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Driven: Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.

Driven: Honda Civic Type R
We drove the CTR at launch in Germany and loved it. One week in its company in the UK seals the deal…

 



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Honda Civic Type R

5 5 5 5 5

Good points: The chassis, the engine, the looks, the breadth of its abilities

Not so good: One or two niggles, but no deal breakers

Key Facts

Model tested: Honda Civic Type R GT
Price: Civic Type R starts from £30,995; GT from £32,995, car as tested £33,520
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hot hatch
CO2 emissions: 176/km (VED £800 first 12 months, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 36.7mpg
Top speed: 169mph
0-62mph: 5.8 seconds
Power: 320hp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 2,500- to 4,500rpm

Our view:

It wasn't so long ago that we were driving the Honda Civic Type R on its international launch over in Germany, and we came away from that event wondering if the Japanese loon might just be the new benchmark in terms of performance hatchbacks, be they front-, rear- or all-wheel drive. So, we were hoping that a week on UK roads in the depths of winter should settle any remaining doubts in our mind.

To that end, we're not going to go into a huge re-tread of the aesthetics of the Civic Type R nor its market positioning/pricing (as you can read the review above for that), save to say that our white UK test car looked fabulous. We're totally onside with Honda's idea that something capable of nearly 170mph ought to look a bit special, and in oh-so-poignant Championship White - a hue that harks back to the original JDM EK9 Civic Type R - you can make all the references to Star Wars' Stormtroopers that you like. It looks bloody superb and the cabin is wonderful, too, the driving position in particular.

It's that low-to-the-floor seating which only amplifies the sensations of the ensuing magnificent dynamics. With 320hp and 400Nm being handled by the leading axle, the worry is that the Civic is going to be unruly. But it just isn't. Sure, the Honda is a bit traction-limited in slimy or cold conditions. To the point its almighty torque can quickly bypass the traction control and have the fronts spinning in the lower gears, if you're injudicious with the throttle. Yet it's not undriveable in such conditions, and the pay-off of all that power when it's dry cannot be underestimated.

And when you have got the Honda hooked up, it is a simply sublime performance car. It's the steering, gearbox and front-end grip that dominate the experience, the Honda's limited-slip diff-equipped nose providing thoroughly accurate handling. You know exactly what the car is up to at any given moment, thanks to a wealth of nuanced information flooding back to you through the rim of the steering wheel and the base of the glorious Type R bucket seat. And while we still reckon the six-speed manual is not quite one of Honda's most stellar transmissions, it nevertheless possesses a mechanical, positive and pleasing action that would be the envy of pretty much any clutch pedal-toting car that's on sale right now.

Then there's the engine. Again, it's not the most charismatic four-cylinder turbo in the world - and it's certainly no normally aspirated VTEC screamer - but it doles out its prodigious power in such a gorgeous, linear fashion that it's hard not to be utterly seduced by it from mile one. From a standing start, the lack of four-wheel drive means the Civic Type R doesn't have the fastest 0-62mph time in the world, but we genuinely believe that once it's rolling along, there's little that could live with the Honda's brutal ability to cleanly pick up a tremendous amount of speed. Fast? And then some.

Brilliantly, for all its wild wings and beguiling handling, it works wonderfully as 'just' a hatchback. Dialling the adjustable dampers down to the Comfort setting results in ride quality that is second to none in the world of hot hatches, which is an astonishing achievement from something rolling on 20-inch wheels. It'll even (relatively) sip at fuel, giving back 32.4mpg average economy overall and a best of around 35mpg on the motorway. For a 320hp petrol engine, that's impressive parsimony. Noise suppression is excellent and the spacious cabin (it is strictly a four-seater, though, because there's no centre belt in the back) means you could use it as a family car. If you're a family that likes things to look ostentatious, that is.

Long story short - this is a five-star machine. We were considering giving the Honda such marks after our first drive of it, but having spent a week and almost 471 miles at the wheel, we're completely convinced by the Civic Type R's charms. Oh, technically, it's not perfect; far from it. But, even though we can bring up a litany of tiny faults, none of them really matter enough to make you adore the Honda any the less.

But, in the interests of critical fairness, here we go. The engine and exhaust don't sound quite good enough to match the car's rabid performance and glittering handling; those two 'part-octagon' dials either side of the central display in the main cluster are hopeless to read at a glance; the infotainment is fiddly and the graphics are rendered to a middling standard; it takes five presses of the touchscreen just to deactivate the rev-matching function, which is buried deep in sub-menus; and it'd be nice if the Civic would remember which driving mode it was in when it was last switched off, plus whether you want 'BRAKE HOLD' on or not, rather than defaulting to 'Sport' and 'BRAKE HOLD OFF' every time.

The slightly dull soundtrack aside, none of these faults annoyed us by anything like enough to take the shine off this brilliant car. OK, the infotainment could be construed as a more pressing issue, but if you need the infotainment to entertain you in a hot hatch, then in our opinion something is drastically wrong with the vehicle you're in. And anyway, the CTR GT has a banging sound system, which is perhaps of more interest to potential owners.

What you have to praise Honda for is the way it has moved the Civic Type R forwards by a huge amount. It's better than the old CTR in every single regard. Better for handling. Better for feedback. Better for power delivery and traction. Better for ride comfort. Better for interior ergonomics and finishing. And better looking. The previous-gen CTR was no bad car in the first place, so you can imagine how highly we regard the current model.

Crucially, we also think it's better than almost any other hot hatch out there right now - including the Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS; the lack of drive to the Honda's rear axle be damned. The Civic Type R is possibly the greatest hot hatch on sale and, at the time of writing, the only car which can hope to rival the Honda's all-round brilliance is the Hyundai i30 N Performance - which is a remarkable situation to be in, with neither of the two leading hot hatch lights being European. But that's the point we now find ourselves at.

Your only real dilemma, then, is whether you want the outright showmanship and raw power of the Civic Type R, or the sweet, glorious handling balance and naughty noises of the i30 N. Or, alternatively, whether you wait to see what the next Renaultsport Megane Trophy is capable of. That's enough about the competition; if you decide to go with the Honda, you'll be delighted with it, because it's a delightful car. A thrilling slice of total engineering brilliance from a company renowned for such things. This is what all hot hatchbacks should aspire to be like.

Alternatives:

Ford Focus RS: Four-wheel drive and more powerful, so it's more accelerative from a standing start than the Honda. It also sounds good and looks wild. The Honda, though, is probably the sweeter, purer drive.

SEAT Leon Cupra R: A brilliant evolution of the largely excellent SEAT Leon Cupra. Stupidly exclusive rarity is the major sticking point - just 24 are coming to the UK, at a cost of £35,000 each.

Volkswagen Golf R: The long-standing 'perfect' all-rounder of a hot hatch. It's slightly down on power over the Type R, but has magnificent damping and better traction. The Honda is much more exciting to drive, however.


Matt Robinson - 1 Dec 2017









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

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








 

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