Curiously, in the USA the Honda Civic Type R has a cult following for – no kidding – how it looks. Immediately after taking delivery, many owners fit lower, stiffer springs along with more aggressive wheels. Granted, this has a fairly transformative effect on the car’s looks, yet messes with the handling of possibly the most accomplished front-drive performance car ever made.
We think we’ll stick with the way it looks if it means the handling is untouched. This month, we were reminded of the Type R’s chassis brilliance yet again as we subjected our Championship White long-termer to a proper hard outing at the track. Sandown Raceway, in fact (and despite the Winton photos) with Evolve Driving.
Able to focus on the Type R over multiple sessions, we gained a deeper understanding of its not-insignificant talent. For a start, it’s very easy to get comfortable in the Type R – it takes very little time to work your way up to its limits. From there, you are struck by its lovely controls, tenacious lateral grip, improbably good traction and frenetic acceleration, 206km/h reached at the end of the back straight.
But also, you notice it has the stability of a car with a longer wheelbase – probably owing to the independent rear end – yet you can still hustle it through tight corners like a smaller vehicle, no doubt thanks to the fact it weighs a relatively lithe 1380kg.
The weight, or lack of, subtly enhances almost every aspect of the Type R experience on track. There is no patience required of the tyres and brakes like in a heavier car.
The Type R, too, is superbly poised, a slight default understeer easily tweaked the other way on the brakes into corners, where you find yourself asking more and more of the outside front tyre – and it obliging – balancing an obedient rear end on the brakes.
And boy does it work its outside-front hard at Sandown. Erm, sorry Honda, you might want to order a new set of Continentals for the car. And for those who own a Type R and intend to track it, we suggest replacing the SportContact 6s with more track-focused rubber like a Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2, the tyre Honda used for its Nürburgring front-drive record.
The excellent Contis, while remaining the pick for road use, need to be carefully monitored and nursed during a track day and ideally rotated between sessions. Their addictive lateral grip and feel, combined with relative on-track fragility, is exactly the test of self-restraint you go to a track day to get away from. And so there was very little tyre nursing on our part, and no rotation, the outside front tyre lasting three 20-minute sessions before we had to park the car.
The Brembo brakes fared much better, withstanding more consecutive hard laps than a normal merciful owner might subject them to. The pedal was always there and always worked, although towards the end of their very heavy workout the stock pads and rotors started to wilt. Later, back on the road, unfortunately they very much felt like they had spent time on a track.
We would suggest fitting aftermarket pads and rotors if you intend to track your R. Also, keep off the curbs on the stock wheels. It seems that the 30-profile tyres distort enough at the ragged edge that if you let the car run out onto an exit curb, you can scratch a rim. Which will make you feel very guilty and sad, take it from us...
When you aren’t worrying about the tyres or stressing about giving the brakes a hangover, on track the Type R is a gratifying, sensational drive. There is something deeply special about its handling we’ve only experienced in a few cars many times its price. You and the car easily become one organism; rarely do you feel to be cajoling it.
It’s fun in a how-fast-and-how-good-is-this-thing kind of way – rather than surprise-here’s-some-oversteer. But if you want oversteer, it will happily do that as well if you know how to ask.
The Type R did a 1:26.4 at Sandown in the hands of this amateur, a 1:24.9 possible by combining best sectors according to our VBOX timing gear. Undoubtedly it would go faster again with more bravery or a race driver.
No brief flings on MOTOR long-term reviews
2018 Honda Civic Type R Pros & Cons
Three things we're falling for:
1 - Revelatory handling
2 - Lightweight feel
3 - Seats, brakes
Three things we're not fond of:
1 - Nursing the tyres
2 - Hungover brakes
3 - Bit of turbo lag