Well, this has seemed a long time coming. But the Honda Civic Type R is here, and it arrives not short of mechanical promise.
Some 228 promises, in fact, which makes it one of the most powerful hot hatchbacks in existence. And one of the most extreme, thinks Honda, which calls it nothing less than the most extreme Type R to date.
For a company with the Integra Type R in the back catalogue, that’s quite something. Especially given this is the first Honda to get both VTEC variable valve timing and a turbocharger. That’s unusual; Type Rs are traditionally naturally aspirated and rev to the stratosphere.
This one only revs to 7000rpm. On its way there it passes peak power at 6500rpm and peak torque from 2500rpm. So far, that’s decidedly un-Type R and more like a Volkswagen Golf R or Renault Sport Megane.
Drive to the wheels is also more like the Renault. Honda has tasked the Civic with deploying quite a lot of poke through only the front wheels via a mechanical limited-slip differential.
To achieve this, Honda has fitted dual-axis strut front suspension – as Ford, Renault and Vauxhall already have. Honda says this will reduce the torque steer effect by 55 per cent.
Elsewhere, a torsion beam takes care of the rear suspension (not necessarily a bad thing), the steering is electrically assisted and there are magnetorheological adaptive dampers. Those dampers can be placed into two modes – stiffer if you push a ‘+R’ button on the dash.
Honda’s making quite a big song and dance about the Civic’s speed around some German race circuit or other. The ‘+R’ mode is optimised for that circuit, so as well as stiffening the dampers, it firms up the steering, increases throttle response, and reduces the intrusion of the stability program. And – woo! – the dials turn an angry red.
Not as angry as the outside, where the Type R is generously winged and vented. Honda says that the various addenda on the Civic’s five-door body are present for aerodynamic or heat dissipating purposes; they’re not for aesthetics. I should hope not. Graceful it isn’t.
Inside, things are more like you’d expect. There are exceptional seats with a mostly-decent driving position, although the steering wheel too easily obscures the speedometer; a potential issue in a car with 228kW and sporting intent. And there’s a pleasing, aluminium gearknob for the six-speed manual gearbox (there’s no auto option).
That’s fine, especially when you consider how good the control weights are. The throttle and brake could be closer to ease heel and toeing, and the gearshift could use a little less notch, but I’m picking holes here. Mostly, the Civic’s an easy a car to drive.
The engine’s docile, too, which makes for brisk progress at fair to middling inputs, though there’s obvious turbo lag at lower revs. Which, if you care to get all philosophical, isn’t particularly Type R at all.
Things don’t get any more traditional as you work the engine. The Civic is fast, no question. By gum it is. Honda claims 0-100km/h in 5.7sec, and it’s hard to make a front-driver accelerate a great deal quicker than that. It’s extremely punchy through the mid-range too, but it gets boomier towards the limit.
Our test car only had 1930km on it, but a recent test Renault Sport Megane felt freer revving at the same mileage. There’s no denying the shove, mind you. This is an exceptionally capable car.
Ditto, it’s capable when it comes to ride and handling. Or the handling, at least. A fuller judgement of the ride will have to come until we drive it on roads bumpier than the cricket wicket-smooth tarmac we’ve driven the Civic on today.
I think it’ll be firm but controlled in standard mode, and all but unbearable in ‘+R’. But with the right switches pushed there’s no doubt that the Type R grips fairly heroically on a circuit, while its limited-slip differential keeps the front end tight when you ask for big power demands. There’s some throttle adjustability here, too.
There’s no question it’s promising – and doubtless effective at posting a sub-eight minute at you-know-where – but there’s more to life than that. If you’re looking for the last word in communication and engagement, the Type R isn’t the car to provide that.
The steering, consistent and accurate though it is, is less impressive than the mechanical grip; it’s a less engaging steer than the one you get through Renault Sport’s feel-some rack. Likewise I think, although I’d want a back-to-back test to be sure, less torque steer gets through to the Honda; at the expense of some precision and insight.
Despite Honda’s work on the front end, it’s a compromise impossible to circumnavigate in a really powerful front-driver. When you knock back torque steer, you knock back road feel. So in the Honda there are only muted tugs at the rim, but likewise less immediacy with the road.
Not that it’ll matter to everyone. That the Type R is wilfully different to both of its main rivals means Honda has chosen a decent path for it.
And okay, although it’s not as compelling a proposition as, say, a Volkswagen Golf R or a Renault Sport Megane Trophy, it is probably the most capable front-wheel-drive car in production. There’s something commendable about that.
|HONDA CIVIC TYPE R GT|
|Body||5-door, 4-seat hatch|
|Engine||1996cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo|
|Bore/Stroke||86.0 x 85.9mm|
|Power||228kW @ 6500rpm|
|Torque||400Nm @ 2500rpm|
|Suspension||struts, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (f); torsion beam, adaptive dampers (r)|
|Brakes||350mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers (f); 296mm solid discs, single-piston calipers (r)|
|Wheels||19 x 8.5-inch (f/r)|
|Tyres||235/35 R19 (f/r)
Continental Sport Contact 6
|Price||£32,195 (approx. A$50,000)|
|Positives||Benchmark performance; impressively capable|
|Negatives||Could be more involving; styling an acquired taste; two-year wait in Oz|
Click here to read the full range review of the Honda Civic.