, the old car wasn’t a bad place to start; in fact it’s one of the best handling hot hatches ever made. So, unless Honda’s engineers have really messed things up, the new car should provide a tough test for rivals such as the Ford Focus ST, Hyundai i30 N and Volkswagen Golf GTI.

2023 honda civic type r hot hatch: first impressions

Under the bonnet, the latest Type R uses the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the old model, but in a guise that’s been tweaked to deliver more power and performance. For example, there’s a new turbocharger that’s said to respond more quickly.

Full technical details are yet to be released, but the new Type R will improve on the previous car’s 316bhp power output, 5.8sec 0-62mph time and top speed of 169mph. That means it will now have more power than the Volkswagen Golf R.

Unlike the four-wheel drive Golf R, though, which is available only with an automatic gearbox, the new Type R is front-wheel drive and comes with a six-speed manual ’box.

2023 honda civic type r hot hatch: first impressions

The shift action of the gearshift itself has been made slightly shorter for a more engaging feel, and upgraded brakes (with enhanced air cooling to make them more fade-resistant) have been fitted behind new 19in alloy wheels, which are slightly smaller but wider than the previous car’s 20in items.

We’ve had the chance to have a passenger ride in the new model around the Tazio Nuvolari circuit in Italy, and it’s evident that the upgrades have had a significant impact.

The engine is incredibly quick to respond to inputs, and it revs all the way up to 7000rpm sharply yet smoothly. And while you might not like the idea of its sound being piped into the car through speakers, it sounds natural and tuneful.

2023 honda civic type r hot hatch: first impressions

In addition, despite being front-wheel drive, the Type R didn’t scrabble for traction under hard acceleration. The ride felt surprisingly supple over the bumps on the circuit, and when it came to cornering, the back end of the car was happy to slide to improve turn in, but there was sufficient grip needed to carry huge speeds. That grip comes, in part, thanks to improved downforce brought about by a new rear wing, diffuser and side skirts.

In fact, aerodynamics have played a key role in the design of the new Type R, yet overall it looks a lot less aggressive than the previous model, featuring cleaner lines and retaining only those elements that are functional. The bonnet vent, for example, is designed to help improve airflow and cooling for the engine.

Inside, the Type R is fundamentally the same as the regular Civic, so general material quality is good, with plenty of soft-touch plastics in places you touch regularly. However, there are some details to give it a sportier and more premium feel, including an Alcantara steering wheel, crimson red sport seats and carpets, and a smattering of Type R badges.

2023 honda civic type r hot hatch: first impressions

Front head and leg room are plentiful, although rear head room is tight for adults who are more than 6ft tall. Meanwhile, the boot has the same 400-litre capacity as the regular Civic, comparing well with the 378 litres of the Focus ST and the 374 litres of the Golf GTI.

Behind the wheel, the driver sits lower in the Type R than in the regular Civic, while a 9.0 touchscreen and 10.2in digital instrument panel comes as standard. Sitting above the display are a row of physical LED gearshift lights exclusive to the Type R, too. The instrument panel itself is configurable, prividing different layout options depending on the selected drive mode. The +R mode gets a much sportier theme where the rev counter and gear indicator take centre stage.

Speaking of driving modes, there are four to choose from: Comfort, Sport, +R and Individual. The latter setting makes its debut in this new model and enables you to mix and match your favourite elements from the other three, with the responsiveness of the engine and steering, the tautness of the suspension and the volume of the engine all customisable.

2023 honda civic type r hot hatch: first impressions

There’s no word on pricing yet, but we expect the new Civic Type R to start from around £35,000, which would place it in-line with rivals such as the Focus ST and i30 N, which start from £34,960 and £34,095 respectively.

Verdict

Based on our experience riding in the new Honda Civic Type R, it builds on the rapid performance and sharp handling of its predecessor, while being even easier to live with.

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