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Spicy hot hatch moves the goalposts even further

The 100-metre marker at Philip Island’s Honda hairpin flicks past before we mash the brake pedal to shed some of the 180km/h the Civic Type R is carrying into this infamous corner.

The hatch writhes on its 20-inch Continental rubber, the auto rev-matching software blips the throttle as we grab third gear and the turbo 2.0-litre engine launches us at Siberia.

By “we”, I mean Honda’s TCR driver for 2021, Tony D’Alberto, and I.

He’s dealing with the wheel and pedals; I’m stress-testing the passenger grab handle and the seat belt’s inertia reel operation.

The side bolsters also cop a workout, simply because the Honda’s cornering grip is phenomenal. A limited-slip diff helps deliver the power but it is the overall balance that sees the Type R hang on with a tenacity very few mainstream hot hatches will match, be they front, rear or all-wheel drive.

That tenacity extends to the brakes and engine. Speeds didn’t drop and braking points didn’t grow despite the cars copping a pounding in 33-degree heat.

D’Alberto had earlier posted a solo lap of one minute and 53 seconds around the 4.44km circuit with a peak speed of 230km/h. He believes he could probably drop another few seconds with more time to familiarise himself with the latest version of Honda’s hi-po hatch.

“My TCR race car is good for about one minute and 36 seconds around here, so it is a huge achievement for a standard car on road tyres,” D’Alberto says.

The Civic earned massive praise and global awards when it launched in 2017 as the best front-wheel-drive performance car going around. Former F1 driver Jenson Button even set an unofficial Bathurst lap record in one with a time of 2 minutes 35.2 seconds.

The 2020 refresh sees a few aero and cosmetic tweaks — the body-coloured wings in the front and rear bumpers are the most obvious external giveaway — along with big updates to the adaptive suspension and brakes.

The software controlling the dampers now responds to inputs 10 times faster, translating into a more responsive ride. The cross-drilled front rotors have been swapped out for two-piece floating discs being pincered by a more fade-resistant pad compound. Apparently it is quieter, too.

Reducing interior noise makes perfect sense because the Type R has enough room inside and in the boot (414 litres) to act as a daily commuter, provided the family can deal with a manual transmission. Set the mode selector to Comfort and the suspension, steering and accelerator all dull down enough to deal with congested roads.

Interior upgrades include an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, along with physical buttons for key infotainment features and the airconditioning. The previous model required owners to flip through a couple of pages on the touchscreen to operate most of those features … and owner “feedback” has seen them return.

The most memorable feature about the updated Type R, though, is its data logging app. For most it will be a novelty but If you plan to do track days the smartphone-based app will be one of your Honda’s favourite features.

It links via USB cable into the car’s sensors to track the force applied to the accelerator and brake pedals, steering wheel angle and G-forces. The GPS feature then enables that data to be displayed as a colour-coded map of whatever track the Type R is tackling. Some quick analysis and tuition from the Evolve Driving crew helped me trim two seconds from my lap time thanks to better application of the brakes.

That’s cause to keep doing track days and enjoying what the Type R does best: embarrassing more expensive sports cars.

VERDICT 4.5/5

Civic duty is taken to the extremes in the Type R, which remains the most practical and pacy front-wheel drive hot hatch I’ve driven.

HONDA CIVIC TYPE-R VITALS

Price: About $61,000 drive-away

Warranty/servicing: 5 years, unl’td km; $1615 over 5 years

Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise, auto emergency braking

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol, 228kW/400nm

Thirst: 8.8 litres/100km

Spare: Repair kit

Boot: 414 litres

0-100km/h: 5.7 seconds

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