Capable, engaging, useable, practical and good value – few hot hatches are as complete as the Civic Type R
|In-line 4-cyl, 1996cc, turbo||316bhp @ 6500rpm||295lb ft @ 2500-4500rpm||5.8sec (claimed)||272kph (claimed)||1380kg||$140,000|
No one is unmoved by the Civic. It’s as brash and bold as the Golf R is subtle and demure. With its mahoosive hoop spoiler, it’s like a throwback to the days when Imprezas and Evos ruled the practical performance car world. Kids go nuts for its lairiness, but some grown-ups who can choose a $40k fast hatch simply won’t consider the Honda because of how it looks.
Which is a great shame because in doing so, they deny themselves one of the great fast hatch experiences. We rate the Golf R very highly, and we like the Focus RS too, but the Civic Type R transcends them; it is astonishingly good, not simply in what it does but how it feels and, ergo, how it makes you feel.
The Type R drives like all the spoilers and body extensions and scoops say it will – like a track car. Its steering is direct, slack-free and beefy, its chassis has a tautness that suggests a bias for smooth, warm asphalt, and its brakes bite right from the top of the pedal. All of which makes it sound like everyday comfort and usability has been sacrificed for that record front-wheel-drive Nürburgring lap time, right?
Wrong. Over your first few miles of craggy Back-road, the Civic treads so deftly, so calmly, that you can’t help but smile; you are witnessing something remarkable, something that will stay with you. The last time this happened for me in this class was when I drove the Renault Sport Mégane R26.R, and it was for the same reasons: wonderfully engaging and precise handling and a superb ride. Like the Mégane, the Civic makes every drive a joy, any corner an opportunity to experience a little magic.
‘I love how the chassis is never fazed yet isn’t aloof,’ says deputy editor Adam Towler. ‘It steers really well, puts its power down cleanly, and even the brakes are exemplary. It’s a great example of how the Ring can be a positive influence.’
Quite. Commit the Type R hard to a warm, dry corner and you’ll feel it slice immediately for the apex – no response lag, no tyre slip – and if you then give it full throttle it will simply accelerate. No wheelspin, no widening of the line and absolutely no corruption through the steering wheel. It is amazing. And the turbo engine is a gem, too, managing to sound and feel like a gutsy naturally aspirated in-line four with a thrilling top end.
The stripped-out R26.R delivered incredible grip with the help of slick-like (and noisy) trackday tyres, but the Honda uses regular Continentals. Super-low-profile SportContacts, granted, but they work pretty well in the cold and wet. And this Honda has all the space and kit you could wish for, and it’s refined, too. In fact, as a family car the only thing it lacks is a belt for the middle seat in the back.
‘What I love most of all about it is the way it can be so many things, sometimes all at the same time,’ adds Towler. ‘That’s the essence of a great hot hatch for me, and is what lifts the Type R above more specialised examples like the Mégane and Golf Clubsport S.’
The seats are superb and low slung, the gearshift snappy, the pedal spacing spot on, the throttle response pretty good. And it never lets up, ruthlessly exposing weaknesses in the opposition that you didn’t realise were there. In a recent test it had little trouble beating the fancied Focus RS and the SEAT Leon Cupra 300, trouncing them on both road and track.
Remarkably, there is no Type R department at Honda like there is AMG at Mercedes or M GmbH at BMW. The credit for this car goes to project leader Hideki Kakinuma and the small team he hand-picked from the business. And one of the reasons this model is more complete than the last is that this time the Type R team was in on development of the base Civic from the start.
Ian Eveleigh drove the previous-generation Type R as a long-term test car: ‘I had worried that the FK8, with its aim to be more useable, might wipe away some of the character of the more raw FK2, but not a bit of it. The rough edges have been polished away – not least the overly harsh ride – but it’s actually made for an even better
Polished is just the word to describe the Civic. It’s not just what this Type R does but how it does it that makes it so compelling. It feels like it has been obsessively developed and honed to great depth by people who know what they are doing and exactly what they want to achieve. This exceptional level of finesse is a quality shared by all evo five-star cars, and it’s amazing that you can enjoy such rare brilliance as this price point.
‘It’s remarkably good value,’ says Towler. ‘For $40k you get a car that will nudge 280kph, stay with just about anything on the road, look after the novice driver but involve the experienced, feel completely at home on a trackday without so much as a tweak of anything, seat four in comfort, offer a generously sized boot, be entirely useable every day…’
It’s such a complete package that you wonder how Honda does it for the money. Dynamically, the Golf R is also very polished, and the Focus RS is more powerful and entertainingly oversteery, which can be fun. But by some margin the mad-looking Civic is the daddy. So good, in fact, that you’d be mad to ignore it.