The 2015 Honda Civic Type R comes as the Japanese maker returns from the hot-hatch wilderness and a snoozefest of road cars with a turbocharged, samurai-sword sharp warrior
WHAT IS IT?
The new Civic Type R could be a return to form for Honda: it’s the first time the maker, known for its rip-roaring, high-revving atmo VTEC engines, has decided to use turbocharging to motivate one of its Type R high-performance models.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
It’s time for Honda to show its hand: following a drip-feed of spy images and Nurburgring lap-time claims, it’s time to see if Honda really has rediscovered its mojo with the Civic Type R showing a return to form – or an epic failure…
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Radical shift in Type R philosophy gets largely positive results. Banzai power and the smarts to get it all to the road without drama create a technically impressive package that’s a blast to drive. Only character and good taste is lacking.
PLUS: Ferocious pace, super grip levels and power delivery
MINUS: Lack of steering feel and precision, still not locked in for Australia
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE 2016 Honda Civic Type R had to change. Honda built its high-performance brand on naturally aspirated fours that revved so hard you thought the needle was doing a second lap of the dial. But rivals nailing sub-eight-minute Nürburgring laps and tightening global emissions standards boxed the hot Civic – the last Type R in eight years – into a corner.
Honda simply had to go for forced induction. So while the new Civic Type R still retains a 2.0-litre four with a VTEC kick, there’s now a mono-scroll turbocharger and an air-to-air intercooler hanging in front of it. The result is a meaty 228kW and 400Nm – huge 80kW and 199Nm increases over what went before – to net a 7min 50.63sec lap of the ’Ring, a new front-wheel-drive record.
Laggy down low, the motor needs to be pulling 3000rpm to do business, but it does get a serious shift on beyond that threshold, whipping to its 6500rpm power peak in a blur of scenery and an uncharismatic roar of boost. The VTEC switch no longer induces a step-change in either delivery or sound, but the Type R does keep on revving to 7000rpm without feeling like you’re flogging it to prove a point.
It means third gear is often enough on fast and flowing back roads, but to hold one gear is to miss out on one of the sweetest shifts you’ll experience: the six-speed manual has just a 40mm throw, so you can knock the shifter back and forth like you’re playing Grand Theft Auto on the PlayStation. If we’re being picky we’d say the last-gen car’s shift was defter still, and that the brake and accelerator could be closer together for heel-and-toe fetishists, but still, nice gearbox.
Putting 228kW through the front wheels is a big ask, but a helical slippy diff, 235/35 R19 tyres and what’s called Dual Axis Strut Front Suspension gives the Type R an answer. Like similar hardware on the Focus and Megane RS, DASFS – catchy, huh? – isolates the suspension strut from the turning of the front wheels, so more rubber touches the surface through corners. More rubber, more traction, simple.
Wipe off speed with the four-pot Brembos – great pedal feel, great stopping power – point the nose at the apex and mash the throttle, and the rubber bites, you’re sucked through the corner on the perfect line, with grippy Alcantara bucket seats holding you all the while. In the dry there’s no hint of wheelspin or torque steer, and you’ll need excessively optimistic entry speeds to find understeer. Adaptive dampers are a big step over the fidgety last-gen Civic, too, still feeling firm but providing far more compliance; it means you don’t lose confidence bouncing over the road surface.
Press the R+ button and hard-core gets harder still. Throttle response snaps from slushy to engagingly sharp, the fast and accurate steering gets heavier for no real reward – sensitive types will already crave more feel – and the adaptive dampers become 30 percent stiffer, which makes the car pogo madly. It’d be nice to tweak each setting individually because really it’s the engine mapping that’s the big win here, the steering tolerable, suspension feeling downright daft for the road.
That’s a criticism you could level at the body styling, too, but Honda says the vents in the front wings and behind the front wheels are essential to release heat from the crammed engine bay, and the spoilers and sideskirts and stick-on bits elsewhere team up with a nearly flat under-floor for genuine downforce. Proceed straight to jail if you detect any of that on the public highway.
There’s much to admire about the Civic Type R, then, because this really is a hot hatch to give double-the-cash performance cars a headache. But the Megane RS remains the more tactile and interactive machine, and that’s still where we’d spend our cash.
Model: Honda Civic Type R
Engine: 1996cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 228kwW @ 6500rpm
Max torque: 400Nm @ 2500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel economy: 7.3L/100km (EU)
Price: $40,000 (estimated)