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Driven: 2023 Honda Civic Type R’s Changes Make a Great Hot Hatch Better

Hotter and better-looking, but is that enough to stay the champ?

The FL5 Civic Type R is finally here.

The hottest Civic ever has a 2.0-liter turbo engine making 315 horsepower, a six-speed manual and FWD.

We've finally gotten behind the wheel, and it's a better hot hatch than the car it replaces.

The Civic Type R is the spiciest Civic you can buy. This sporty package mixes everyday usability with hatchback practicality and outstanding front-wheel-drive performance. The previous generation model was the first Civic Type R to be released in the United States, and its no-longer-forbidden-fruit status made it an instant hit. We praised the Type R for its excellent handling and gutsy turbocharged performance. The new 2023 Civic Type R maintains that formula and gains an all-new look, fresh interior and upgrades that should help it regain its title as the hot-hatchback king of the hill.

The bodywork up front reveals a wider grille and more aggressive intakes than the previous car. The new Type R also features a larger radiator and functional hood vent (not a hood scoop, as in the last Type R). Keen Type R followers might remember reports of the previous-generation car overheating during autocross events and track days. Hopefully Honda's changes have dialed that issue out of the new car.

The 2023 Type R will be built in Japan and not in Surrey, England, where the previous two Type Rs were manufactured. The price for all this goodness is $43,990, including destination. Its main competitors are the Volkswagen Golf R, Hyundai Elantra N and Toyota GR Corolla. With the all-new Type R joining the mix, the battle for hot-hatch supremacy just got even more interesting.

What's under the Type R's hood?

This Civic uses an upgraded version of the turbocharged 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that we saw in the last Type R. It makes 315 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers represent increases of 9 horsepower and 15 lb-ft of torque over the previous Type R, though recent dyno tests have revealed that the FL5 might be underrated. No bad thing if power is the name of your game, but the Type R is about more than raw grunt.

It sends its power to the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual transmission. This year's transmission has a lighter flywheel and revised gate shift pattern and shift lever for cleaner and snappier shifts. It still has a standard helical-style limited-slip differential to help maximize traction out of tight corners. Rev-matching functionality returns as well, helping you feel like a blip-shifting hero. As before, there's no option for an automatic transmission.

The front suspension design is the same dual-axis front strut design from the previous Type R. For the uninitiated, Honda's dual-axis front strut setup is essentially a clever front strut design that does its best to mimic the benefits of a double-wishbone setup while working around the tight packaging constraints of a front-wheel-drive car. Adaptive suspension dampers are standard, as are Type R-specific 19-inch lightweight wheels shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires.

How does the FL5 Civic Type R drive?

I got time on the street and at Sonoma Raceway for my first drive, mostly in wet and cold conditions. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires tried valiantly to maintain grip, but the weather definitely worked against them. Thankfully, the traction and stability control systems worked quickly to bring the car back in line should it need it.

I took another few laps once the track dried out, trying Sport mode for a quicker throttle response, heavier steering and firmer damping, and then +R mode for maximum performance. The improved transmission is a joy with its short throws and smooth progression. The rev matching is also wonderful, but those who want to turn it off can do so in the car's settings. On the first drive event, I didn't experience any of the nasty gear grind on the first-to-second shift that could happen on the old car.

The 315 hp feels perfect for this kind of car, and I didn't notice much turbo lag. There is enough power to satisfy the inner speed demon yet it's all completely usable. There are a few straightaways at Sonoma Raceway where the car can be driven at full throttle without fear. Well, not too much anyway.

The front brakes are 13.8-inch ventilated discs grabbed by four-piston Brembo calipers. The rear features 12-inch ventilated discs and together they ensure that the car slows quickly and confidently. After multiple laps the brakes kept their firmness, although I could definitely smell them when I came in for driver swaps. Torque steer is nonexistent in this front-wheel-drive hatch, and the front limited slip allows drivers to get back on the power early for quicker corner exits.

For those who want maximum grip when throwing their Civic Type R around the turns, Honda offers Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tires as an accessory. Unfortunately it was too cold to run these tires, but we would love to see how our lap times improve with this sticky performance rubber.

When it comes to the competition, the little GR Corolla comes in a bit less expensive and we like the all-wheel-drive system better. That's not to say it's better than the front-wheel-drive setup in the Civic Type R — it's just personal preference. The Type R is more playful than the Volkswagen Golf R, which seems to have lost some of its spirit in the latest generation.

How comfortable is the new Civic Type R?

The Type R keeps the traditional red sport seats, but now they are lighter and more supportive. Wider shoulder bolsters and taller side-thigh supports keep the driver firmly planted. I didn't slide around at all during my track time, the grippy upholstery and bolsters doing their job perfectly. However, the seats aren't so restrictive as to cause discomfort on a long drive. The only thing missing is a heating element. You won't find hot cross buns in the Type R.

A Comfort mode softens the suspension but don't expect a cushy ride. Even in this setting, the Type R still rides firmer than most cars on the market. Granted, we wouldn't expect anything different, but if you don't want to feel every pebble in the road, the Type R is not for you.

Compared to the standard Civic, the Type R's major changes are centered around the seats, new red upholstery and, of course, a teardrop-style aluminum gear lever. There is also a new gauge cluster for the Type R that offers a traditional speedometer view this time around. (The previous model only displayed a speed number.) The instrument cluster is customizable and features info that isn't available on other manually shifted Civics, such as your current gear selection. Behind the rear seats is 24.5 cubic feet of space, which is more than the Toyota GR Corolla's 17.8 cubes or Volkswagen Golf R's 19.9-cubic-foot hatch.

The Type R gets the 9-inch touchscreen that serves as the latest Civic's upgraded infotainment system. We like it overall for its intuitive on-screen menus and quick responses. It has wireless connectivity for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, too. Honda also fits the Type R with the Civic's upgraded 12-speaker Bose sound system. Enhanced for 2023 is Honda's LogR data logger. It can display a variety of performance measurements such as a g-meter and a stopwatch for collecting lap times.

The Civic Type R also gets a few more features in the standard Honda Sensing suite of advanced driver's aids. Adaptive cruise control is here, as is automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and active lane control. The latest Type R also gets rear cross-traffic warning, blind-spot warning and traffic sign recognition.

Edmunds says

The 2023 Civic Type R gets grown-up looks but maintains its playful powertrain. The manual gearbox is a dream and the large hatchback makes it practical to boot.