If the Civic Type R was a pop star, it would be Taylor Swift. Or maybe Harry Styles. Talented young people grow up in the public eye, go through changes, have a bit of an experimental/outrageous phase and then settle into a happy bout of maturity and broad appeal. There's a convenient self-reference of things that have been done before being remixed for a modern audience; Swift and Styles play with Sixties music, Type R with a reliable and accessible back catalog inspired by – but not bound by – racing. Although I doubt the Swift will be as specific as Yoshio Nakamura and Shoichi Sano's 1965 Honda RA272 (the V12 race car that ushered in Honda's first F1 win). Suffice it to say, growing up is hard to do. The odd analogy is even more difficult.

But looking at the updated version of the Civic Type R, gleaming in traditional Championship White paint at the Tazio Nuvolari circuit in Italy, you can't help but think that the CTR has finally finished, finding its niche. It's still very clearly a fast Civic, but it looks quieter, more confident. A world far away from the fast but annoying last generation. But more than that in a minute – first, we need a little backstory.

The fastest Civic has always been about producing an attractive four-cylinder front-wheel-drive manual hatchback. Something light practical that delivers for the drivers among us. As such, we've been treated to various proper model designations over the life of the Civic Type R: EK9 ('97 and JDM only), EP3 (box-shaped from '01), FD2 ('07, Japan), FN2 ('07 – the wedgy one) and the 2015 FK2, which has all the box arches and bewings, and then the FK8 and a companion special that basically looks like it was designed by a 12-year-old with a plastic fetish. Now we are in FL5, and things have changed. This is the Civic Type R having lost the need for attention seeking.

Part of it comes from stock material. The new Type R – obviously – takes basic inspiration from the latest generation of Civic (specifically the e:HEV), and that means smoother, less visually frenetic germs to breed a faster variant. Some people immediately described it as boring, though they may be the same people who also praised the previous Type R gen for its dynamic abilities while condemning it for its super aggressive style. But this one seems bigger, more integrative-ish. In metal, that's a very good thing.

The white paint highlights the Type R's special bits very well. There's a large grille to cool the 2.0-liter turbo, whose exact numbers haven't been homogenized, a hood duct to draw air from the front edge of the aluminum hood. The wider arches are rounded and non-stick, and the smooth side skirts have wings that ensure air around the rear wheels and provide some stability. There's a slightly protruding rear wing with cast aluminum struts that provides a thinner aerodynamic profile and exposes more of the lower aerofoil for better balance, a new rear Venturi and a mortar-sized exhaust triplet. Honda says the Type R has 100kg more downforce than the standard car, but since the base version may have very little downforce, this is like saying it has more downforce than a bike. But frankly, it sounds more extreme than that – but I think it's the most handsome and elegant Civic Type R since the EK9.

It's bigger, mind. The basic structure may be borrowed from the previous generation, but the wheelbase has grown a bit (35mm), and new manufacturing tweaks – such as bonding the chassis with 'structural adhesive' instead of reinforcing welds – mean that the new R is about 22 percent stiffer than the base car, and 20 percent lighter. Rigid and light means agile and responsive – and there's no electrical assistance here either. These were all IC motors prior to the next generation of the Civic being very battery powered or pure electric. Plus the wheels have dropped an inch to 19 seconds for lightweight, use a 'reverse rim' setting (the lip is on the back of the face to help with loading), the tires are 265 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, and the brakes are beefy Brembo. The car is only front-drive with differences, and there's a six-speed manual with a traditional Type R aluminum gear knob. Always a favourite, that is.

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