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Driven: Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.

Driven: Honda Civic Type R
Mad, turbocharged fun from Honda. But has the Civic Type R already been outpaced?

 



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Honda Civic Type R

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: brutal performance, striking looks, fantastic handling

Not so good: underwhelming interior, ergonomic clumsiness, pricey compared to some rivals

Key Facts

Model tested: Honda Civic Type R
Price: Type R from £29,995; as tested £30,520
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 170g/km (Band H, £295 VED first 12 months, £205 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 38.7mpg
Top speed: 168mph
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Power: 310hp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 2,500rpm

Our view:

It landed like a spaceship from another planet. Honda, for years languishing in the doldrums, announced it would bring the Civic Type R back from the dead in 2015 and it wouldn't be doing things by halves. Clad in some of the most extreme bodywork yet seen on a road-going performance car based on a mere hatchback, and powered by an engine increased by 112hp on the previous iteration of the CTR to an incredible 310hp all-in, the new Civic ushered in the turbocharged era for Honda's go-faster arm and signalled the company's intent to crush all in its wake.

A noble plan and great news for Hondamentalists like us, even if the move away from the pure, normally aspirated VTECs of old was enough to give us a mental wobble. And it's a brilliantly executed piece of kit; drive the CTR for just a few miles and you'll think Honda has been doing turbos for decades, not mere months. But the issue of whether it's a genius piece of Japanese engineering or a missed opportunity arises when you weigh up the current marketplace. If you consider only front-wheel drive hot hatches, the CTR is peerless. It's 20hp up on the next nearest contender, the recently-introduced SEAT Leon Cupra 290, 40hp to the good on the most potent version of the Peugeot 308 GTi, at least 60hp in excess of the likes of the Ford Focus ST, and then even more in advance of the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Skoda Octavia vRS. Job, seemingly, done.

The problem is, even the 'basic' model as tested here starts at £29,995 and when you add metallic paint - which you surely will - then the £525 required pushes you straight over the £30k barrier. Standard equipment on the Honda is reasonably generous for that money, including 19-inch wheels, a limited-slip differential, Brembo brakes, adaptive dampers all round, keyless entry and go, climate and cruise controls, a rear parking camera and a seven-inch Honda Connect infotainment touchscreen. Nevertheless, the GT model (an extra £2,300 at £32,395) adds some items that really should have been on the regular CTR: parking sensors front and rear, for example; or automatic lights and wipers; dual-zone climate control, electric folding mirrors, ambient light... all of these are hardly ground-breaking upgrades. The main benefit of GT specification is a 320-watt, eight-speaker premium audio system for Honda Connect and the addition of Garmin satnav.

We reckon most Type R buyers will opt for the GT, which means you're talking about a car that, with a metallic finish, is to all intents and purposes £33,000: Volkswagen Golf R money. And if you're considering the AWD Golf R, then you're definitely considering the £29,995 Ford Focus RS, which is notably quicker than the Civic, thanks to 350hp and four-wheel drive. You can also chuck the Audi S3 and maybe even its RS 3 sibling into the mix, too, although the madder Audi will be over £40,000. But there's the problem - even discounting the RS 3, among this company the Civic starts to look expensive.

It's not like the CTR needs AWD to compete, though. Quite how Honda has got 310hp and 400Nm to flow through the front axle alone in such a controllable manner is beyond us. Torque- and understeer are simply not part of proceedings. Even in low gears and with inadvisable throttle openings, the Civic finds epic traction and goes. That monster 400Nm torque figure, comfortably more than double what previous CTRs had to play with, makes the Honda brutally quick in a straight line. The 0-62mph time of 5.7 seconds feels extremely pessimistic and is surely only a result of traction issues in benchmarking runs - once on the move, the thunderous flexibility of that 2.0-litre VTEC turbo will be more than enough to satisfy anyone's needs.

Luckily, the Type R is also fabulous in the curves. Press the '+R' button on the dash and the whole console glows an evil red, while the steering, damping and throttle response are all heightened for maximum attack mode. It doesn't disappoint. It never emits that hair-raising high-revs scream that older, normally aspirated Type Rs used to, but the soundtrack remains hard-edged and interesting, while the six-speed gearbox is beyond compare in this marketplace, or any other. No one, but no one, does gear linkages as well as Honda. Great steering and mighty Brembo brakes make controlling the CTR at pace both engaging and easy.

The body control is first rate too, although on bumpier roads the Civic starts to feel just a bit too hardcore. It'll occasionally skitter and tramline, where more supple rivals (we're thinking of the sublime damping on the Golf R) will just breathe with the road and track true. Generally, though, it's a devastating weapon and you never, ever lament a lack of drive to the rear; there's some wonderful throttle adjustability engineered into the chassis by way of compensation.

For the rest of the time, it's a remarkably civilised machine considering those lurid looks. It's a vehicle that, incredibly, appears to be even more overblown and aggressive in real life than it does in photos. The week immediately prior to the Honda, we were driving a fully Castrol-livered Toyota GT86 - and yet, even for all the attention that coupé garnered, the Civic was more popular still. So many people drew alongside it on motorways to nod their approval and give it the thumbs-up, and yet again we can honestly say that none of the hand gestures we saw were offensive. The CTR didn't even seem to incite other road users into 'races'; presumably, they took one look at that rear wing and thought better of it.

So the ride is decent, tyre roar is... a bit loud, but not unreasonably so, and wind noise is kept to a minimum. Visibility out of the rear windscreen is better than before, although the spoiler still cuts through your view, and most astonishingly of all, this wild hatchback gave back a 36.1mpg average over 453 miles in its company, at an average speed of 41mph; on a long run, careful motoring saw it claim 40.8mpg. That really is magnificent stuff and proof positive of the benefits of forced induction.

If the car's appearance seems like the biggest stumbling block, then, we'll go on record as saying we like the Civic Type R's unapologetic styling and although a lot of the press shots depict cars in red, we can highly recommend the colour 'Brilliant Sporty Blue' for the Honda; it just tones down the aggression enough, without making the CTR dull.

However, there are some problems to report. The turbo engine makes a strange, clockwork-like burring noise just behind the bulkhead when running on light throttle between 2,000- and 3,000rpm - it's not off-putting but it is noticeable. The climate control switches and display screen are like a mild evolution of 1990s Honda cabins - you only have to look at the newer Jazz and HR-V interiors to see how much better Honda can do this sort of thing - and that bi-level instrument cluster delivers one of the most clueless bits of ergonomic design we've yet seen in a modern car. Essentially, the big speed read-out centre top reflects onto the lower binnacle at night, with the resultant glow shining up onto the windscreen... right in front of the driver's eyes. You are therefore driving along at night with what looks like a ghostly, cyan version of Eve from Wall-E floating in front of your face. Annoying? We can't tell you how much this grated.

It's flawed, the Civic Type R, no doubt about that. There are quite a few black marks against its name, although they're somewhat offset by Honda's legendary engineering genius that has delivered a turbocharged missile that's as happy tearing up a back road as it is cruising along a motorway. It's not perfect, but it is hugely charismatic. For Honda fans, the Civic Type R is therefore a huge success. It has a slightly duff interior and some ludicrous ergonomic issues, but as a ballistic hot hatch with a massive amount of street presence, it really cannot be faulted. Yet this is a bit like trying to convince city financiers to vote Conservative - 'Hondamentalists' would have loved the CTR regardless of whatever flaws it made it to market with.

The more pertinent question is whether it would convince general car enthusiasts, or even potential customers who might be loyal to another brand, like Volkswagen, Ford or Vauxhall, to stick their money into a new CTR instead? That's trickier. Those looks are going to be too much for some to get on with and the interior quality (gorgeous front bucket seats aside) is behind many, many competitor cars. The biggest problem is that price. Do you pay £32,820 for a Civic Type R GT with metallic paint, or plough that cash into a decent Golf R hatchback instead? Or a mental Ford Focus RS? That's the dilemma.

If you're looking for guidance from us, we're about to disappoint you, because we're not exactly sure what we'd do if we had £30,000 in our mitts right now. We'll therefore end with this statement: if you do decide to go with the Honda Civic Type R, we wouldn't be the type to disapprove. It is, in many ways, a fabulous addition to the huge array of 21st century hot hatches and it deserves its place at the top table; by the same token, despite 310hp and a 168mph top speed, it's not a 'no-brainer' choice. Amazing how quickly the game moves on these days, isn't it?

Alternatives:

Ford Focus RS: like the bargain Fiesta ST, Ford's gone and done it again. The RS has the drivetrain and spec to match hyper-hatches, yet it's priced at less than £30,000. Remarkable.

SEAT Leon Cupra 290: another 10hp and a wider power band has subtly improved one of the best front-drive hot hatches going; not as conspicuous a bargain as it once was, though.

Volkswagen Golf R: less powerful than the Civic Type R but with an extra driven axle and much more of a sense of decorum, you know fine well many buyers in this segment will prefer the Volkswage to the Honda.


Matt Robinson - 16 Mar 2016









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2016 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2016 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2016 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2016 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2016 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.

2016 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2016 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2016 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2016 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.2016 Honda Civic Type R. Image by Honda.








 

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