Honda Civic Type R SPECS
The styling of the new Honda Civic Type R sticks two fingers up at the recent trend for more subtle-looking hot hatches.
“It looks very sporty, doesn’t it?” Thus was my great-aunt Pam’s first reaction upon sighting the Honda Civic Type R. In fact, “sporty” was something of an understatement. The hot Civic sat, wide and angry, astride two of the miniscule parking spaces outside her warden-assisted flat in a small Hampshire village, fitting in about as well as a rhino at a tea party.
It had fallen to me to give Pam, now a sprightly 94-year-old, a lift back to the Robbins homestead for Sunday lunch. She always looks forward to seeing which car I’ll turn up in, but on this occasion my choice of transport was less than ideal.
After I’d helped her over the hard, high seat bolster and strapped her into the racing bucket seat, we were both about ready for a cup of tea and a nice rest. But Pam’s a trooper, so far from being nonplussed by the Civic’s overt raciness, she was already making approving noises.
“It’s very snazzy in here,” she said, observing quite astutely the creases, folds, and splashes of carbon fibre and red fabric slathered around the Civic’s interior. “Busy” is the word I’d use, but like the exterior, it certainly leaves you in no doubt about this car’s intentions.
Let’s deal with the looks. This is, of course, a highly subjective area, and you’ll already know whether you like them or not. One thing that can’t be denied, though, is the presence the Civic Type R has on the road; finished in black, I struggle to think of a more menacing-looking thing.
Those sporty looks also set the tone for the rest of the car. The suspension is taut, the steering is super-quick, and a prod on the accelerator elicits a series of whooshing and chuffing noises from the turbo, and sets off the row of shift lights that run across the top of the instruments. The whole thing is gleefully unsubtle.
“Sounds like fun, but I bet it’s a bit of a nightmare when you’re not in the mood,” you’re thinking. Well, in reality, even after a couple of hours on the motorway you’ll emerge feeling pretty relaxed. Sure, the suspension is firm, but not unreasonably so, and at speed the ride settles nicely.
Even Pam said the was perfectly comfortable as we bimbled home along some fairly rough B-roads – though there was a quaver in her voice when we drove over a recessed drain cover.
“Would you like to see what it can do, then?” I said. “Oh yes,” she replied. “I’ve been waiting for you to stop driving like an old man.”
You have to open the taps gently with the Civic Type R, for its 306bhp is channelled through only the front wheels, not all four, like in a Volkswagen Golf R, probably the best über-hatch around at the moment.
True, Honda has fitted the Civic Type R with a limited-slip differential, which helps distribute the power more evenly, but on a damp, cold road like this one, the throttle needs to be opened gently to give the tyres a chance to bite.
The same applies in bends. Get ham-fisted with the Civic and its front wheels will simply slither around, leaving you in a scrabbly mess with the traction control system frantically trying to keep order. You can’t just floor the accelerator half-way round a bend and let the car sort it all out as you can in the Golf R.
Feed the power in sensitively, though, and the front end bites with more conviction. The steering still bucks and writhes in your hands somewhat, so you can’t place the front end with absolute precision, but the Civic can hurl you around a corner brutally quickly.
Despite its immense power, this new engine isn’t as rewarding as the naturally-aspirated unit in the previous Type R when you rev it senseless. Gone is the noticeable switch in engine tone and accompanying surge in performance half-way up the rev range, as the VTEC variable valve timing system switched to its more aggressive cam profile.
In exchange, though, you now get a turbocharged glob of torque low down, which wallops you up the backside right the way to the red line. Is that better or worse? It’ll depend on your point of view, but while enthusiasts of older Type Rs will bemoan the new engine’s character, it’ll bring a host of new owners to the fold who appreciate its new-found accessibility.
Don’t get too boisterous, mind, because a mid-corner bump or an ill-timed lift of the accelerator can cause the Civic’s tail to slip out without much warning. And while the steering’s speed ensures you can gather these little slips easily (and if you aren’t quick enough, the electronics should be), it isn’t exactly the last word in feel.
These aren’t the Civic Type R’s only flaws. The turbo noises are fun, but the base engine note itself isn’t particularly pleasant; gone is the hard-edged whine of previous hot Honda, replaced by something more droning and less elegant.
And while there’s an “+R” mode which, at the touch of a button, sharpens up the accelerator and steering responses and stiffens the suspension, this turns the Type R into a real boneshaker.
Then there’s the interior. Quite apart from its love-or-loathe design, the touchscreen entertainment system feels dated and fiddly, the gauges reflect in the windscreen at night, and the heater controls are a mass of buttons in quite a small area.
But if the mark of a great hot hatch is a car that can combine considerable thrills with everyday practicality, the Civic Type R has it sussed. Perhaps not as well as the Golf R, but more so than many of its other rivals.
THE FACTS ( Honda Civic Type R )
Honda Civic Type-R
Tested: 1,996cc turbocharged petrol engine, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive
Price/on sale: £29,995/now
Power/Torque: 306bhp @ 6,500rpm/295lb ft @ 2,500rpm
Top speed: 168mph
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 5.7sec
Fuel Economy: 38.7mpg (EU Combined); on test 32mpg
CO2 emissions: 170g/km
VED band: H (£295 first year, £205 thereafter)