Hot hatches make sense. Adding a little bit of power and tightening the suspension of a hatchback can make for an affordable, fun, and practical car. What's weird is when the concept gets pushed so far in the direction of performance that it stops being cheap, and in some cases, practical.
Suddenly the point of buying the car isn't that it's a great compromise between day to day life and an enthusiast's desires, it's the love of a particular model. People don't buy a Seat Leon Cupra 280 for any sort of logical reason, they buy it because they love Seat Leons for whatever reason and want the most badass Leon there is. The Honda Civic Type R walks the line between the freakishly expensive and impractical super hot hatches (scalding hatches?) and the run-of-the-mill ones, and that's why people love it.
The story of the Civic Type R (CTR) started in 1997 with the 6th-generation, EK9 chassis. It was August, and the world was treated to a Civic gone bonkers. The '97 Type R featured a 1.6L I4 that made 185 hp, a record for specific displacement from a naturally aspirated engine. In addition to the engine, the '97 was rocking a Momo steering wheel, red Recaro seats, a seam-welded monocoque chassis for rigidity, a helical LSD, better brakes, a titanium shift knob, and a lot of red on the interior. It was a great car, but it hadn't gone completely off the deep end yet.
It went off the deep end when the Type R Motor Sports edition was released. It was one of those wonderful special editions where the buyer pays more for the company to take the A/C, power windows, power steering, and radio back out of the car in the name of lightness. Alternatively, buyers could go in the other direction by getting the Type Rx which came with a CD player, retractable mirrors, automatic A/C, key-less entry, and other luxuries that seemed very impressive at the time.
In 2001 everything changed. The Honda Civic was split into a number of different chassis for different markets, and the EP3 was the British Civic. The EP3 got a Type R variant, powered by a 197hp 2.0L K20A2. It had the same suspension tuning, close-ratio six-speed transmission, and brake upgrades as the old Type R. However, it was missing out on the LSD, Recaro seats, and some other details. Many fan boys were in a rage, but the British motoring press loved the car. It was named car of the year by Top Gear, Fifth Gear, and What Car?
Also manufactured in England was the JDM CTR, which was tuned almost exclusively for track duty and received a suite of engine upgrades that created 17 more horsepower. Unfortunately for the Brits who built the JDM CTR, it was never offered in the UK.
For 2003, 300 CTR buyers got to have their cake and eat it too. The 30th Anniversary edition, celebrating the anniversary of the Civic badge as a whole, not just the CTR, came with red Recaro seats, A/C, a leather Momo steering wheel, and a few other red trim pieces. Much of this equipment would be available in less limited numbers in 2005 as part of the Premier Special Edition.
The EP3 CTR was refreshed in 2004. Steering was reworked, suspension was tightened, new headlamps were installed, and the drivetrain was lightened. This was all done in response to owner critiques regarding understeer, a lack of low-end torque, and mediocre steering feel.
In 2007 the Honda Civic had yet another generational change; the differentiation between the European, Japanese, and American models became even more pronounced. As usual, the Americans were left out of the fun yet again.
The Asian FD2 CTR took the form of a sedan, rather than the traditional three-door hatchback and was at least recognizable to Americans as a Honda Civic. Given the larger size and heavier chassis of the FD2, it definitely needed a more powerful engine, and that's exactly what it got. The 2.0L K20A Honda fitted to the new CTR produced an impressive 222 hp at 8,400 rpms. The drive-by-wire throttle and valve specs were lifted directly from the legendary NSX. Brembo brakes were standard, and the suspension tune was very sportive.
When Mugen started messing around with the CTR, things started to get properly crazy. Some body panels were replaced with carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) to reduce weight, and the engine was pushed up to 240 hp. New 18-inch wheels were designed specifically for the Mugen RR and Recaro SP-X seats were fitted as standard. The result was a 4,777,500 yen ($38,750 USD!) Civic.
In Europe, the Civic was still a hatchback, but the FN2 CTR wasn't garnering the same reactions from the press that its predecessor did. On Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson slammed the car, and EVO compared it poorly to the Ford Focus ST and VW GTI. Some argue that the FN2 isn't even a real Civic, since its chassis is actually shared with the Honda Fit/Jazz. At least it's lighter than the JDM CTR. Powering the FN2 was a 198hp 2.0L that was, more or less, the same as the engine in the EP3, we're betting that jealousy regarding the new engine in Japan fueled a lot of those poor reviews.
Production of the FD2 and FN2 was stopped in 2010 due to emissions regulations.
Now, Honda has just unveiled a new CTR (seen in the lead images), and it certainly looks like it's going to be the most extreme one yet, especially given that CEO Takanobu Ito said the company was hoping to steal the FWD Nurburgring lap record. From the WTCC-inspired aero kit that includes a huge and aggressive wing to the 280hp engine, this is one to watch. Sadly, it's one to watch from afar, as, once again, it's not coming to the USA.