First drive: Hot Civic Type-R proves Honda’s heart still beats
Volcanic power but chassis is cool and collected
We have been waiting and waiting and waiting. Honda announced the new Civic Type-R quite some time ago. Part of the much-hyped rebirth of Honda, the hottest Civic (indeed, hottest Honda) ever created for the road is supposed to be a totem pole of performance, a reminder that this is a company with as much racing in its blood as there is sensible family vehicle engineering.
As a car, the new Type-R has quite some job of work ahead of it. Not only does it have to be a suitable standard bearer for Honda’s legendary Type-R badge, it also has to be good enough to take on a recent plethora of super-hot hatches. By upping the Type-R’s power output from the previous model’s 200hp to north of 300hp, Honda has moved the fast Civic away from comparisons with the VW Golf GTI, but straight into the crosshairs of the likes of the Golf R, the Audi A3 and the upcoming Ford Focus RS. A direct flight from frying pan to fire, no transfers necessary.
In order to give it the requisite flame-proof undies, Honda has basically let its engineers loose like a pack of slavering wolves bearing spanners onto the humble Civic hatch. The front suspension has been utterly redesigned in order to handle the copious 310hp and 400Nm of torque. That honking great rear wing, and the deep front air-intake (and indeed the chamfered and vented front wing blisters and the rear diffuser and the flat under-tray…) are actually fully aerodynamically effective, contributing to actual downforce above 130kmh. As Kotaro Yamamoto, from Honda’s R&D department told us, “there is nothing for show, nothing for looks.”
The entire contents of the R&D cupboard have been thrown at the engine too. Its a new 2.0-litre unit, the first to combine Honda’s long-lived VTEC variable valve timing system with a turbocharger. There’s also a proper mechanical limited slip differential, adaptive damping and a +R button that makes the instruments go red, and your trousers go brown.
On the track, though, the Civic Type-R is surprisingly docile. No car deploying better than 300hp through its front (bespoke, by Continental) tyres should feel quite this easy to throw around. OK, so I’m no Fangio and my corner entry speeds were probably not all that great, but even so, the Type-R is nowhere near so manic as its bodykit suggests. In fact, it’s forgiving, flexible and tolerant of blithering idiocy.
So it proves on the road. Looking at the styling, you assume it’s going to be an animal of torque steer, rock-hard suspension reflexes and noise. Well, you’re right on the last point – it is quite noisy, and the 2.0-litre turbo makes quite an unpleasant boomy roar in the mid-range, while the electric wastage of the turbo makes some worryingly boy-racer-y fluttering noises, dumping its boost with a distinct ‘wwwffffftttttt’ as you back of a sharply applied throttle. Fun for ten minutes, but I’m not sure how well it will play with your local law enforcement officers.
What will definitely not play well with them is the way the Civic Type-R covers ground. With 300-odd-horses going through the front, it was never going to be slow, but squeeze the firmly sprung throttle pedal hard and, after a somewhat surprising moment of lag, the Type-R picks up and flies. 0-100kmh is done with in 5.7secs, a figure which actually feels rather slow when you feel just how fast this car is through the gears. Top speed is a distinctly naughty 270kmh, which certainly gives you bragging rights when you pull up next to the owner of a Golf R or Audi S3.
And it’s still so surprisingly forgiving on the road. The steering isn’t as instantly hyperactive as that of a Renault Megane RS, but it’s actually got quite a bit of feel and its response is fabulous, allowing you to point at the apex of a corner, floor the throttle and let the diff keep the nose tucked tight in. There’s a little bit of lightness at the rear if you back off mid-corner, but nothing that feels unstable or untidy. For a car with this find of power and front-drive, it’s exceptionally forgiving and easy-going, only giving in to understeer if you really overcook the entry speed. Pressing the +R button on the road is pretty pointless – the 30 per cent stiffer damping makes it too harsh on anything but a billiard-table surface, and there’s no notable improvement in the steering feel. Save that for track days, which you’ll be well able to do as the brakes feel nigh-on tireless, pulling the Civic back down lap after lap on the track and hour after hour on the road. Meanwhile the gearshift is among the best in any car – a six-speed manual (refreshingly, there’s no self-shifting option) that will have everyone reaching for the Big Book Of Rifle Bolt Clichés.
It seems surprisingly un-thirsty too. Honda’s claim of high-thirties-mpg seems believable and 170g/km of Co2 means you’ll pay a not-unreasonable €570 a year to tax it.
So we have here a Civic with an unusually split personality. The wings, splitters and gouges in the bodywork have you thinking it’s going to be the very worst kind of boy-racer machine, but underneath it’s far, far more subtle and cultured than that. Honda Ireland hasn’t decided a price yet, only that it will be close to that of the Golf R and S3 and definitely won’t go over €50,000. Are there still Type-R nuts with enough cash who will want one and buy one? On this evidence, they should stop waiting now…
Honda’s fortunes have looked rocky of late – its sales are down three per cent in an Irish market which has risen by 26 per cent, while across Europe sales have fallen by a quarter. At least in the Type-R, Honda can show that the cavalier spirit which which has so often distinguished it in the past still lives.
Honda Civic Type-R
Price: Circa €48,000 (TBC)
Top speed: 270kmh.
Claimed economy: 7.3l/100km. (38mpg).
Co2 emissions: 170g/km.
Motor tax: €570.
Verdict: Lairy looks but sophisticated chassis put Honda back in the hot hatch game. 4/5