A REPUTATION for highly-strung, adrenaline-inducing atmo engines has been a core part of the Type R legend for decades, but the march of technological progress has seen a fundamental shift for Honda's hero hatchback.
WHAT IS IT?
It’s the hot hatch of the moment – the hardcore, superfluously styled, yet surprisingly civilised Honda Civic Type R. This is the fifth-gen Civic to cop the Type R treatment, but only the second to grace Aussie roads.
WHY WE’RE DRIVING IT
Beyond the eye-wincingly expensive NSX, this is the most talked about Honda in years. But is the hype real? This is our first chance to test the Type R on local soil and to see if its manic front-drive layout is capable of delivering thrills to rival the Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R, which, despite costing similar money, send their power to all four wheels.
Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen Golf R, Renault Megane RS, Hyundai i30 N
THE WHEELS VERDICT
An exciting, rewarding and comfortable all-rounder that occupies a middle ground between the hardcore (read uncompromising) Focus RS and the polished and accomplished (yet aloof) Golf R.
Plus: Driver engagement; front-axle bite; shift quality; seat and ride comfort
Minus: Not much in the way of throttle adjustability; no individual mode; polarising styling; infotainment useability
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IT WAS the kind of road to make you wince. A piece of tarmac so gnarled, broken and littered with potholes and raised, snaking fissures that your body tenses instinctively as it prepares for an inevitable onslaught of tortured suspension, bouncing alloys and rack rattle.
The fact Honda’s mad-looking Civic Type R practically shouts its hardcore, performance-focused intent and rolls on the largest wheels in its class, wrapped in the lowest profile rubber, only intensifies the sense of anticipation as it rockets onto the road at 110km/h.
But then … nothing. The fifth-gen Type R takes the surface change in its stride, the multi-link suspension absorbing the lumps and bumps with unexpected maturity. It’s still no softie (even with the adaptive dampers in Comfort mode), but where previous Type Rs have been overly stiff, this new version skilfully deploys an aggressive chassis tune without overly compromising ride comfort.
Don’t misread this dose of sophistication as a sign that Honda has dialed back on excitement, however. Ignoring the temptation to fit rear driveshafts means the 1380kg Type R is lighter than its rivals, and with a 228kW/400Nm turbocharged VTEC four-pot providing the propulsion, it feels properly brisk. At the strip, Wheels managed a 5.8sec sprint to 100km/h and a 13.9sec quarter at 172km/h.
Better news is the Type R deploys its grunt without the distraction of torque steer as the 245/30R20 Contis scrabble for traction. It’s the front axle that dominates the Type R experience – the front tyres gripping and turning with real tenacity as the mechanical LSD earns its keep and ensures the power isn’t spun away. The downside to such a faithful and grippy front end is the Type R’s chassis is more predictable than playful.
There’s little in the way of lift-off oversteer; the rear axle preferring to follow the nose faithfully than wag about. Nor is it as chuckable, or as flamboyantly adjustable as a Focus RS, but drive it quickly and the Honda will still squeeze your adrenaline gland just as hard.
Moving to turbocharging has dulled the Type R’s VTEC scream slightly, but the top-end remains effervescent and the trade off is a muscular mid-range as peak torque arrives between 2500-4500rpm. The real highlight, however, is the gearshift. Tight, precise and with a short throw, it’s also paired with a rev-matching function that blips the throttle on downshifts. It works brilliantly, though it can be turned off should you prefer to heel-and-toe.
Sadly, things are less cohesive inside the Type R. While a spacious cabin, enormous 420L boot and comfortable and supportive bucket seats are clear highlights, clumsy ergonomics, an over-styled interior design and an unintuitive infotainment system are glaring weaknesses.
At least road and tyre noise are kept mostly in check, with general refinement falling somewhere between the raucous Focus RS and the polished Volkswagen Golf R. In fact, that’s a middle ground that neatly sums up the Type R: not quite as instantly gratifying as the Focus RS, but much more liveable; not quite as polished and refined as a Golf R, but more exciting if driver enjoyment is a high priority. It makes the Type R something of an all-rounder, providing you can stomach the overly excited exterior styling.
Model: Honda Civic Type R
Engine: 1996cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 228kW @ 6500rpm
Max torque: 400Nm @ 2500-4500rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual
0-100km/h: 5.8sec (tested)
On sale: Now
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