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Engines on test: Honda K20C1 2.0-liter turbocharged I4

Type-R once stood for raw, naturally aspirated performance, but as legislation tightens its relentless grip around that offshoot of engine design, how well does its spirit translate in to the latest generation of hot hatchbacks from the Japanese OEM?

 

In a day and age where hot hatches have more power than a supercar from two decades ago, it does take something special to truly stand out in a ‘revitalised of late’ market. Honda’s Type-R nomenclature is a legend in its own right, but the very things it stood far; natural aspiration and high output, high and free revving engines are being eroded by legislation.

As a result, the previous generation Civic Type-R (FK2) introduced a turbocharged engine to the subrange for the first time, ever. Understandably splitting enthusiasts clean down the middle, the forced induction engine received equally mixed reception within the mainstream consumer press. Previous reviews referred to the engine’s ‘spikey’ nature, in terms of its delivery, and being down on refinement in comparison to its Germanic rivals.

The all-new FK8 Type-R is a case of evolution, rather than revolution. The K20C1 engine remains, but Honda has done substantial work to improve its refinement and overall useability of the unit. Revisions to the car include a new exhaust system, that while outwardly appearing to add to the car’s delightfully obnoxious exterior, has been designed to help with the awkward mid-range ‘boom’ that blighted the previous generation’s cruising ability. At speed, the central pipe of the three creates a negative pressure around the backbox, drawing ambient air in and cutting down on the reverberating sound waves.

The two-liter displacement is still achieved by a 86mm bore and 85.9mm stroke, and the 9.8:1 compression ratio of its predecessor. But the changes to the exhaust and ECU mapping have resulted in a modest power increase to 320hp, up from 306hp in the FK2. The same 400Nm of torque from 2500rpm remains, still sitting at odds with the Type-R’s past, as is the 7000rpm redline – some 1500 to 2000rpm down on the dizzy heights of Honda’s finest efforts.

Out on the road though, and there is a flexibility and useability to the Type-R like never before. Overtakes no longer have to be worked out in advance; no longer having to drop down through the ratios to find that sweet spot, instead the car has power reserves aplenty to ensure that it can swiftly pass multiple cars with very little effort.

The aforementioned exhaust has a party piece, in that under heavy acceleration and full throttle moments, the central pipe changes its airflow direction, expelling gasses like the outer two pipes adding to the overall sound of the car, giving it a purposeful growl through the rev band.

It could be argued that the FK8 is the culmination of a number of lessons learnt from the previous generations; it could also be argued that the FK8 and FK2 generations are almost the opposite of what early Type-R’s were; subtle and understated on the outside, lairy under the bonnet. These days, the aerodynamic appendages dominate any review of the car.

Get past all of these (I happen to be quite the fan of wings) and whilst the drivetrain isn’t subtle or understated all of the time, it is genuinely useable and when required really rather flexible. Die hard enthusiasts may lament the change, but as they are increasingly finding; the automotive world really doesn’t revolve around them and their internet forums. What the FK8 represents is a brand acknowledging its heritage and ensuring that it survives the ever tightening legislation; and that has to be admired, no matter what.

 

10 August 2017

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