Visually, the FK8 Honda Civic Type R is a lot to take in. We have centre-exiting triple exhaust pipes, a sizeable front splitter, large wheel arch extensions, and yes, that huge rear wing. The car it’s based on, we mustn’t forget, is a pretty full-on thing to look at too, with body creases aplenty and some downright odd design choices. It’s for this reason, then, that dropping the big rear wing for this ‘Sport Line’ version doesn’t suddenly turn the FK8 into an under-the-radar sleeper.
The Type R Sport Line is still as subtle as a brick being tossed through your living room window in this smaller-winged state, but you will at least need to be standing closer to it before realising this. The less aggressive aero at the rear also isn’t the only change – the wheels are now a little smaller.
The 20-inch whoppers from the standard car have been switched for 19s, although they’re still wearing fat 245mm wide tyres. The model of hoop has changed from Continental’s very good Sport Contact 6 to Michelin’s also very good Pilot Sport 4 S. The profile is slightly higher, bumped from 30 to 35.
While you’d need a race track to feel the drop in downforce at the rear, the switch to smaller wheels is something you notice straight away. The FK8 has a remarkably well-behaved ride for a hot hatch on such big rims, but the 19s improve things further. A lot of that low-speed choppiness experienced on the normal version is ironed out, and any lumps and bumps you’re unable to avoid at higher speeds don’t shock the cabin quite so badly.
When you’re less interested in comfort and more interested in tearing your local B-road a new one, the Sport Line is just as impressive as its near-identical twin. Fast, well-weighted steering encourages you to muscle it through corners, and the superbly sticky front end provides the confidence to floor it far earlier in the bend than you’d dream of with some other hot hatches.
The combination of fat tyres and a well set-up mechanical limited-slip means the Type R will almost always hook up and drag the front-end back into line with a healthy dose of throttle. And while it may lack the capability for 8,000rpm hijinks like its naturally-aspirated ancestors, the 2.0-litre inline-four turbo engine under the scooped bonnet makes a pretty decent din in its upper reaches.
That isn’t really the point of this power plant, though – you’re better off shifting earlier and making the most of the beefy mid-range. The ‘EA888’ in a VW Golf GTI Clubsport may be smoother, but it’s nothing like as punchy as the Honda engine. Plus, while the Clubsport is only available with an automatic ‘DSG’ dual-clutch gearbox, the Type R comes with the best manual shift of any modern hot hatch.
The throw is nice and short, and each ratio is engaged with ease and a sense of mechanical connection. To cap it all off, the aluminium gear shifter is a thing of beauty. So much so that we’ll forgive it for getting brutally cold in winter and burning hot in summer.
The chassis, engine and gearbox come together to make one of the most exciting new cars of any kind around right now. It has a funny way of egging you on – even if you’re not in the mood, you’ll soon find yourself shifting down a few ratios and giving it what-for, having a riot in the process.
The normal FK8 foibles remain, of course. Even with the improvement in low-speed ride, it’s far from the most refined hot hatch out there. The Type R is noisier than we’d like at cruising speeds, and although stoutly built, the cabin is lacking some of the premium trimmings we’ve come to expect from a car like this. The infotainment system is pretty naff too, although at least the unit doesn’t have the climate controls unceremoniously foisted onto it as we’ve seen in a lot of VW Group’s latest mid-level performance offerings.
Plus, ditching the rear wing doesn’t help rear visibility, since all Civics have that weird bit of trim running across the middle of the rear windscreen. And I’m not sure the lower-level spoiler is a styling improvement. Given the fussy nature of the standard Civic’s bodywork and the aggressive stuff going on at the front of the Type R, the more subtle rear wing makes the car look somewhat unbalanced.
The looks of a car are a very personal thing, of course. If you prefer the marginally less aggressive looks, the Sport Line is a nice option to have, and the smaller wheels are a neat bonus, even if it’s a shame they can’t be specced on the regular Type R. Whichever version you want to go for, there’s a problem – the factory in Swindon that once made these things has shut its doors.
You might get lucky and find dealer stock of a new one, otherwise, you’ll have to go for a lightly used example. But be warned – values have gone berserk in the wake of the closure, and the short-lived nature of the Sport Line limits the ability to shop around. The solution? You could just wait for the new Type R, which is far less bonkers to look at than even the winged version of the FK8, thanks to the use of the cleaner-styled 11th-gen Civic as a base. And if they do a Sport Line, it’ll be – unlike this one – a proper sleeper.