Honda Civic Type R Sport Line review: Subtle changes for outrageous hot hatch

A less in-your-face specification doesn’t detract from the Civic’s raucous nature

Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 3:30 pm

The Honda Civic Type R has never been famous for its subtlety.

Generation after generation of the hot hatch have drawn attention to themselves through a combination of staggering performance and outrageous looks.

The current FK8 generation is no different, it doesn’t so much embrace restraint as put it in a headlock and give it a good kicking. From the huge bonnet scoop and side vents to the whopping rear spoiler it looks like a child’s illustration of a fast car.

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Which is great if you like drawing attention to yourself but not if you’re more of a shrinking violet who happens to long for the Type R’s renowned pace and performance.

Honda clearly thought the same thing and so has developed the Civic Type R Sport Line with that in mind.

This is the softer, subtler Type R with a less ostentatious body kit and improved refinement. But these things are all relative. The standard Type R GT is as subtle as a 10-tonne hammer so the Sport Line’s low-level wing and smaller, grey alloys are certainly less showy. However, it’s still hardly a shrinking violet, even in the metallic grey paint of our test car. The body kit is still outrageous, there’s still a massive scoop in the bonnet and the exhaust note still draws attention at anything more than tickover.

The other part of the Sport Line equation is an increase in sound deadening and a slightly more forgiving ride. The suspension has been retuned to be a little softer and the car rides on 19-inch alloys with taller tyres rather than the standard 20s.

The difference in ride is hard to quantify, even after driving both versions back to back. There’s perhaps a touch more pliancy thanks to those taller tyres but the standard car’s comfort mode is so accomplished now the difference was hard to discern on our relatively short drives. Either way, the Type R is now a ferocious hot hatch with a tamer side that makes it a viable daily driver.

Don’t be fooled though, while it rides as well, if not better than something like a Focus ST, when you provoke it, the Type R is still a 300+bhp beast.

It can feel a little sluggish at low revs as you wait for the turbo to do its thing but give it a moment and things liven up, with a sharp step up when you hit 4,500rpm and the car drags you forward with a horizon-blurring enthusiasm.

Unlike so many hot hatches now, shifting is still handled by a gloriously sharp six-speed manual transmission which features a rev-matching function to make you feel like a hero on every downshift.

Softer ride or not, the Type R’s handling doesn’t seem to have suffered unduly. It’s still razor sharp in its responses and will carve its way along a B road with phenomenal accomplishment, communicating and responding with awesome precision. The steering weight is notably changed by the drive modes, with a lot more meat to it in Sport but a town-driving friendliness in comfort, giving you the best of both worlds.

So, like every other version, the Civic Type R Sport Line is a spectacularly good hot hatch. But like every other version, its interior is still problematic.

It’s certainly not understated or refined. There’s still lots of carbon-effect trim and red highlights to catch your attention among the swathes of black Alcantara and it’s all a bit tacky but perfectly in keeping with the exterior styling.

The Golf GTI and Focus ST have it beaten on class and simplicity and it’s still burdened by a pretty shonky touchscreen and Honda’s hateful infotainment system.

Such things are perhaps minor complaints when the overall package is as engaging and rewarding as the Civic but they do affect the quality of using such a car day-to-day.

Nonetheless, the Type R the same awesome, thrilling hot hatch it was when we tested it last year. The performance is staggering, the looks jaw-dropping (for better or worse). Whether the Sport Line is the model to have is hard to say. The bodykit is less in your face but it’s still not a subtle car, and it’s not clear how much of a difference the suspension tweaks really make in day-to-day use.  But whether you go for a Sport Line or not the Type R remains one of the sharpest cars in its class.

Price: £35,400; Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 316bhp; Torque: 295lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed manual; Top speed: 169mph; 0-62mph: 5.8 seconds; Economy: 34mpg; CO2 emissions: 187g/km