First Drive: Honda Civic Type R

It’s been a long time coming, but the Honda Civic Type R has finally been let loose. Honda’s vision of a hot-hatch differs from that of Volkswagen or Ford, by eschewing the safe predictability of four-wheel drive for potentially tyre-shredding front-wheel drive.

Can you really direct 310PS to the front wheels without creating a monster? To keep things in check Honda has fitted tricky dual-axis strut front suspension and a limited slip differential to try to keep the torque steer under control that comes from pushing 400Nm through the Continental tyres.

All that power and torque comes from a new engine that runs the risk of alienating Type R aficionados. It’s still a two-litre four-cylinder engine, but now there’s not only the famous VTEC variable valve timing but also a turbocharger.

That means the sky-high rev limit has gone, replaced with a more down-to-earth 7,000rpm redline, with peak power at 6,500rpm and peak torque at a more usable 2,500rpm.

It’s all very different to the free-revving engines of old, but environmental regulations simply won’t allow life to carry on how it did previously. Still, it’s good for a 0-62mph time of just 5.7 seconds before heading on to a maximum speed of 167mph.

Show it a track and the Type R is a happy thing, darting in to corners with just the occasional hint of understeer, but all the electronics and trick suspension do their job well and keep you between the white lines.

The bodykit, as far removed from subtle as it’s possible to get, is there purely for aerodynamic and cooling reasons, so say the boffins at Honda, with that rear wing producing significant downforce. How much was never made clear, although I’d suspect it’s not as great as you might want – at high speeds, braking hard made the rear end of the car weave around quite alarmingly.

With the +R button pressed down, the suspension stiffens, the steering gets heavier (although no more feelsome), the throttle response is snappier, the stability control backs off a little and, above all else, the dials turn red just to remind you how serious things are.

IT does punish the tyres though. After just four laps of the circuit, the tyres were giving up their grip and braking zones were getting progressively longer. The brakes were still fine though, despite the punishment being handed out.

It got it’s own back on public roads, where the ride quality is borderline unbearable, at least at low speeds. Things get better on the motorway,m but you’re then assaulted by a booming exhaust that fills the car and makes life quite tiring.

Exceptional sports seats and a good driving position encourage you to venture off the motorway though, and the Type R makes a good fist of cross-country work. A six-speed manual gearbox (there’s no auto option) is worked by an aluminium short-throw shifter that’s weighted perfectly, while engine response – despite the turbo – is almost instantaneous. Yes, at low revs you’ve got to sit back and wait for the turbo to spool up, but keep it spinning and it’s a glorious engine to work.

Getting all sensible for a moment, the fact that the Type R is a Civic means you get a good dose of practicality thrown in to the equation. There’s enough room in the rear for a couple of adults, the boot is plenty big enough for a couple of suitcases or golf bags, and you’ll not be too frightened by running costs thanks to a CO2 figure of 170g/km. That means a car tax bill of £205 a year, while official economy will see you return 38.7mpg. In your dreams.

The Civic Type R might, for all it’s faults, be the best front-wheel drive car you can buy. The Volkswagen Golf R take an altogether more grown up view of the world, which some might find a little too reserved, while the Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy is probably a tad too raw for most tastes.

The Type R sits in a pleasing middle ground. If you can cope with the ride quality and aren’t turned off by those wings, then it could be a very smart buy.

Model Tested: Honda Civic Type R GT
Price: £32,995
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo petrol
Top speed: 167 mph
0-62 mph: 5.7 seconds
Power: 310 PS (306 bhp)
Torque: 400 Nm (295 ft-lb)
Combined fuel economy: 38.7 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 170 g/km
VED Band: H / £205 per year
Car insurance group: 33E
Kerb weight: 1,382 kg
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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