8 December 2023

2023 Honda Civic Type R (FL5)

Don't dream it's over...

Front angle right
Front - right
Front angle
Front - left
Rear 2
Interior headrest

Have you ever uttered those words…“You know you’re old when…?” It’s usually followed by some witty punchline to illustrate how you’re as old as the hills. The new Civic Type R has done a fair job of aging me. Why? Because you know you’re old when the Type R badge is now in its 26th year, and you can clearly remember when the first one came out.

The 1997 Civic Type R (EK9) was a future classic the day it was launched. A splendid piece of engineering, the hand ported, high compression 1,600cc DOHC engine was factory rated to redline at 8,200 RPM, although unofficial whispers said that it was easily hitting 9,000rpm without any issues. Zero to 100km was a very respectable 6.6 seconds and future styling cues were evident with the red Recaro racing seats (these have continued to this day and become part of the Type R folklore).

The original EK9 Civic was only made for the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM), but serendipitous market conditions (the demise of New Zealand’s new car manufacturing sector and a favourable NZD/YEN exchanged rate), paved the way for Kiwis to access these cars (along with other legendary JDM classics) via Japanese auction houses.

Type RFast forward 26 years, the trailblazing Type R icon is now in its sixth generation and continues to give us the kind of endorphin rush usually reserved for sports cars triple the price. Honda’s mercurial VTEC power plant, which first appeared in the second-generation EP3 model, continues to surprise and punch far above its weight class.

What is VTEC you ask? It’s Honda’s acronym for ‘Variable Timing and Electronic Lift Control’, which is a clever bit of engineering that allows valve timing to be optimised for both low and high RPM conditions. It originated in a Honda 500cc motorcycle engine that could rev to 11,000 RPM but ran equally efficiently at 1,000 RPM. This provided excellent fuel consumption at low speeds with the ability to aggressively increase output at higher rev ranges. This video explains how VTEC works in more detail.

The latest version Type R (model code FL5) continues with the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ theme. The muscular features, massive rear wing and triple exhaust may give it a track-ready vibe, but this car is surprisingly civilised at 50kph, even when driving on that unholy incarnation called the Auckland motorway. Maximum power output from the K20C1 four-cylinder is delivered at 6,500 RPM, but optimal torque delivery arrives between 2,500rpm to 4,500rpm.


The 235kW, 420Nm front wheel drive is slightly quicker than its predecessor (0-100km is now 5.4 seconds; the previous model was 5.8 seconds) thanks to incremental improvements to turbo, air intake, exhaust and throttle response. Turbo lag is minimal and power delivery is lightning quick. If you mute the stereo and tune your ears to the engine sound, you can even capture a hint of the turbo wastegate singing between gears. Chassis torsion is rigid enough to soak up all the torque and the limited slip differential helps deliver power, mid cornering.

The Type R gearbox options are: manual or manual. No automatics to see here folks, never have been in the history of Type R. However, we can’t exactly take that as gospel anymore given the inevitable shift to electric for future variants.

Interior gearboxBut the Gen 6 has no ordinary manual gearbox. The aluminium teardrop gear knob sits atop a short throw, low friction, six-speed masterpiece with precise upshifts and rev-matching downshifts. Shifting is a joy. It’s as smooth as butter and perfectly matched with a clutch that won’t give you thrombosis of the left leg.

The Civic has three driving modes, Comfort, Sport and +R, plus an individual mode setting that allows you to mix and match from a menu. Each modifies suspension dampening, engine sound, display set-up and rev matching intensity. The +R mode is probably best left for the track as it firms the suspension dampers to spill-your-coffee-level-10. Comfort and Sport mode proved excellent around town, offering compliant weight transfer and disciplined driving dynamics.

The interior is a mix of functional lines with minimal amenities. An individually numbered build plate sits on the passenger side dashboard attached to black honeycomb mesh trim. F1 inspired shift lights sit atop the instrument cluster and a nine-inch infotainment screen is centre mounted for easy access.

ConsoleSome of the tech on offer: wireless Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Honda’s new LogR function, a datalogging app using onboard sensors to monitor a variety of performance and handling parameters. This is mainly used to improve track times on closed-course settings, comparing you to other drivers that have used the same track.

The Type R is a family-sized hatch, but only if your family consists of four people. Due to weight distribution efficiencies, Honda has deleted the rear middle seat in lieu of two cup holders.

Price, you ask? As of December 2023, the base price is $72,000 and Honda’s ‘Price Promise’ means you won’t have to worry about other buyers paying less than you. Available in one of five different colours (at no extra cost), our pick is the head-turning Boost Blue Pearl. Honda tells us there is a three to four month wait for supply, which isn’t too shabby considering the supply chain issues within the wider performance vehicle sector.

Sadly, the FL5 is probably the last hurrah from Honda for pure combustion engine performance cars. While it’s difficult to get any official word on this, fans of the Type R badge are desperately hopeful of at least one final mid-cycle refresh. What we do know is that Honda has committed to exiting gasoline powered engines by a 2040. After this, the choice will be either electric, or fuel cell powered. How this translates to a future Type R model is anyone’s guess. Dare we even dream it’s over?

Verdict: Make no mistake, the FL5 Type R is a bone fide track contender capable of roaring into life at the blip of the throttle. But it’s as fierce as it is pliable. Driving is a sinch in all traffic conditions. Oozing with multi-generational street appeal, I suggest you grab one while you can and watch it morph into a future classic before your eyes!

Details: https://www.honda.co.nz/civic-type-r/

Article and images by Avon Bailey

Avon has spent three long decades doing everything there is to do in the car universe, from the car auction podium to wrenching on a race car team he has seen it all. He brings an open mind and a sharp pencil to give an honest review of anything with four wheels.

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