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PORT SHEPSTONE, KwaZulu-Natal By far my favourite technical enhancement highlighted at the local launch of the fifth-generation Honda Civic Type R is the news that the car’s fuel tank has been shifted to fit below the rear passenger bench, subsequently allowing the driver’s seat to be mounted 50 mm lower within the cabin compared with the previous model. Certainly, it’s an alteration that also offers improved weight distribution, front to rear, but more importantly for anyone taller than 180 cm, it means we can now actually fit behind the steering wheel without our heads touching the roof-lining. And that's good news, because the newest, fastest version of the legendary Type R to date is definitely a car you want to spend a lot of time in.

Developed alongside the altogether tamer current Civic hatch derivatives with which it shares Honda’s new Global Compact platform, the new Type R is longer and lower than the short-lived FK2 model it replaces, while at the same time it is marginally lighter (16 kg) and 38% stiffer than the previous car. This, together with a stretched wheelbase (up 106 mm) and wider tracks, front and rear, speak to an altogether sharper package.

And if the underpinnings of the new Type R don’t properly convey a newfound sense of sharpness, then surely the go-faster exterior cladding on the fastest (from-the-factory) Civic to date leaves little doubt. Developed with the Nürburgring Nordschleife lap record firmly in mind, there’s certainly no missing the latest red-badged Honda in traffic. From chiselled wheelarches and punctured spoilers and diffusers to the “vortex-generating” horns that adorn the top of the rear window and that purposeful-looking wing, it’s safe to say that new Civic Type R won’t suit everyone’s tastes – but that’s exactly why I like it. Make no mistake, I hope a FK8 Type R never arrives outside my house expecting to collect my daughter, but I do appreciate the fact that Honda still has a department dedicated to creating cars like this that exude such a strong sense of character and anti-establishment brashness.

The same goes for the interior. If you don’t want bright red (though impressively comfortable) full bucket seats, then the Type R simply isn’t for you. Similarly, the red highlights and fake carbon trim scattered throughout the cabin, together with a beautifully crafted aluminium gear knob and matching pedals, won’t please everyone, but they’re nevertheless standard fitment and neatly complement the rest of this race-ready package.

One welcome concession, though, is a third driving mode aimed as offering a somewhat more refined, less jarring, almost comfortable set-up that makes the new car that much more usable in everyday conditions compared with the outgoing model. Here the adaptive dampers offer greater overall compliance, while the (variable) steering weighting, throttle sensitivity and engine mapping align towards delivering an altogether less workmanlike driving experience. Not to be confused for having gone soft, however, it’s up to the driver to select this more forgiving setting once the car is started; the default setup at start-up being the "let’s-get-on-with-it" sport mode.

There’s one more concession that’s been made to models sold outside of Europe and it’s to do with the power output delivered by the (FK2-shared) turbocharged 2,0-litre engine fitted to the new Type R. Where European-based cars enjoy the full benefits of a revised exhaust system that frees up an additional 7 kW compared with the unit fitted to the outgoing Type R, the absence of 98 octane fuel in our market means the car’s full 235 kW potential can not be reached, instead power remains 228 kW as offered by the previous car. It’s not all bad news, however, as the new car still makes the most of its revised throttle mapping, shorter final drive and new single-mass flywheel (and 1 380 kg mass) to feel anything but slow. Honda claims a 0-100 km/h time of 5,8 seconds on the local, detuned version of the new Type R (we recorded a best time of 6,0 seconds in the FK2 Type R).

While the default sport mode firms up the dampers and steering weighting accordingly, it also heightens the sensitivity of the throttle pedal and engages the brilliant workings of a rev-matching downshift system aimed at taking away the “chore” of heal-toe work while attacking a tight set of corners. Dialling in +R mode at the start of my second lap of Dezzi Raceway, it’s immediately obvious that this most hardcore setting was developed specifically with track work in mind. If the sport mode damper setting is just about forgiving enough for everyday use, +R mode firms things to the point where every piece of surface patchwork can be felt through both the steering wheel and the massive seat cushion. That said, on smooth surfaces as offered at Dezzi, this setting harnesses all of the under-the-skin goodness that’s been built into the new Type R.

Here, the new fully independent rear suspension delivers a welcome level of balance and mid-corner poise, while a brilliantly sorted front end (including mechanical limited-slip differential) makes the best use of the revised MacPherson strut arrangement featuring Honda’s “dual-axis” that places the wheel carrier on a dedicated knuckle so as to close the distance between the wheel hub and the turning strut – thus minimising torque steer. In the new Type R, this not only helps with straight line acceleration, but also lets you get the power down that much sooner when exiting a tight corner.

While the still-brilliant previous-generation Civic Type R was offered locally for only two years, its existence delivered the perfect prequel to the more polished, more useable, and ultimately sharper new model. Yes, the styling is divisive and, yes, similar to Subaru Impreza STIs of old, there’s likely to be one buzzing in your rearview mirror even on your morning commute, but in a world that’s increasingly taking itself too seriously cars like the Civic Type R serve to remind us that there’s still a little exuberant, slightly over-the-top fun to be had.

That said, I love the fact that the driver of the altogether more sophisticated Golf R wouldn’t look twice at the new Civic Type R and that an owner of this particular Honda considers the Volkswagen dull by comparison.

Still, there’s very much a place in the motoring world for cars like the Honda Civic Type R. And the newest one not only happens to be the best example yet, but it'd already also be my choice for hot hatch of the year. Your move, Renault...

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