Honda unleashes its fieriest Civic Type R yet. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
The Honda Civic Type R returns, this time with 320PS beneath the bonnet thanks to a revised version of the previous 2.0-litre turbo engine. Drive goes to the front wheels via a six-speed manual 'box, so no change there, but under the skin, this thing's rammed with trick bits. It looks the real deal.
Cards on table time. I absolutely adore hot Hondas. There's just something so unashamedly extreme about the way these cars are built. It pops up in the most unexpected places but speaks of a deep devotion to engineering excellence. Whereas most other manufacturers would be content to beef-up the engine, stiffen the suspension and add a few go-faster cues inside and out, Honda is different. That's just the start. A Type R Honda has, to date, been about the subtle details. This latest Honda Civic Type R is a bit different. For a start, it's a bit shouty about its power output and its Nurburgring lap time. Perhaps Honda felt the need to make it appeal to a broader audience. Is it representative of the breed, or something different altogether?
The headline figures are undeniably impressive. Power comes courtesy of a direct-injected turbocharged 2.0 litre VTEC petrol engine, which really delivers a solid punch of both power and torque. Peak power output is slightly up on the previous generation model, up by 10PS to 320PS at 6,500rpm. There are more significant changes too. The body itself has a longer wheelbase than the previous-generation version. Plus the relocation of the fuel tank from beneath the front seats to beneath the rears means that the driver sits 50mm lower than before. The centre of gravity is lower too. The body is 16kg lighter and (more significantly) 38% stiffer than the previous model's, but the most crucial mechanical change is that there's no longer a torsion beam rear axle. Instead, the latest Type-R gets a fully independent, multi-link rear set-up. As before, there's a '+R' button that, when activated, heightens engine responsiveness and alters the torque-mapping to a more aggressive and performance-focused setting. That will have been activated when setting the Nurburgring Nordscliefe lap record this car now holds - set at 7min 43.8s, 7 seconds quicker than the previous generation car managed.
The Type R really amps up the already quite aggressive styling of the tenth-generation Civic. Honda's insistent that it's all functional and talks of the hours on the Nurburgring, being thrashed round the Takasu test track and forensic studies of the aerodynamics in the Sakura wind tunnel. An almost completely flat underside sucks the car onto the road and the rear wing, front splitter and deep side skirts are also demonstrably functional. Big grilles in the bumpers direct cooling air to the engine and brakes. The lightweight 20-inch alloy wheels look pretty mean too. The cabin gets the trademark machined-alloy Type R gear lever. High-backed sports seats grip the front occupants with a suede-effect fabric offset by red double stitching. The red highlights continue across the leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearstick gaiter.
There's a real sweet spot for performance cars with around 320PS under their bonnets and it's close to £32,000, around which are clustered cars like the BMW M140i, the Volkswagen Golf R and the Audi S3. Therefore, it's no real surprise that when Honda announced pricing for the Civic Type R, it started at £30,995. There's also a better-equipped GT version for £2,000 more if you want it. GT drivers will get gear such as forward collision warning, a traffic sign recognition system, lane departure warning, blind spot information including cross traffic monitor, dual control climate control, rain sensing auto wipers, dusk sensing auto lights, front and rear parking sensors, interior red ambient lighting, high beam support and Honda's new infotainment system, Connect, with Garmin navigation. Honda hasn't ruled out an even more focused Type R version, aimed to combat the track specials that are periodically wheeled out by the likes of SEAT and Renault.
Economy and emissions figures for the Type R are, as expected, competitive though not quite up with this car's German rivals, VW's Golf R and Audi's S3. The combined cycle fuel figure is 36.7mpg and the CO2 reading is 176g/km. Residual values shouldn't put too much of a bash in the budget as there's always been a strong used trade in Type Rs. With this Civic being the only Type R model in Honda's line-up for the foreseeable future, demand ought to be very healthy indeed.
There's a lot of competition in this market sector. The Audi S3, Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS offer all-wheel drive grip and sledgehammer acceleration off the line, while the BMW M140i delivers rear-wheel drive handling beloved by purists. So where does that leave the front-wheel drive Civic Type R? It suddenly looks a bit conspicuous. Honda is a company that insists we judge on results rather than on engineering dogma. It has a point. Drive an old front-wheel drive Integra Type R against, say, a rear-wheel drive BMW E36 M3 from the same era and the Japanese car will always feel like the more exotic, exciting drive. The latest Civic Type R makes a whole lot of impressive numbers but the acid test will come against its most talented European rivals. Something tells us that this British-built Honda will manage to inveigle itself into its own niche and feel quite unlike the rest of the field. Type Rs have always been something different, something very special and this one promises to be no different.
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