Thursday 22nd June 2017
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First drive: Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.

First drive: Honda Civic Type R
A new Honda Civic Type R? When we only had one two years ago? Oh yes...

 



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Honda Civic Type R

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Stand aside, front-wheel-drive hot hatchbacks - there's a new king in town. Honda's Civic Type R MkIV has already bagged the lap record for this kind of machine at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, but there's so much more to its undeniable brilliance than that particular benchmark. Indeed, so good is it that the four-wheel-drive hyper-hatches need to seriously watch their backs...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Honda Civic Type R
Pricing: Type R from £30,995; Type R GT from £32,995
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 176g/km (VED £800 first 12 months, £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 36.7mpg
Top speed: 169mph
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Power: 320hp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 2,500- to 4,500rpm

What's this?

Honda's latest Civic Type R, the fifth of its kind, albeit only the fourth example to officially make it to our shores (the UK lineage for the CTR began with 2001's 'EP3', not the seminal 'EK9' original of 1997). And yet, you're probably thinking it wasn't that long ago that we were talking about the all-new 'FK2' turbocharged version, with its 310hp forced induction 2.0-litre VTEC engine. Well, we weren't - that was launched in 2015. But perhaps what is most indicative of the wholly different gestation of this 'FK8' (OK, we promise we'll stop using codenames now) is the seemingly rapid development time of the latest Type R.

You see, for the previous, ninth-generation, Civic, the Type R was almost an afterthought, launched very late into the Honda hatchback's life. This time around, the Japanese company always had the hot version in mind from the off. So, it uses the more advanced MkX Civic as its basis, which immediately means the longer, lower and wider body that is 37 per cent more rigid in torsion than before and also 16kg lighter, as well as advanced multilink rear suspension in place of a torsion beam set-up. The centre-of-gravity is lowered by 10mm and the front-seat occupants' hip position is fully 25mm lower, making for a sportier-feeling driving position.

Into this better-engineered package drops the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-banger from the old Civic, as well as the tightly-knit six-speed manual gearbox. But Honda has enacted some alterations here, too, as the exhaust back pressure is reduced - by use of a natty triple-exit affair, whose smaller centre pipe is designed to enhance low-speed sounds while simultaneously reducing high-speed resonance - while the engine management is fiddled with. There's also a new single-mass flywheel for the clutch, which should ensure the engine is quicker to pile on and slough off revs, increasing responsiveness throughout the rev range. These drivetrain mods have led to a moderately increased maximum output of 320hp (+10hp), although torque remains pegged at a nonetheless beefy 400Nm. Thus, on paper, the net gains appear marginal: it'll do 1mph more flat out, with 169mph the stated V-max, while the 0-62mph time is unchanged at 5.7 seconds. However, on-paper figures can be so misleading, as we will soon come to see...

Before then, though, we need to talk about the aesthetics. Starting inside, the traditional red bucket seats hark back to that original Japan-only Civic Type R of the 1990s, while there's plenty of Alcantara, faux carbon fibre trim and red detailing to bolster the sporty ambience. It's visually a touch more interesting than the cockpits of the SEAT Leon Cupra or the Ford Focus RS, if not as obviously high-end as the Volkswagen Golf R and Audi RS 3. But the driving position more than makes up for any perceived quality deficit. It is sublime - low-slung and down on the floor, you then find the pedals are right where they should be, the steering wheel is of just the right girth and that lovely, round, anodised metal gear knob proves to be the final piece in the tactile jigsaw. It feels great to be behind the wheel.

That leads us back outside to the Type R's physical appearance. All of the Honda's immediately divisive body addenda is said to be there for a purpose - cooling the engine, in the case of the bonnet vent, or reducing negative lift (that massive rear wing, the front splitters and air blades), or channelling airflow properly; a fresh feature here being the vortex generators on the trailing edge of the roof, something we last saw on the Mitsubishi Evo VIII FQ-400. Given the regular Civic is not everyone's visual cup of tea, the unapologetic look of the Type R is clearly going to be polarising in the extreme. Well, let's pin our colours to the mast... we love it.

Honestly, we're always lamenting homogenous car design and there are plenty of safe, conservative European hot hatches out there if you're worried having a performance car will make you look like some kind of dreadful extrovert. Thus, the Honda should be commended for being unashamed of what it is - Japanese, engineered, a little bit wacky and otherworldly and sci-fi. It suits really strong colours, which is pretty much what makes up the paint palette Honda offers, and we think it looks marvellous up close and personal. OK, we know some of you are now calling for the men in white coats to take us away, but there we are; proof positive that this is a love it or hate it kind of car. At least it's not dull and boring, then, and surely that's precisely what you want from a 320hp, 170mph hot hatch.

How does it drive?

Crikey, this is a huge improvement on the old car, and that was hardly a dynamic duffer as it was. Fast, dominated by boost and a bit rough around the edges, the MkIII Civic Type R was something of an acquired taste, especially when ranged up against such slickly accomplished all-rounders as the aforementioned Golf R and Leon Cupra.

But this new machine is an absolute belter. It has pulled off the incredible twin coup of being both more refined and genial than its forebear, while also ramping up the fun factor even further for the keener driver. It defaults to Sport mode from the off, the middle of three settings that adjust the steering weight, damper stiffness and throttle response. Knock it down to Comfort and there is more languid poise about the way it traverses lumpier tarmac, while the right-hand pedal needs more of a clog to elicit meaningful acceleration. But the Type R isn't dreadfully woolly in this mode and, conversely, it doesn't become a hard-riding, bouncy mess back in Sport either. However, we prefer this setting and then the ultimate +R mode at the top, mainly for the reduced assistance for the dual-pinion, variable ratio electric power steering. Precise, direct, informative and consistent, this is one of the best set-ups you'll find on a modern hot hatch.

So, for just tooling around and making decent public roads progress, the new Civic Type R is far more refined than its predecessor, more comfortable than a Focus RS and getting up there with the likes of the Golf for its soothing long-distance ability. Wind noise and tyre roar are both quelled beautifully, this latter achievement all the more notable now that the Honda rolls on gigantic 20-inch wheels, wrapped in Continental SportContact 6 tyres, specifically developed for this car.

But while this more mature, rounded character is most welcome, what the Honda then does is truly stun you with its epic chassis. There's a helical limited-slip diff on the front axle and also Honda's Agile Handling Assist function of the stability control, which trims the inner wheel with light braking force during cornering (another note: this Civic Type R has bigger Brembo stoppers than the old one). Coupled to that steering, the near-unimpeachable dry grip levels of the tyres and first-class body control, the result is a car that will bite into corners with venom, accuracy and true engagement.

We were lucky enough to drive the Civic both on derestricted Autobahns and the EuroSpeedway Lausitz track, and it never ceased to amaze us with the wonderful, fluid way it would move around under the throttle, or the way the steering would provide faithful responses at all times, or the massively improved stability under braking that prevents the rear-end skitter that used to blight the torsion-beam predecessor. It's just a hugely engaging, dependable hot hatch - and so confidence-inspiring, even through very high-speed corners on the Autobahn.

Talking of speed, the Civic Type R might not look much quicker on the stat sheet than its forebear, but it sure as hell feels it in motion. Maybe it's the cleaner way it transmits its power to the surface or the more sure-footed manner of the car overall, but the acceleration is phenomenal through the gears - and it'll rev out to 7,000rpm with a smoothness and eagerness that is most befitting of a VTEC Honda. Better yet is the flexibility, as sixth gear is a real weapon of a ratio. It will haul from around 35mph right the way up to its 169mph maximum in a seamless surge of acceleration, while roll-on pick-up is notably punchy from around 100mph onwards. There is absolutely no way anyone will bemoan the sheer grunt the Civic Type R possesses.

About the only thing we can criticise the Civic Type R for in terms of the way it drives is a slightly underwhelming soundtrack. It's like an old Renaultsport Megane R26.R, all hissing boost and gravelly exhaust. Still, at least it's not hideously synthesised via the speakers, so we should be praising Honda for that, at the very least. But, its voice aside, everything else about the Type R is simply smashing.

Verdict

If you can get over the striking appearance and the fact it's not four-wheel drive and the price of the most popular GT model being slightly more than a basic five-door Volkswagen Golf R or Ford Focus RS, then what you have here is an honest-to-goodness challenger for the title of 'Greatest Hot Hatch of Them All'. Seriously, detail changes to the old Civic Type R these updates might seem to be on the face of it, but they add up to a vastly improved all-round product that can thrill its driver as much as any other front-driver going. We want more time with this car back in the UK now, because we feel that once we've experienced that, we might just be looking at a genuine, five-star masterpiece from Honda.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 13 Jun 2017









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2018 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2018 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2018 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2018 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2018 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.

2018 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2018 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2018 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2018 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2018 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.








 

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