Has there been a more anticipated Japanese performance car? Not for the longest time.

Sports cars from the Land of the Rising Sun were the stuff of dreams for many a teen in the nineties and noughties – who can forget that eternal battle between the Evo and Subaru (you were either red or blue); a sexy two-door scene populated by the Fairlady, Silvia, Integra and rotary RX cars; and deities such as the NSX, Supra and GT-R?

Dreams were played out in Need for Speed and immortalised by Hollywood in The Fast and the Furious. I have my favourites, you have yours, but we were all flying the kyokujitsuki.

UPDATE: The Honda Civic Type R has been launched in Malaysia – launch report here.

Then the world changed. The balance sheets and corresponding ambition of the carmakers dwindled, and from the outside, big governments strangled the segment to near-death, using choking air as a warrant.

The Evo is dead and its maker is now an SUV brand. Its old sparring partner is plodding along, but boxer-AWD is the USP used to push SUVs. Mazda talks Zoom-Zoom, but the only sports car it has is a 158 hp Miata. Nissan will probably be selling the same GT-R and 370Z five years from now.

There have been green shoots – the Toyota 86 and ND MX-5 have won universal praise for being fun driver’s cars – but in a world where governments are talking about banning internal combustion engines in the near future (yes, it’s them Europeans again), unfurling a banner of defiance in the form of a sports car is not politically correct. Developing electric and autonomous cars is.

Like everyone else, Honda is hard at work on those fronts, but it has not forgotten to live for the moment. The new FK8 Civic Type R is all about the now, all about proving a point and trumping others at their own game. The FWD King of the Ring turns plenty of heads with its unapologetically brash styling, but the drive is eye-opening in more ways than one, as we found out on the road and track in Germany.

Unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March this year, the FK8 Civic Type R is based on the tenth-generation Civic Hatchback, the five-door hatch sister to the Civic FC sedan sold in Malaysia.

Like the civilian model, this Type R is a global car meant for all markets. This time, there won’t be a Euro-specific Civic Type R hatchback (EP3, FN2) or a JDM Civic Type R sedan (Malaysia was the only market outside of Japan to get the FD2R officially), and even the US gets a Type R to sit above the Civic Si for the first time ever. It has global origins too – the FK8’s engine is made in Ohio, USA, before the car is put together in Swindon, UK for the world. Meet the past masters in our gallery post.

Honda says that the new Civic range is one of the most comprehensive and ambitious new-model developments it has ever undertaken, requiring an unprecedented commitment of R&D resources and engineering prowess. From a company with a focus on engineering and a track record like Honda’s, that’s no small claim. Good bones then for the FK8, which was planned from the beginning along with the rest of the Civic family.

All-new platform benefits include a body frame that’s 16 kg lighter than the previous-gen FK2 Civic Type R, torsional stiffness improvement of 38% and 45% better static bending rigidity. A stiffer body improves steering response and cornering stability, besides being useful in NVH and safety.

The new platform has its fuel tank under than rear seats instead of the fronts, allowing Honda to lower the driving position hip point by 25 mm. The lower car floor, and revisions to the chassis and suspension combine to lower the CTR’s centre of gravity by 10 mm. A little bit here, a little bit there, it all adds up.

Also up is the hot Civic’s footprint. At 4,560 mm, the FK8 is a substantial 165 mm longer than FK2, and its 2,700 mm wheelbase is 95 mm longer. The width is almost the same as before (+2 mm) but overall height is down by 36 mm. It all combines for better proportions, but the increased distance between the wheels and wider tracks (+65 mm at the rear) help the new Type R achieve higher cornering speeds.

The Civic Type R’s bespoke suspension consists of dual-axis MacPherson struts in front, with revised geometry that incorporates a reduction in centre offset of 19 mm and reduction of initial camber by 1.0 degree compared to the standard Civic’s set-up. Like Ford’s RevoKnuckle and GM’s HiPer Strut, it’s to combat torque steer, which is important when you have so much twist flowing to the front wheels. The unique L-shaped lower arms and knuckles are made of aluminium.

But it’s at the back where the biggest suspension change lies. The torsion beam is no more, replaced by an independent multi-link set-up for better stability and ride comfort, as well as more linear handling. Honda has also improved weight distribution by way of relocating elements – the three percent reduction in weight ratio over the front axle also contributes to the new car’s improved dynamics and stability.

Central to the Civic Type R’s newfound all-purpose character (more on that later) are the revised adaptive dampers. The system incorporates upgraded shock absorbers, which are now of a three-chamber design to provide a wider range of damping. A direct result of this is the new ‘Comfort’ setting in the CTR’s drive modes, which also has the default ‘Sport’ and the most extreme ‘+R’. The modes also affect the dual-pinion variable-ratio electric power steering.

Control is via current sent to electromagnetic coils inside the dampers, using feedback from three G-sensors – one on each side of A-pillar base and one just forward of the rear axle. There are also stroke sensors at each corner for real-time monitoring.

Agile Handling Assist (AHA) operates through the car’s VSA system, applying a light braking force to the inner wheels when the steering wheel is turned. It provides discreet assistance for increased responsiveness and stability, while reducing the inner wheel slip during mid-corner acceleration.

The brakes AHA tickles are Brembos made specifically for the model. It consists of four-piston callipers gripping 350 mm front discs, cooled by ducts from the front bumper intake. The rear 305 mm discs are nine millimetres larger than in the FK2R.

At the heart of the new Civic Type R is a 2.0 litre VTEC Turbo engine. A turbocharged Civic Type R is a novelty to us, but forced induction actually made its debut in the short-lived (2015-2017) FK2, with the engine carried over to the new car with improvements. Here, the single-scroll turbo unit makes 320 PS at 6,500 rpm and 400 Nm of torque from 2,500 to 4,500 rpm. The 10 PS gain is largely from a more free-flowing exhaust system.

Design-wise, VTEC controls exhaust valve lift to reduce turbo lag through increased exhaust pressure at lower rpms while delivering a high output at higher engine speeds. Dual-VTC allows a degree of overlap in valve opening for better efficiency and response, and the wastegate is electric.

The triple-pipe exhaust is one of the most eye-catching external elements on the new CTR, but it’s not just for show. The two outside pipes deliver exhaust flow from the engine, while the smaller centre pipe controls the sonic tone of the engine. It acts as an extra exhaust outlet at full throttle (two decibels louder than FK2), but at mid-loads, negative pressure in the middle pipe sucks in ambient air and reduces boom. This benefits cruising NVH, Honda says.

As you can imagine with a turbo engine with such high output, heat management is vital. Charge air is cooled through a high-capacity air-to-air intercooler, while the cylinder head has a two-piece water jacket to lower exhaust gas and combustion chamber temperatures. Each piston also features a “cooling gallery” at the top end to provide increased oil flow, which significantly increases knock resistance, Honda says. Sodium-filled valves have also been employed to reduce heat.

On the software side, throttle response and driveability have improved via optimised engine control settings. Honda has also incorporated a rev match control system for the six-speed manual gearbox – the car auto-blips on downshifts so you don’t have to heel-and-toe. The latter is a welcome addition for those who prioritise economy of input and efficiency (the car does it better than me, so why not?), but can be switched off.

Speaking of the 6MT, it’s once again the sole gearbox option for the Civic Type R, which automatically filters out the less committed drivers. Enhancements include a new single-mass flywheel that offers better response and reduces clutch inertia weight by 25%, and a water-coooled oil cooler. The seven percent lower final-drive ratio improves acceleration. Of course, there’s a helical limited-slip differential (LSD) to boost cornering traction.

The powertrain pushes the FK8 from zero to 100 km/h in 5.7 seconds, before a top speed of 272 km/h is reached. That’s plenty fast, but the FK8’s claim to fame is that it’s the fastest front-wheel drive car around the Nurburgring with a time of seven minutes 43.8 seconds. That’s nearly seven seconds faster than its predecessor (7:50.63), which once held the FWD King of the Ring title before being usurped by the limited-edition Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S (7:47.19).

The development car that smashed the record was a production spec car with a full floating roll cage for safety reasons. The roll cage did not add rigidity to the body frame, and the extra weight it brought was equalised by the removal of the infotainment system and rear seats.

“The cornering speed is higher because the car features a wider track and tyres, a longer wheelbase, new multi-link suspension in the rear and optimised aerodynamics that improve stability. For example, drivers typically enter the corner after Metzgesfeld at around 150 km/h. Even at this medium-speed corner, the speed is around 10 km/h higher due to the new Type R’s excellent stability,” explained Ryuichi Kijima, the FK8’s lead chassis engineer.

You would think that the barrage of pre-drive information and the reputation that precedes the latest Type R would have given this writer an idea of what to expect, a mental mould for the car to fit into. No.

The Civic Type R is eye-opening in more ways than one. The European drive event’s base camp was in Dresden, and the reconstructed East German city’s cobbled roads provided the first surprise – the CTR rides comfortably.

Now, we love the FD2 Civic Type R for its thrilling engine and lizard grip, but that sedan is also a benchmark in incompatibility with Malaysian roads, which are crumbling under the weight of never-ending construction. You won’t find respite on our highways either, where heads bob and fat jiggles. Owners, spare a thought for the woman in your life and keep the white knight for solo jaunts, if the car hasn’t been banned already. Ditto the FN2 hatchback.

The FK8 fires up in the default Sport mode, and its compliant ride on the uneven stones is truly impressive, given the trend and its 30-series tyres. No choppy high speed ride too, and we didn’t even have to put it in Comfort – Sport can be a true default mode for 90% of the car’s life, I’d think. Klang Valley will pose a tougher challenge, of course, but first impressions indicate that this is a hot hatch you can use everyday.

The second surprise is a close ally of the pliant ride. Once city limits were cleared, we wasted no time in extending the engine. While the Civic’s speed is expected, we didn’t prepare for relatively good rolling refinement and an engine that settles into a distant hum. It sounds moderately angry at full throttle and never overwhelming – the ‘Ring record and exterior styling might suggest “beast”, but the FK8 isn’t a growly and dramatic hot hatch.

Third time lucky for this fool, because we’ve had ample time to prepare for the loss of the sport-tuned, high-revving, naturally-aspirated engine. It’s not the first such funeral this writer is attending, so I know what to expect. Still, the FK8 pushes ahead with the kind of force that seems alien in a Type R, a type of car that has always demanded work. There’s no need to keep the engine boiling, torque is now on tap.

That’s turbo for you, but the Civic comes alive from the mid-range, and the delivery feels more peaky than some hot hatch engines out there. No, it’s far from VTEC kicking in, but you’ll want to rev out this turbo engine. There’s no top-end climax like before, but you should know that it’s impossible to have both that and low end thrust. You’ll need long stretches of road to really work the engine, though, because speed isn’t accumulated here, it’s multiplied.

It’s comforting to know that one Honda signature has remained intact. The company’s manual transmissions are the best in the business, with a shift quality that’s as satisfying as how the Type R’s machined alloy gear knob feels in the palm. The throw is short and precise, and there’s a nice mechanical feel through the gates that you’ll never get tired of, if you’re into sticks. The clutch is easy enough for daily use.

A track is needed to even get close to the CTR’s dynamic potential, and we were given a few laps around the Eurospeedway Lausitzring to give the car a workout.

It feels very sharp and agile for a hot hatch of this size and power, and there’s amazing traction out of corners – cautious at first, I was powering out much earlier by the end of the session. The steering isn’t very chatty, but it’s easy to place and there’s no distraction in the form of torque steer. However, it’s the Civic’s stability under braking that stands out, even if my tester’s anchors were feeling the strain of repeated hard use – we were the last batch of a long press programme.

All the enhancements share the same goal – to remove distractions from the business of driving fast – and are born from Honda’s obsession to reinstall the Civic Type R as the King of the Ring. It’s not the most entertaining of its kind – the outgoing Renault Megane RS Cup is more playful, for one – but the CTR has no time for tricks. The main takeaway from the DTM circuit is the Civic’s depth of ability that makes it foolproof for the amateur and a precise weapon for pro drivers.

The FK8R’s performance, both as a track weapon and a daily driver, is highly impressive. But the fact that it looks the way it does would mean that this is not a car for every enthusiast. Fake rear bumper cutouts aside, the add-ons/mods are functional and contributing factors to Honda’s Nurburgring mission, but the best-in-class aero package also makes the Civic look like a caricature of the hot hatch.

You won’t see the almost flat underside (new under-engine and under-floor covers), but the Civic’s massive multi-piece rear wing will be an unmissable target for street racers. That party piece, now thinner, works in conjunction with vortex generator strakes on the trailing edge of the roof line, which are sandwiched by two raised “horns”. These channel and accelerate air into the large goalpost that is the wing, generating downforce on the rear axle.

Yes, the Civic Type R generates actual positive downforce as opposed to merely combating lift, which Honda claims is unique for a hot hatch. Also helping to suck the car to the ground, so to speak, is the rear diffuser, which houses the extravagant but functional triple pipes.

The aggressive front bumper is shaped to inhibit air turbulence around the front wheels, with new air curtains at the edges (you can see through the holes), a wide carbon-effect front splitter and side skirts that manage airflow and create downforce. There’s also a central duct on the aluminium bonnet (5.3 kg lighter than regular Civic’s steel hood) and vents that run almost the full length of the front wings.

The wheels are huge 20-inch black spider webs with a red outline (the same pinstripe can be found on the lip and skirts), wrapped with 245/30 Continental SportContact 6 tyres developed specially for the model. Honda says that the rubber band-thin tyres have similar performance to the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2, so they’re good stuff. Watch where you park.

Air slats in the bodywork behind the wheels reduce static pressure within the arches and improve lift coefficient by 1%. Overall drag coefficient is down by three percent over the FK2 Civic Type R.

Some will prefer a more subtle and stealthy fast hatchback, something like the Volkswagen Golf R, but I reckon that there will be as many who will salivate over the Civic Type R’s trimmings – form following function it may be, but this Honda’s aesthetics is a boyracer’s dream come true.

As a love or hate affair, which side are you on? I like how muscular it looks from the front three quarters, but will probably never get used to a backside as busy as this.

The cabin is tame in comparison. The dashboard is similar to the Civic FC’s, which means that the two-tier layout of the previous two generations make way for a more conventional arrangement.

The standard Type R red treatment is employed here – the racy hue can be found on the dashboard trim (together with carbon-fibre effect), steering wheel spokes, stitching on the steering and gear gaiter, +R mode meter and the seats. The high centre console is an altar that houses the gear stick, drive mode switch and numbered plaque. Our pre-production testers have “R-00000” stamped on the latter, but each customer car will have its own number.

Instead of black seats with splashes of red, the front chairs, which are 10% lighter than before, are red with some black on them. This is in contrast with the full black rear seats. Special mention goes to the unbranded front items, which are very supportive (as they should be in a track hero) yet cushy and comfortable for long distance driving. Not as extreme as the thin Recaros used by the likes of Renault Sport, these are sports seats that are also good for touring.

Speaking of touring, the five-door Civic has ample room for two adults at the back (three at a pinch, no flat floor) and the 414-litre boot swallowed our week’s worth of luggage with ease. The side-sliding and removable compact tonneau cover is very clever, and it even has the Honda Sensing suite of active safety tech. Tesco with the kids today, trackday with the boys tomorrow!

What do we make of the new Honda Civic Type R? The CTR that we know and love is no more, that’s a fact. The FK8 may bear the same famous red badge, but it’s a different kind of beast. More than just a switch from NA to turbo, this is a change in overall philosophy and ambition for the hot Civic.

Perhaps it isn’t obvious because of the wild looks, but think of the new Civic Type R as Honda’s attempt to outdo the best European hot hatches at their own game. That game really moved on a couple a years back, when the likes of Volkswagen, Ford and Renault pulled away from the FN2 CTR in both horsepower and technical ability.

A fun, zingy hatch won’t do anymore, which is why Honda went back to the drawing board and rebooted the model with the FK2 CTR. That outgoing car set the template with turbo power and serious track ability, and this all-new FK8 Civic Type R is a refinement of that concept, with “unrivalled usability” added to the book of tricks. It’s a royal flush, if you like the looks.

No more proving cars at Tsukuba, but setting records on the world’s most demanding track. Riding well on Europe’s cobbled roads and the Autobahn, because that’s now its habitat. Twenty five years after the debut of the performance badge, the Civic Type R is now truly global in reach and ambition.

Is the new Civic Type R coming to Malaysia? Honda Malaysia won’t say a word, but surely there’s a reason why we’ve been given a chance to drive it. Here’s hoping and stay tuned.