One of the things that gladdens my heart is the knowledge that car makers are still prepared to build cars like the Honda Civic Type R featured here. Cars that fly in the face of the current mood of eco-consciousness like a hot dog stand at a vegan conference. People who ask, ‘what is the point of vents and gills that don’t appear to do anything’, are, by saying that, missing the very point of them.
The Honda Type R is the sort of motor that a priapic schoolboy will post on the bedroom wall next to the image of Taylor Swift or whoever is the latest object of youthful lust. History calls it ‘The Male Gaze’ and it applies to cars as well.
The car featured here is the top-spec GT model which means it gets some extras like a premium 320w audio set-up with eight speakers which will have you digging out those ancient drum & bass CDs for old times sake. It also scores some red detailing and an easy-to-use Garmin Navigation that additionally hides the CD slot behind the screen; a neat touch. Full details of each type of Type R are shown below for your information, edification and general delight.
Fast Standing Still
Walk around the Honda Civic Type R and there isn’t an angle where it doesn’t look purposeful. Honda choose to tell us that this is a ‘race car for the road’ and for once this is not manufacturer hyperbole. You might wonder about the massive wing but the company insists that the design was subject to exhaustive aerodynamic analysis, testing and development both on computer and in the wind tunnel. Like the wing or loath it, it has a job to do as the air passes over the car just as the flat underside, like a Cadbury’s Boost, sucks the car into the ground feeding air out via the big rear diffuser.
Honda insist that the side vents and gills around the chunky front wheels arches do in fact aid the flow of cooling air so I’ll have to take their word for that. Plainly, just looking at them adds something to the perceived performance and that never-to-be-realised top speed of 167mph – unless you’re on a track. Whatever, the styling is effective and it is cars like this that turn grown men into overgrown schoolboys at a stroke and in the dull, earnest world of autonomy that can only be a good thing.
Get In. Sit Down. Belt Up.
The front seats indicate that this car means business. High-sided, deep and low slung, I defy anyone to get out of this car with anything approaching dignified elegance. Once installed though the seats are nicely snug and grip in all the right places like a lover’s embrace. Drivers can alter seat height manually and get properly set up with a flat-bottomed steering wheel – with that crucial top-dead-centre marker – that can be adjusted for reach and rake. As with the outside, the interior is fit for purpose.
It’s the regular cascading Civic dashboard which is fine if not exactly exciting and, although the navigation and touchscreen work well, the piano black surround looks a bit low rent for such a blisteringly fast car. Tech heads will love the info panel in the curved, recessed dash cowl. In addition to fuel readouts and the like, enthusiastic drivers can note G-forces, track times and all manner of detail as to how the car is behaving. You’ll either use it or you won’t. There are door bins that are actually functional, cubby spaces and cup holders and all the now expected technology – Bluetooth etcetera – comes as standard on the GT version tested here.
A special word for the gear shift. None of your automatic nonsense or namby-pamby paddles here. This car has a proper 6-speed manual shifter with a super short throw and a lovely, precise snickety-snick action that takes you back to the golden days of driving. I cannot emphasis more how wonderfully mechanical this felt.
What’s that? Oh, the back seats. Yes there are some and they are fine. This is a four door car and not the coupé of old which makes it much more usable on a daily basis. The boot is a good size and, because the car carries one of those horrible kits, there is a deep and hidden well beneath the floor for extra storage. Happy now? Can we get on with the good stuff?
Fast And Furious
The Honda Civic Type R is not a car that you would describe as shy and retiring. It is boisterous, raucous and an absolute delight. It frightens the horses (Metaphorically speaking! No horses were even slightly alarmed) and gives little old ladies a touch of the vapours. The real beauty of it though is that although this car monsters the road it does so safely and with serious dedication to the task. Whoever was responsible for setting up the Type R should be awarded a Gold Star and a handsome pay rise immediately.
This is the first Type R to use a turbo-charger, as is the modern way. The VTEC variable valve timing and lift remains, aided by a large turbo forcing air into the 2.0L four cylinder motor. What comes out is 306bhp and a beefy 295lb ft of torque which means that the car will pull easily in high gears when appropriate at times when you just want to cruise; but you don’t want to do that. You want to put your foot down and go.
Thanks to the direct, slack-free steering and the chassis’ flat-bodied stance in corners the Type R responds with much of the immediacy and eagerness of the track-focused car it purports to be. The electrically-assisted steering is perhaps over-light, but it is deadly accurate. The Civic turns sharply into corners and a new four point adaptive damper system – developed specifically for the Honda Civic Type R – enables continuous independent control of each front wheel, delivering exceptional road holding and composure aided by the calming influence at the pointed end of a limited slip differential and a set of grippy 235/35 R19 Continental tyres. Powerful Brembo brakes (Red. Obviously.) bring everything back down to earth. Throughout the whole experience ESP watches over you like a benevolent god ready to wag the astral finger should you transgress.R As In GRRRR
So far so good. In normal mode the car will potter with the best of them but that is not what it’s for and it won’t thank you for it, frankly. Reach out a tentative right index finger and poke the button marked +R. This stiffens the dampers by a further 30% from the already very firm setting. It also sharpens the throttle response and beefs up the steering. Most importantly, this finger action also turns the big rev counter and ancillary dials red, signifying purpose.I always have to bear in mind that the car I am driving is not mine. I can’t therefore tell you what life is like at the really ragged end of the Honda Civic Type R performance. I can tell you though that on a twisting, turning and blissfully empty country road this car was astonishing good. It will hit 62mph from a standing start in just 5.7 seconds with little evidence of torque steer, but it is through the gears where the Type R really scores. It is a pure driving experience that is rare these days outside of the best of the hot hatch arena and within a price range we can afford (£32820 for the tested version). I don’t think I am overstating things to say this is probably the best two-wheel drive car of its type currently available for similar money.
A Car Too Far?
As exciting as the +R mode certainly is on British roads – which as you know have all the surface qualities of a Peruvian goat track – it is perhaps a mode too far and best kept for some hot track-day action. The more compliant, softer setting is better for everyday use. Honda reckon that 38mpg – aided by Stop/Start – is possible but 29mpg is more likely because it is just too damn easy to push the pedal and we are but weak mortals, easily tempted.The fact is, the Honda Civic Type R is not a car for everyone. It is too performance orientated for most people, I’d hazard. You would have to be a dedicated petrolhead to get the most from it otherwise the engine noise and occasional turbo whistle on a steady low throttle will get on your nerves in fairly short order. This is a car that needs and wants to be driven hard.
I would like to see Honda produce a Civic that sits somewhere between the mainstream models and this bad beast. Maybe a firmer, warmed-up version of the regular 1.8i VTEC that could offer the best of both worlds. As it stands, if you really want a performance Civic, then it’s the Type R for you. Well done Honda. Keeping the faith. Geoff Maxted