It’s no secret Honda has – let’s be kind – taken a sabbatical from performance cars in recent years.
The global financial crisis hit it hard and booted fun off the agenda, but as a result its showrooms have been about as lively as a nursing home nightclub in regards to fast metal.
A new NSX kick-started the rehabilitation project, but $420,000 hybrid supercars live in rarefied air, as proven by the fact Honda Australia has sold just one so far. The car that really needs to revive Honda’s sporting reputation is the new Civic Type R.
It lands in a fiercely competitive segment occupied by the latest VW Golf GTI Performance Edition and Golf R, Ford Focus RS and updated Subaru WRX STI, not to mention the forthcoming Renault Sport Megane RS and Hyundai i30 N.
With such talented rivals, it’s going to need to be good. And it is. Honda has built a weapon of a hot hatch, a car that relishes being caned on a difficult road yet retains impressive everyday manners – it might look like a refugee from the Fast and the Furious movie franchise, but underneath those wings and vents is a grown-up and accomplished performance car.
It’s a very cohesive package. There’s incredible grip from the 245/35 Continental SportContact6 tyres, trick front suspension and a helical limited-slip diff ensure strong traction, the steering is quick and accurate and the Brembo brakes powerful with a beautifully judged ABS.
The chassis isn’t particularly playful, but it rewards commitment and precision. It can be driven as hard as you like without any loss of composure, soaking up bumps and offering incredible stability at corner speeds that would have a Focus RS breaking a sweat.
Despite feeding 228kW/400Nm through just the front hoops courtesy of a 2.0-litre turbocharged four there is no need for all-wheel drive – at least in the dry – with wheelspin only ever an issue at full throttle in first gear. Honda claims a 5.7sec sprint from 0-100km/h and we got close with a 5.82sec effort.
A six-speed manual is the only available gearbox but the ratios are close and the shift is excellent, not that you’ll necessarily need to use it too often as the engine offers a broad spread of power – it’ll kill a V8 Mustang from 80-120km/h in sixth gear – and great throttle response. This is a potent car.
But it’s also a comfortable one. With the three-mode adaptive dampers set to Comfort it soaks up most road irregularities with little fuss and even in Sport mode it’s far from uncomfortable; R+ stiffens the dampers even further and allows the deactivation of the stability control, though the half-off Sports mode is expertly calibrated.
Where it does let the side down is inside. There’s plenty of room and the driver’s touchpoints – steering wheel, gearknob, pedals – are excellent, as is the driving position, however, the infotainment system isn’t particularly slick and many of the materials feel cheap. A similar complaint can be levelled at the Focus RS, but the latest hot Golfs are much nicer places to sit.
The new Civic Type R isn’t perfect, nor will it appeal to everyone; some won’t be able to cop the styling and if you like a car to dance around the Honda isn’t particularly interested. However, it’s one of the most impressive, rewarding performance front-drivers we’ve driven and a car that’s going to prove a stern test for the current hot hatch hierarchy.
4.5 stars out of 5
2017 Honda Civic Type R review Specs:
Body: 5-door, 4seat hatch
Engine: 1998cc inline-4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbocharger
Power: 228kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 2500-4500rpm
0-100km/h: 5.7sec (claimed); 5.84sec (tested)
Top Speed: 272km/h (claimed)