The looks may have mellowed but the new FL5 Type R is just as hardcore underneath as its FK2 and FK8 predecessors. Mainly because it’s evolution, not revolution. No bad thing there, given this means a six-speed manual gearbox putting the power to the road through a limited-slip differential and front struts with off-set steering axis knuckles to help minimise torque steer. Others including the previous Focus RS and Megane R.S. have used variations on this theme. The investment in expensive hardware like this is what sets serious cars like the Type R apart from the likes of more mainstream hot hatches like the Golf GTI. Track, tyre width and wheelbase are up from the previous generation, the adaptive dampers have been upgraded along with the suspension components and the brakes’ resilience to extended track pounding improved. The engine is an evolution of the turbocharged 2.0-litre from the FK2 and FK8, now with 329PS (242kW) and with a new, faster-reacting turbo, reduced back pressure and lighter flywheel to hopefully address the between-shift ‘rev hang’ that was the only real complaint previously. All of which sounds great, but was pretty much impossible to evaluate as we aquaplaned from one corner to the next on a rain-soaked Estoril. Good job we hung around and insisted on another go on a (slightly) drier track later.
At just 2.1 turns lock to lock the steering is Ferrari fast but, even with large patches of standing water still present, it’s clear the Type R has plenty of front end to lean on, the back end following with a gentle rotation that’s predictable and easier to exploit than the madly oversteering four-wheel steer Megane. In +R mode modulating wheelspin out of the corner was tricky on wet tarmac, a mellower throttle map in a carefully considered, wet-optimised combination of driver settings in the new Individual mode, making it easier to lean on the natural traction of the diff-enhanced power delivery. The already brilliant gearbox is even better as well, the shifts all a wrist-flick in throw while the response of the engine makes blipping your own shifts far preferable to using the rev-matching system. Credit to Honda for the option to turn it off, too. That rev hang is still an issue on full-bore upshifts, meaning you have to come off the throttle a fraction before dropping the clutch to avoid an embarrassing flare of revs. But it’s much easier to acclimatise to than before. On the road even in Comfort mode (all things relative) the Type R never hides its hardcore aspirations, the low-speed brittleness and constantly raucous engine likely to confirm the worst assumptions of snobbier premium hot hatch owners. That’s fine, and the faithful will be reassured the Type R hasn’t gone soft.